This post contains affiliate links.
A common concern for women that love staying fit and active is that they will have to give up on exercise while pregnant. The last thing any of us want to do is put our unborn child at risk through physical strain or health issues related to intense activity.
However, there is no need to give up on physical exercise entirely for nine months. You can still enjoy an active lifestyle if you are careful to adjust your actions to protect yourself and your growing baby. After all, the right amount of exercise can be beneficial.
Why should you continue exercising when pregnant?
As long as it is safe for you to do so and you aren’t dealing with the conditions outlined below, exercise can be highly advantageous in the right doses. Studies show that pregnant women who exercise at the right frequency reduce the risk of gestational diabetes by 50% and pre-eclampsia by almost 40%. (source)
This is a significant percentage, so it is worth the effort. There are also benefits on joint health, improved cardio, improved strength in the pelvic floor, and other physical conditions. Furthermore, there are mental health benefits with the distractions and endorphin release that come from exercise or just from getting outside.
How much exercise should you get during pregnancy?
The recommendation from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is for 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day. (source) However, this is quite a vague idea. What does moderate even mean? It is understandable if women refrain from doing too much for fear of putting themselves and their unborn child at risk.
However, there is also the risk of doing too little and incurring additional health problems. So, what is the middle ground here? What can you do in each trimester to achieve this moderate regime and stay healthy?
Adapting your exercise plans for pregnancy workouts for every trimester
A great way to plan an exercise regime during pregnancy is to go trimester by trimester.
There is a lot that you can do in the first trimester that shouldn’t deviate too much from your normal routine. But, you will need to scale things back and make adaptations as the pregnancy progresses.
Before we start, I want to mention some of the blog posts and guides around that make things look so simple. No doubt you have seen women in fitness attire staying in shape with weights and aerobic exercises as if it were nothing.
Don’t feel like you need to reach their level, and don’t compare your personal situation with the “perfect” presentation in those guides. Figure out what works for you.
Why do you need to reduce your efforts as the trimesters progress?
There is an adaptive approach to workouts for pregnant women because of changes to the body and the subsequent effect of exercises.
As pregnancy progresses, you will find the heart working harder and the body operating at a higher core temperature.
There are also issues with energy depletion, balance, and joint pain.
You will also need more oxygen, so you are more likely to become short of breath.
Getting started with workouts for pregnancy in the first trimester
The good news here is that you probably won’t have to make too many changes unless you are a fitness fanatic already.
You will have to be careful with strenuous sessions, sudden movements, and strain in the wrong areas.
But, you can still create a great workout routines of aerobic exercises and a little bit of strength training.
1) Push-ups are fine at a gentle pace, but you may prefer to work from your knees for greater support.
2) Squats are great through most of the pregnancy for helping strengthen the core and pelvic floor muscles. You can even continue with lighter weighted squats here if you are experienced with them.
3) Planking is fine for now and a good way to get some ab development in without undue motion around the abdomen.
4) Add in some arm exercises and leg lunges for strength and flexibility.
What exercises for pregnant women are suitable in the second trimester?
By the second trimester, it is time to change some of your methods and positions with your workouts. Try the following adaptations for a more comfortable and safe approach.
1) Switch from standard push-ups to wall push-ups. Pushing off of a wall against the resistance created by your body is easy and effective. There is less strain, but it is still a good way to work your arms.
2) Take away the weights in any squat exercises and use a support if needed. Pay attention to the depth of the squat and adapt as needed.
3) Adjust the planks to relieve strain, perhaps with the elevation of the arms onto a bench.
4) Stop doing any ab exercise that requires you to lie on your back because of the pressure of the uterus on organs and blood vessels.
What can you do in the third trimester?
The third trimester is where things get a little more difficult, and that’s fine.
You don’t have to be as active, strong, or flexible as you were at the start. It is important to pay attention to your capabilities and be realistic.
This means more gentle versions of your current exercise plan, or perhaps swapping to more simple low-impact options.
Modified squats are still a great idea with support, such as a chair or a counter.
A good form of exercise to adopt at this point, if you haven’t already, is Kegels.
These are pelvic floor exercises that help you tone the muscles. They are also great for reducing the risk of stress urinary incontinence.
Redefine what counts as exercise in the third trimester
It is also important to look at physical activity a little differently at this point. There are lots of guides out there that talk about various aerobic and strength training exercises that can feel way beyond our reach.
This could lead some women to feel they aren’t doing enough. So, it is important to alter your perspective and think about everything you do that involves physical movement.
A good place to start may be to use a step counter (like this one on Amazon) and see just how far you walk in one day.
It may not be a deliberate exercise, but more a case of moving around the house doing chores and keeping an eye on the rest of the family. Those chores, where suitable for pregnant women, also use muscles and burn energy.
You can also focus on living room dance breaks with the kids, playing with the dog in the yard, or other small activities that bring joy.
Some cardio exercises that are great in all 3trimesters
If you are unsure about adapting and tailoring a more specific workout plan for each trimester, there is an alternative approach.
The following are all suitable for each trimester for various reasons. All you need to do is adjust the intensity or duration of a session as your pregnancy progresses.
Swimming is one of the best forms of exercise for pregnant women because it has so many benefits for mental and physical health. The motions of swimming are great for joint support and pain relief, as well as keeping limb muscles strong.
You can work with breaststroke if it is more comfortable than a standard front crawl. It is also a pleasant experience as well as good exercise as the water supports your weight. You could decrease the lengths and duration as the pregnancy develops and go at a slower pace, but the benefits remain.
Make sure to swim in a secure pool and do as many lengths as you are comfortable with. This could be a quiet public pool or a private one. Don’t swim in open water or the sea. The latter could be a problem with pressure from the waves.
Walking is highly recommended across the whole nine months of pregnancy. It helps your joints and posture while keeping your cardio strong.
It is also highly adaptable as you can change the pace of the walk and the duration depending on how you feel. If you are feeling healthy and strong you could go a little further and then have a shorter stroll around the block on tougher days.
Walking also has great mental health benefits. A trip around a local park gets you out in the fresh air and nature for a rush of endorphins. Or you could have a short walk around town with friends or family simply as a way of getting out of the house.
3) Stationary bikes
This is another brilliant choice, especially if you already own an indoor exercise bike at home. It shouldn’t be too difficult to adjust your current regime to suit your developing needs.
You can work at lower resistance settings and use the data trackers on the console to follow a fitness plan. Whatever you do, it should keep your joints flexible and muscles strong while burning off some calories.
Another benefit of exercise bikes is that they offer low-impact exercise in the comfort of your own home. This is great for all those whose pregnancies are through the colder and wetter months where nice walks in the sunshine aren’t an option.
Finally, there is the option of yoga. Yoga is great for flexibility, motion, better breathing, and stress relief. If you are experienced with yoga, you can continue with suitable poses and routines at home with no need for extra equipment.
Just make sure not to take part in hot yoga and to avoid inversions and bends that could put too much strain on your back.
Another option is to sign up for some prenatal yoga classes that are adaptable based on where you are in your pregnancy. Working with a skilled instructor should bring greater health benefits and fewer risks.
Also, you could end up meeting other expectant mothers that you can befriend and share stories and advice with.
What exercise should you avoid when pregnant?
There are lots of types of exercise that aren’t advisable when pregnant because of an increased risk to your health or that of the baby. This includes anything where there is a risk of you falling from a height or because you lost your balance, such as horse riding, climbing, or road cycling.
Stationary cycling is a lot better as there is a stable frame. It is also a good idea to avoid anything with a risk of injury, especially contact sports and ball games.
A netball or soccer ball in the wrong direction could be dangerous.
Other dangers to be aware of are those of elevated temperatures and high altitudes. Walking a little every day is great.
Hiking up mountains isn’t so good because of a lack of oxygen. You also want to avoid heading out in extreme heat or taking part in any hot yoga classes.
Knowing when to stop when exercising while pregnant
Even if you take part in safe forms of exercise while pregnant, such as indoor cycling, yoga, or walking, there is still the risk that you might overdo things.
That is why it is important to know when to stop to avoid further harm. Watch out for the following: bleeding, fluid leaks, dizziness, chest pain, palpitations, breathing problems, weakness, and contractions.
Always work with your healthcare providers for the best advice
Finally, it is important to remember that any exercise recommendations will vary depending on your lifestyle, previous experience, and any health concerns related to your pregnancy. Issues including gestational hypertension, preeclampsia, anemia, cervical issues, and pregnancy of multiple babies will limit your exercise options.
Work with physicians on a personalized plan that works for you and don’t try anything new without consulting them first.
Creating the perfect pregnancy workouts for every trimester
To summarize, it is a good idea to work trimester by trimester, decreasing efforts and reducing the intensity as you go. You can still enjoy modified versions of a lot of common exercises, like push-ups and squats, just adapted a little. Or, you can focus on exercises for pregnancy that work across the whole gestation period.
Perhaps focus on walking, swimming, or yoga and adjust your efforts as needed. This could allow for a more comforting routine. Either way, make sure to create a plan that fits in with what your physician advises and your interests.
Exercise while pregnant should still be enjoyable as well as beneficial for your health.