Exercising While Pregnant | Pregnancy Workouts for all 3 trimesters

Following from our intro to exercising safely during pregnancy, we've put together some safe workout routines you can perform at different stages of your pregnancy.

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PREGNANCY WORKOUT - FIRST TRIMESTER

While many women may be hesitant to exercise during the first trimester of pregnancy, it’s perfectly safe when done correctly and has numerous benefits. It can even help to alleviate those early pregnancy symptoms like nausea, fatigue and mood swings which can feel incredibly intense during the first trimester due to the huge hormone fluctuations you'll be experiencing.

FIRST TRIMESTER WORKOUT FREQUENCY

Working out three times a week for roughly 30 minutes each session is still fine during your first trimester, even if you’re at a beginner to moderate level of fitness. If you’re used to working out for longer or more frequently then you can try to keep up that routine, but it’s vital not to exert yourself too much – listen to your body. If you’re feeling cramps or you’re getting fatigued more easily than before then take it down a notch.

INTERMEDIATE WORKOUT FOR TRIMESTER ONE

Most personal trainers will tell you that you can do the same workouts in the first trimester that you were doing before conception as there are not a lot of physical changes that occur in the first trimester – at least ones that would take a toll on fitness.

We’ve put together a sample workout for the first trimester. Bear in mind this is based on an intermediate level of fitness before conception, and it’s also advisable to check with your doctor before embarking on any new workout routine during pregnancy.

WARM-UP

Start by warming up with some light stretches, sitting on the floor with legs open, leaning from side to side. You don't need to complete a full stretch as you don’t want to put too much pressure on yourself – just stretch 70% as far as you normally would.

The hormone called Relaxin is at its highest levels in your body during the first trimester. This is to prevent the uterus from contracting which aids implantation. It also relaxes your pelvic muscles so bear this in mind and don’t go too deep with stretches or squats even though it may feel like you can.

CARDIO

Next, do 10-20 minutes of cardio. You can rotate different cardio equipment each day to diversify your exercises.

If you’ve been jogging or running as part of your workout before pregnancy then it’s usually ok to keep it going as you’ve built up good resistance in your muscles and joints. However, if this isn’t the case it’s best to go with a less high impact form of cardio, like cross trainer or stationary bike, as the increased levels of relaxin in your body (as mentioned above) will have weakened your joints and muscles, making you more prone to strain or injury.

TREADMILL

Start with a brisk walk (6 km/h) for 1-2 minutes to gradually warm up before increasing to a jog-running speed within your comfort level (8-11 km/h).

CROSS TRAINER

Increase the resistance level to 4 and try to keep the RPM above 100.

STATIONARY BIKE

Similar to the cross trainer, aim for a resistance level of 4 and keep the RPM above 100. It's safe to use an upright bike or spin bike up to 12 weeks into the pregnancy as your uterus has not risen above the pelvic brim yet, which will happen in the second trimester. But if you’re thinking about buying or hiring an exercise bike, a >recumbent bike is a better option as your posture on a recumbent bike puts less stress on your uterus and can be used throughout all trimesters of pregnancy.

SAFETY TIPS TO REMEMBER:
  • It’s important not to exert yourself too much. Keep your heart rate below 140 beats per minute and use the electronic monitor on your machine to keep an eye on it.

  • You also need to avoid your body overheating (going above 39°C), especially in the first trimester as your baby's vital organs are being developed at this time. The foetus is very sensitive to tiny changes in your body, and getting overheated during your workout is a larger problem now than in any other period of the pregnancy.

WEIGHTS

For weight training exercises stick to 3 sets with 15 reps in each. Choose a mix of 5-7 weight exercises, mixing home gym exercises, free weight exercises and ball/mat exercises – some ideas below:

  • For abs, avoid crunches and sit-ups. Instead lie with your back on an exercise mat and your feet on top of an exercise ball. Keep your palms flat to the ground for stability. Gently engage your abdominal muscles and lift your hips off the floor. Keep your hips in line with your feet and don't overarch your back.
  • Avoid classic push-ups which can put too much strain on the core. Instead, use the ball for push-ups by pressing it against the wall and slowly pushing yourself away to work out your chest
  • Standing dumbbell curls
  • Seated dumbbell triceps extensions
  • Reverse dumbbell curls

COOL DOWN

Finish off with 5 minutes on the treadmill, walking on a low resistance and speed setting and our effective cooldown exercises.

PREGNANCY WORKOUT - SECOND TRIMESTER

This section covers how to exercise safely during the second trimester. Many women report feeling a burst of energy during the second trimester when compared to the sluggishness of the first, so this is a perfect time to exercise and maintain your fitness. As with any stage of pregnancy, it is important not to overexert yourself. Never attempt any exercise that you were not able to do before your pregnancy, and keep the intensity low enough so that you can carry on a conversation while working out. Avoid any activities that involve elevation or pressure changes, like mountain climbing or scuba diving.

That being said, you can continue to enjoy most of the exercises you normally do, assuming that your doctor has confirmed that your pregnancy is healthy and it is safe to exercise. Always consult with your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about what is and is not safe for your growing baby.

WORKOUT FREQUENCY

During your second trimester, it is still safe to exercise at a normal frequency, meaning 30 minutes per day, three to five days a week. If you are an avid exerciser and typically work out more than that, it is safe to continue doing so. However, always listen to what your body is telling you, and take breaks or finish your workout early if needed.

INTERMEDIATE WORKOUT FOR TRIMESTER TWO

The exercises here assume an intermediate level of fitness and are for someone who exercises regularly. Always check with your doctor before beginning any new fitness routine.

WARMUP

In the second trimester, your cardiovascular system cannot react as quickly as it normally does, so it is important to get your heart rate up slowly so you can ease into more challenging exercises. Begin with a short walk to get your blood flowing, and do some light stretching and callisthenics.

SAFETY TIPS TO REMEMBER:

  • Allow your body at least 10-15 minutes to warm up before you start your workout
  • Only stretch as far as is comfortable and avoid stretches that crunch or put too much pressure on the abdomen. Remember not to overexert yourself

CARDIO

During the second trimester, your centre of gravity shifts much lower, so it is important to be careful that you do not trip and fall while walking or running. You can switch between 20 minutes on the treadmill, cross trainer or stationary bike on different days to keep your workouts fresh or do shorter spells on each in one workout. Choose from:

TREADMILL

When using a treadmill, aim for about 60-70 per cent of your usual pace while running. If you were running at a speed of 8-11km/h before your pregnancy then take it down to a slower jog – around 7-8km/h. Use the handrails to reduce your risk of falls.

If you prefer to walk at an incline on the treadmill, keep it to 45 degrees or lower to avoid putting too much pressure on the abdomen.

CROSS TRAINER

The cross trainer is a good choice as you progress through your pregnancy as the handles and footholds keep you steady and reduce the risk of falling. You can increase the resistance level to 4 but don’t try to push too hard with the RPM – 90-100 RPM is fine.

STATIONARY BIKE

While stationary bikes are a great, low-impact form of exercise, you may find it uncomfortable on your pelvis during this stage of pregnancy. A recumbent bike is a better option for pregnant women and can be used throughout all three trimesters. Again, don’t push yourself too hard with the RPM, keeping between 90-100.

SAFETY TIPS TO REMEMBER:

  • Take precautions to prevent falls
  • Exercise at a lower intensity than you did before pregnancy.

WEIGHTS & RESISTANCE TRAINING

During the second trimester, the ligaments in your pelvis start to loosen to prepare your body for birth. Use this time to focus on strengthening the muscles in your hips and core to compensate for the loosening of ligaments. Some exercises to try:

  • Step-Ups - Holding a dumbbell in each hand, step up onto a box or bench that is about mid-shin height, and step back down, alternating legs.
  • Modified Side Planks - Lying on your side with your knees bent, resting on your elbow, engage your core to lift your hips so your body forms a straight line through your feet. If this is too challenging, rest your knees on the floor and lift your hips from there.
  • Squats - Holding one large dumbbell in front of you with both hands, bend your knees to lower into a squat. As your pelvic ligaments are looser, it is important not to squat all the way down. Aim to reach about two-thirds of the way down, then engage your glutes to raise back up.

SAFETY TIPS TO REMEMBER:

  • Use lighter weights than you did before pregnancy
  • Avoid twisting motions
  • Don’t squat too low
  • Avoid any ab exercises that involve crunching the abdomen

COOLDOWN

Walk at a relaxed pace for 5-10 minutes to allow your breathing and heart rate to return to normal.

PREGNANCY WORKOUT - THIRD TRIMESTER

This final section covers how to exercise safely during the third trimester. Exercising can be more difficult during this period because your belly is significantly larger and you are likely to have less energy than you did during the second trimester. As your due date grows closer, check-in with your doctor to make sure that it is still safe for you to exercise. Unless you are at risk of having a pre-term delivery, it is probably fine to keep working out at a lower intensity.

WORKOUT FREQUENCY

During your third trimester, you probably don't have the energy for five days a week of exercise. If you do, that's great! At this point, it is okay to cut back to three days a week if you need to. Pay attention to the signals your body is sending you, and be careful not to overexert yourself.

INTERMEDIATE WORKOUT FOR TRIMESTER THREE

For the exercises that follow, we are assuming an intermediate level of fitness for a woman who exercises on a regular basis and has continued to do so throughout her pregnancy. Remember to always consult your doctor to ensure exercise is safe for you and your baby.

WARMUP

As you move into your third trimester, your body cannot react as quickly as it does ordinarily, so it is crucial that you take the time to gradually get your heart rate up.

Start off with the treadmill set to a speed of about 3-4 km/hr and gradually increase the speed to 5-6km/hr over the space of your 10-15 minute warm-up.

CARDIO

Now that your belly is growing larger (and heavier!), you should avoid any exercises that involve a lot of bouncing or jumping. Stick with low impact workouts on the treadmill or cross-trainer which are easier on your knees and ankles (which are already under pressure) than road running. Or if you enjoy bike exercises, stick to the recumbent bike as upright and spin bikes will put too much pressure on your abdomen. Choose the cardio workout suited to you from the options below, or mix and match on different days. Aim for a 20-30 minute workout.

TREADMILL

If you have been running throughout your pregnancy, you can continue to jog in your third trimester, but keep to an easy, relaxed pace. The later you go into your third trimester you may start to feel that walking is a more suitable option.

Stick to a walking speed between 6-7 km/hr or a jogging speed between 7-8 km/hr – any higher and you could push your heart rate too high and put too much strain on your heavy abdomen. Aim for about 50% of your maximum effort, and feel free to take rest breaks as often as is needed.

CROSS TRAINER

Exercising on a cross-trainer is a great way to get your heart rate up with minimal impact on your joints, and the handles help you to keep your balance. As with the treadmill, stick to about 50% of your maximum effort.

STATIONARY BIKE

Many women find stationary bikes too uncomfortable at this late stage of pregnancy, so try a recumbent bike instead. The reclined position will be much more comfortable. Pedal at about 40% of your maximum effort.

WEIGHTS & RESISTANCE TRAINING

In the third trimester, your joints and ligaments are much looser than usual, due to the hormone relaxin preparing your body for the birth of your baby, so stick with light weights only in order to prevent too much strain on your muscles and ligaments. It’s also important now, more than ever, to make sure not to hold your breath when performing strength exercises so you don’t get lightheaded or faint. Try some of these exercises, doing 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps for each.

Vertical and Lateral Raises - From a standing position, bend forward so that your back is parallel to the floor. With a light weight in each hand, alternate raising your arms out to the sides and forward beside your head.

Cat-Cow - Start on all fours, then let your belly hang down towards the floor, creating a slight curve in your lower back. Next, arch your back up towards the ceiling and pull your belly button towards your spine. Keep alternating between the two poses.

The Clam - Lying on your side with your knees bent and your feet together, raise your top knee so that your legs and hips open. Do several reps on one side before switching to the other.

SAFETY TIPS TO REMEMBER:

  • Use light weights or resistance only
  • Don't hold your breath
  • Avoid exercises that require lying on your back or crunching your abdomen

COOL DOWN

Walk slowly on the treadmill until your breathing and heart rate return to normal.

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