Once you’ve confirmed with your doctor that you’re having a baby, she may caution you on what activities or exercises pregnant women should avoid. But prenatal conditioning is just as much about exercises that will ease pregnancy and labor as it is about avoiding potentially injurious movements. Below are some guidelines for recommended changes to your fitness routine in each trimester; remember to check with your doctor before beginning any prenatal exercise program.
First-Trimester Workout Guidelines
In the first trimester you can safely continue your cardio workouts; however, it’s a good idea to decrease the intensity to keep your blood pressure and core body temperature from elevating dramatically. Aim for an exercise heart rate below 140 beats per minute. You may find that in your strength workouts, as well, you’ll experience low energy and shortness of breath during your first trimester. Take frequent rests, and stop exercising if you experience pain. In addition:
- You may continue strength training with few modifications. Switching to lighter weights is advisable, as is avoiding movements requiring intense upward straining, such as squats with a bar on your shoulders or heavy military (shoulder) presses.
- Eliminate crunches from your routine, as these combined with a growing belly can encourage the splitting of the linea alba, a line of connective tissue that vertically divides your rectus abdominus muscle in half. You can check for abdominal muscle separation by feeling for a gap wider than two fingers while lying on your back.
- Don’t forget to target your upper back muscles by performing exercises like seated rows, which will help keep your shoulders pulled back and posture upright as your belly grows.
- Additionally, eliminate exercises performed in the prone position (lying on your stomach).
Second-Trimester Workout Guidelines
In the second trimester, beginning around 12—13 weeks, you’ll continue to decrease overall intensity while putting more focus on flexibility and balance. While you might not feel as nauseated or low-energy as you did during your first trimester, you’ll still want to take things down a notch as you gain weight:
- Continue to perform low-to-moderate-intensity cardio like walking, stair-climbing, biking, or riding the elliptical, but avoid high-impact activity like running or kickboxing.
- Consider incorporating prenatal yoga into your routine—it features poses that will ease the stress on your back and hips, improve balance, and shift your baby into a more ideal position.
- Eliminate any exercises that require you to lie flat on your back, as this can stress the spine and put pressure on your diaphragm. Reclining in an incline position or supporting yourself on a stability ball is still acceptable.
- Avoid twisting, lateral bending, or any movements that strain the abdomen. Instead, try sitting on top of a stability ball and slowly tilting your pelvis forward and back, then side to side. Plank holds on your hands are another safe core-strengthening exercise for pregnant women.
Third-Trimester Workout Guidelines
In the third trimester, beginning around week 24 or 25, further decrease the intensity of your workouts, using only light weights and keeping your cardio low-intensity.
- If exercise on cardio machines has become too intense, swimming and water aerobics are an excellent way to maintain your cardiovascular fitness while pregnant. Exercising in water will also ease the strain on your back, hips, and knees as well as the swelling in your lower body.
- As your belly reaches its maximum size, your center of gravity will shift, so include light balance moves to help you adapt. These exercises, best performed under supervision, may include stepping up and down on a low step, standing on one foot (stay near a wall for safety), or standing on a mildly unstable core board.
- Continue your yoga moves, and add Kegel exercises to strengthen your pubococcygeus or PC muscles, which are essential to the birthing process (aid in pushing) as well as controlling urination post-pregnancy.
Keeping these guidelines in mind over the next nine months will help ensure a safer pregnancy, easier labor, and quicker recovery following childbirth, as well as arm you with the tools to get back in shape once your baby’s born.