Exercise is an important aspect of our whole health, especially during pregnancy. We’ve created a guide, with the help of Jadyn Smith, PT, DPT, at PT Solutions, and Shanna Hutcheson, Registered Dietitian and wellness blogger, to navigate this exciting but often unfamiliar season of life.
From the beginning of pregnancy to the end, women are encouraged to do both aerobic and strength exercises. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that women continue to work out before, during and after pregnancy as long as no complications arise. Shanna, whose blog “Wellness for the Win” includes healthy living, recipe, nutrition and fitness content, has approached her pregnancy wellness similar to her pre-pregnancy health—with balance, good nutrition and giving herself grace when needed.
For Shanna, being active while pregnant has helped her stay both mentally and physically strong. This is important not just now but also when her baby arrives. According to Jadyn, additional health benefits of working out while pregnant include balancing changes in mood and increasing energy levels. Research also supports that exercise can reduce the chance of gestational diabetes while expecting.
Overall benefits of exercise during pregnancy, according to the ACOG include:
- Decreased risk of preterm delivery
- Healthy weight gain/decreased fat accumulation during pregnancy
- Reduced risk for gestational diabetes (and a great treatment option for management if you already have it)
- Decreased risk for varicosities
- Improved maternal sleep hygiene
- Reduced stress, improved mood/decreased risk for postpartum depression
- Decreased rate of delivery complications/faster postpartum recovery (decreased need for labor induction)
Jadyn encourages mothers-to-be to start from the very beginning, even if your energy is low, and to make sure you modify your workouts to whatever is comfortable for you. Walking and swimming, as well as hip and glute strengthening, are great exercises for expecting mothers. For Shanna, her workout has been modified significantly since finding out she is expecting. Shanna is skipping the early morning workout and instead opting for extra sleep. Her workout routine previously included high-intensity workouts, which she has swapped for long walks. Shanna is slowly incorporating strength back into her workout.
Safe exercises for expecting mothers, according to ACOG, include:
- Stationary cycling
- Aerobic exercises
- Resistance exercises (e.g. using weights, elastic bands)
- Stretching exercises
When working out, there are certain exercises to avoid and cautions to be aware of. Jadyn recommends avoiding high-intensity workouts, heavy lifting, contact sports and any activity that could cause a loss of balance. Jadyn also wants women to be cautious of overstretching. While exercises like yoga can be beneficial, ligaments are extra loose when pregnant, so overstretching can cause injury. In addition, the ACOG wants women to be cautious of crunches and sit-ups, which increase your risk for postpartum diastasis recti, which is the separation of abdominal muscles.
Shanna encourages you to shift your expectations of yourself, not to be afraid to make modifications and not to push yourself. Most importantly, listen to your body.
We have created a list of exercises and workout recommendations based on trimester.
Prior to working out in your first trimester, talk to your physician or OB/GYN. It is important for your provider to understand your exercise goals and for you to be aware of any concerns he or she may have.
Jadyn recommends getting started exercising early with low- to moderate-intensity workouts. However, according to the ACOG, if you lived a more sedentary life prior to pregnancy, make sure to slowly progress into working out. Regardless, make sure to opt for light weights and build up weight gradually to what you are most comfortable with.
During the first trimester, you are able to lie on your back, which gives you the opportunity to activate your deep core muscles. This will help build a strong foundation to help support your lower back during pregnancy. Other important muscle groups to focus on during the first trimester are hips and glutes.
You will likely feel more exhaustion in your first trimester than what you are traditionally used to. Remember, don’t push it and rest as often as needed.
Examples of good exercises for your first trimester include:
- Clam Shells
- TA Contractions
The second trimester brings with it regained energy, appetite and strength. There is a reason this is called the honeymoon trimester. Your body will continue to change and, of course, your belly will grow. As it does, try to find comfortable positions for your body while you exercise. Standing upright, sitting in a chair or on your hands and knees are all great positions for working out in your second trimester. The second trimester is also a good opportunity to stretch your lower back with exercises like the cat/cow. This will help reduce any lower back pain that you may be experiencing.
In your second trimester, it is important to remember to avoid lying on your back for long periods of time. Doing so can decrease blood flow to the uterus.
Examples of good exercises for your second trimester include:
- Cat/Cow Stretch
- Bird Dog
- Wall Sits
In your third trimester, you are carrying your most weight and your exhaustion is likely revving back up. Even activities as simple as putting on socks and shoes can feel laborious. It may be hard to find the motivation and energy to exercise. Remember that any exercising you do in your third trimester will help you through a safe (and possibly faster) delivery and recovery.
The main thing to be aware of in your third trimester is your balance. It is easy to get off-balance given that your weight is not evenly distributed at this point. Try to find activities that have both your feet on the ground or in a seated position. You can even modify exercises so you can do while sitting down in a chair.
Jadyn recommends exercises with symmetrical lower extremity positions, such as squats. She does not recommend any single-leg stances such as lunges or step-ups.
Don’t be afraid to regress or modify your activity during the third trimester. It is important to adapt your workout to your growing body.
Examples of good exercises for your third trimester include:
- TA Pull Downs
- Lateral Band Walks (Resisted)
While exercising throughout pregnancy is important, Shanna also encourages you to focus on all aspects of your wellness, including rest, movement, self-care and nutrition. Maintaining a balanced and nutritious diet is equally important as exercise. Try to eat adequate protein, whole grains, nutrient-dense foods and healthy fats. A healthy body, inside and out, will help promote the growth of a healthy baby.
Overall, remember to not have expectations for yourself and to listen to your body. At the end of the day, what’s most important is that you give yourself grace and enjoy the journey of pregnancy.