How Should I Exercise in My First Trimester of Pregnancy?

This video shares some of the basic considerations and concerns to keep in mind for first trimester exercise.  You should always check with your physician for medical advice and for your specific circumstances as they relate to your pregnant and postpartum exercise programs.

Video Transcript Here:

A lot of women are really nervous about exercising in their pregnancy.  Especially if this is your first pregnancy, you might have some questions about what’s safe and what’s smart.  So that’s what we’re here to answer over the next couple of minutes.

The good news is that there’s almost nothing that’s off-limits in your first trimester as long as you feel good – assuming you have an uncomplicated pregnancy.   You always want to check with your OB or your mid-wife and just keep them posted on your exercise plans just in case they have any concerns or red flags, specifically pertaining to you and the way you are exercising.

But barring any complications, the current recommendation of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) is a minimum of 30 minutes, 5 times a week of moderate-intensity exercise.  Moderate intensity means that you’re breathing hard and you feel like you’re working, but you can still carry on a conversation.  That’s the recommendation… the MINIMUM recommendation of the ACOG organization.  The good news is, if you’re already exercising at a high-intensity, it is usually considered to be completely safe for you to continue exercising at that high-intensity level barring any specific complications.

Now what you do want to bear in mind is that you do need to listen to your body.  So, in your first trimester, the biggest limitations are likely going to be coming from tummy troubles- nausea, as well as potentially shortness of breath and light-headedness because of the huge changes in blood volume and cardiac output, not to mention that you also have hormone fluctuations.  So most women don’t feel that great and when you try to go into a high-intensity activity you might find that you’re more short of breath or more nauseas or light-headed than you were just a couple of weeks ago.  So you really just need to listen to your body in those moments.  Take a break for a few minutes, drink some water, let your heart catch-up, and then go back to those activities.

ACOG also recommends a mix of cardiovascular and strength training.  So we definitely want to be preparing the cardiovascular system and we want to be getting your heart rate up; that’s good for you and it’s good for baby.  We also want to be building strength (or at least maintaining strength).  Core strength is important; hip strength is important;  shoulder girdle strength is important.  We really want you to stay strong (and even get stronger) throughout your pregnancy.  We just want to do it in a way that your body is happy and where you’re not showing any signs of distress.  Along those lines, we never want you to exert to the point where you’re feeling really short of breath, your heart is pounding and it’s begging you for a break or where you feel lightheaded like you’re going to black out, or where you feel nauseas or actually vomit.  If you’re vomiting, you’re losing hydration and calories, which you really need in the first trimester, and you’re also sending your body into a very intense stress-response, which is not great for you or baby to do repetitively during any of your pregnancy.  If you’re having severe symptoms of shortness of breath, or your heart is pounding, or nausea, or lightheadedness – again you need to listen to your body, back off, take a short rest, drink some water, and wait for things to calm down and then go ahead and maybe try another round.

For my intense athletes who want to keep doing high-intensity exercise, I would just remind you that you’re not giving this up for your whole pregnancy; it’s just during your first trimester while your body is getting used to the hormone levels and getting used to the new cardiac function.  You want to be kind to your body and not push it past the point it can tolerate safely.  You’re not giving this up forever, just for a short period of time to let your system catch up to what you want to do.  So high-intensity activities like running, sprinting, long-distance running, impact, jump squats, burpees, all this is fair game in the first trimester as long as you feel good doing it.

Now if this is your 2nd or 3rd pregnancy and especially if you did not intentionally and carefully restore your core and your pelvic floor between your pregnancies, you may notice some differences.  For example, you may notice that you start “coning” or “bulging” in your stomach or your abs don’t feel as strong or your pelvic floor starts to feel heavy or lax, maybe you even feel heaviness in the vagina or begin to leak during your first trimester.  It’s totally possible if you didn’t fully restore your core the first time that you would have increased symptoms of weakness in the deep core of the pelvic floor on a subsequent pregnancy much earlier than on your previous pregnancy. Any feeling of laxity or heaviness or bulging or instability through the pelvis or core is a sign that your body is telling you that it is not tolerating that activity well.  Remember that you already have relaxin in your system, even in that first trimester. Things are getting ready to loosen, starting to get ready to expand.  So yes, we want to get your core strong but we want to do it in a way that’s supporting it and not further damaging it.  For subsequent pregnancies, we want to be even more careful to identify signs that your musculoskeletal or nervous system is not tolerating your exercise well.  These are scenarios where you definitely want to get in to see a pelvic physical therapist if you want to continue with that intensity of exercise so they can assess what’s going on and help you strengthen in a way that builds up your core and helps you have a better pregnancy versus furthering any damage.

So the bottom line is, you can keep exercising, you can keep doing it intensely, you can keep doing heavy lifting – as long as you’re not overly short of breath, you’re not feeling too nauseas, you’re not vomiting, you’re not showing signs of pelvic instability, urinary incontinence, laxity, feelings of falling out, heaviness, or pain.  So listen to your body, and stop and take a break if you need to.

If you enjoyed this video and found it helpful, please do share it with a pregnant friend.  Go ahead and follow me on Instagram and YouTube and you can see a lot of videos that I have on more ways to exercise safely, as well as workout ideas for every stage of pregnancy.

So here’s to a happy, healthy pregnancy… and beyond!

P.S….As you start to prepare for your postpartum recovery and return to fitness activities, make sure that you have a plan!  Click here for more info and tips on how to prepare for postpartum life.