How to Exercise in Your First Trimester

Pregnant woman looking at heart rate monitor

How to Exercise in Your First Trimester

First Trimester: Weeks 0 to 12

Respect early symptoms of pregnancy and be willing to adapt. Take this time to understand your body and prepare for the changes ahead.

The first trimester of pregnancy is often viewed as a time to maintain fitness, with little need to modify your workouts — but there are some adjustments worth making now.

“Just because you don’t look pregnant yet doesn’t mean you don’t have a reason to adapt,” says California-based coach Brianna Battles, MS, CSCS, founder of the Pregnancy and Postpartum Athleticism program. “It’s important to start out with a mindset of adaptability and willingness to honor your varying energy levels.”

Rather than trying to commit to a rigid routine and pushing through fatigue or nausea, give yourself a break. Choose exercises that require little preparation; take extra time to transition between movements; stay well hydrated; and prioritize sleep.

“You’re exhausted and you may not feel good,” but those things aren’t visible, says Stephanie Winters, NASM-CPT, a personal trainer and instructor at Life Time Academy in Chanhassen, Minn. “You have to remind yourself that you’re growing a human. It’s like running a marathon every day.”

The first trimester is also a time to plan for changes you’ll experience later. “It’s a good idea to start being more aware of your posture and daily activities that may be adding more stress to your spine and to your pelvic floor,” says Theresa Plasencia, MPT, a Twin Cities–based women’s-health physical therapist. “It’s also an ideal time to learn how to engage your core and connect with your breath.”

Strive to understand your tendencies during exercise, Battles advises, and learn how to address them before the baby gets in the way. When some women attempt to engage their core during exercise, for example, it may result in bearing down or pushing the pelvic floor downward. During exertion, you want to instead feel a gentle lift of the pelvic-floor muscles.

Additionally, some women put pressure into the linea alba — the connective tissue that supports the abdominal wall — which looks like your belly is pushing out, or in the case of diastasis recti, coning at the center of the abdomen. The harder your core has to work during an exercise, the more you should feel your belly drawing in and tightening.

“Knowing how to connect with breathing strategies can support you during the rest of your pregnancy and postpartum,” Battles says. (For more on this, see “Connect With Your Core” below.)

A proactive approach now can also help stabilize the pelvis and prevent symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD) and sacroiliac joint dysfunction (SJD) later in the pregnancy.

“Typically, women don’t experience issues such as SPD or SJD in the first trimester, but it’s good for them to use exercise to start stabilizing their pelvis early on,” explains Lindsay McCoy, an exercise physiologist in Minneapolis and cofounder of the One Strong Mama program. McCoy recommends incorporating moves that strengthen the hips, such as lateral-band walks.“Prehab before rehab,” she advises. “It’s much more effective.”

Exercises to Try

Kettlebell Deadlift: The functional movement of lifting a heavy object off the ground is a huge part of motherhood and life, as well as a great way to strengthen your posterior chain and dial in good breathing strategy.

  • Stand to straddle a moderately heavy kettlebell. Inhale as you hinge at your hips and bend your knees to lower your arms toward the kettlebell, keeping your shins vertical.
  • Grip the handle, then exhale and drive through your heels to rise to stand.
  • Inhale as you return the weight to the floor.
  • Perform three sets of 10 to 12 reps.

Dumbbell Overhead Press:
The first trimester is a good time to start building upper-body strength to prepare for all the time you’ll soon spend carrying the baby.

  • Hold two dumbbells at shoulder height with palms forward. Check in with your alignment, setting your ribs directly over your hips. Inhale.
  • Exhale, then press the weights overhead, keeping ribs stacked over hips.
  • Inhale as you lower the weights to the starting position.
  • Perform three sets of 10 to 12 reps.

Internal and External Hip Rotation:
This exercise strengthens the musculature around the hips, which can minimize and prevent hip discomfort and low-back pain.

  • Lie on your right side with hips and ankles stacked and knees bent at 45 degrees.
  • Keeping your ankles together, lift your left knee to externally rotate your left hip.
  • Then bring your knees together and lift your left foot to internally rotate your hip.
  • Continue internally and externally rotating your hips for one minute, then repeat on the opposite side for one minute.
  • To make it harder, place a ball between your knees or have a partner gently give resistance for you to push against.

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