Pregnancy Safe Training

Written by Maggie-Laurie Spark

There are many benefits to exercising when pregnant and for most women it is completely safe, provided you are following pregnancy-safe training techniques.  These techniques will also differ for each individual, as every person and every pregnancy is different. Even in my own experience, all my pregnancies have been different and presented their own challenges.  It is important to always consult your GP before starting any new exercise program while pregnant and I highly recommend working with a personal trainer that is trained in pregnancy safe training methods and has experience in working with women throughout their pregnancies.  It is also recommended to seek medical guidance for high risk pregnancies, multiple pregnancies and in the incidence of bleeding or contractions that occur around exercise. 

If you have not been exercising before you fall pregnant, it is not recommended that you start anything new and stick to gentle walking, swimming and pelvic floor strengthening techniques and modified Pilates.

If you are planning to get pregnant in the future I recommend starting an exercise regime that incorporates a combination of resistance/weights training and cardiovascular/fitness training.  You may have heard before that giving birth is like running a marathon so starting your training before you fall pregnant will set you up in good stead for a healthy pregnancy and can even help during labour.  If you have been following an exercise regime before you fall pregnant, it is quite safe for most women to continues following that regime into their pregnancy, with some modifications and the guidance of a trained professional.

Training by Trimester

1st Trimester – Weeks 1-12

Most women, myself included, who experience the dreaded morning sickness find it very difficult to exercise in the first 12 weeks.  Your body is working overtime in this first trimester growing your tiny human and almost doubling your blood volume making you feel tired and fatigued.  If you feel up to it, do some gentle exercise like walking, swimming, Pilates, light resistance training and deep core strengthening exercises. If you are not experiencing any morning sickness you can continue your pre-pregnancy training regime.  Just be mindful not to overheat and to keep your body temperature regulated. Avoid high intensity exercise in hot weather or heated pools.

Top 3 exercises for 1st Trimester

  1. Pelvic floor and Transverses Abdominal activations
  2. Gentle cardiovascular exercise like walking, swimming
  3. Modified intensity weights training

Exercises to avoid in 1st Trimester

  1. High impact cardio
  2. Heavy weights
  3. Exercise that overheats your body

2nd Trimester – Weeks 13-27

Coming in to second trimester there are a few things to be aware of. If you are an avid runner, you probably won’t like what I am about to say, however it is important to make safe and informed decisions around your exercise choices during this time.  As your baby grows and you put on weight, there is increased load on your pelvic floor muscles. Therefore, adding additional high impact exercises like running, high intensity aerobics, sports and phyometics can lead to increased risk of incontinence or prolapse during your pregnancy or later in life.    To reduce the amount of load and impact on your pelvic floor you might consider hill walking, swimming, deep water running, low impact aerobics or pregnancy safe fitness classes as an alternative to running or high impact cardio exercises and continue doing pelvic floor and Transverses Abdominal strengthening exercises daily.

During the second trimester, a hormone called relaxin also peaks.  Relaxin is responsible for the softening of your ligaments in preparation for birth.  This increase of relaxin causes your ligaments to become stretchier making your joins, especially your pelvis, to become more flexible and unstable.  As a result, it is easy to overstretch your joints making you more prone to injury. This is the point where you may want to steer clear of any split leg exercises like wide or traditional lunges, walking, lateral and reverse lunges, and Bulgarian split squats.  Also, if yoga is your thing, be careful not to overstretch and consider taking up a pregnancy specific practice to keep your joints safe.

Top 3 exercises for 2nd Trimester

  1. Pelvic floor and Transverses Abdominal activations
  2. Modified intensity weights training
  3. Pregnancy safe yoga and Pilates

Exercises to avoid in 2nd Trimester

  1. High impact cardio: running, jumping, aerobics
  2. Split leg exercises: lunge variations
  3. Deep stretching

Third Trimester – Weeks 28-42

With your growing baby and uterus, by the third trimester there is quite a lot of pressure on your abdominal muscles. This pressure can cause them to separate in a condition known as diastasis recti or abdominal separation causing a visible bulge down the middle of your stomach.  To avoid causing unnecessary additional separation, you should avoid exercises like abdominal curls or sit ups, incline sit-ups, abdominal curl machines, exercise ball sit-ups, bicycle legs, double leg raise, hanging knee raise, intense Pilates table top or Pilates hundreds.  

As your baby grows to full term there is also a shift in your centre of gravity which mean your muscles need to work harder to stabilise your body.  During this time, you want to work on strengthening your pelvic stabilising muscles, i.e. glutes medius. Pilates clams, isometric single leg wall lean, side lying leg raises, band crab/lateral walk and bird dog exercises are all great choices to strengthen these muscles in a gentle, safe and supported way.

Top 3 exercises for 3rd Trimester

  1. Pelvic floor and Transverses Abdominal activations
  2. Glute medius strengthening exercises
  3. Walking, swimming and gentle water aerobics

Exercises to avoid in 3rd Trimester

  1. High impact cardio: running, jumping, aerobics
  2. Split leg exercises: lunge variations
  3. Deep stretching
  4. Sit up variations
  5. Unstable exercises

Essentially, there are many benefits that exercising provides during pregnancy from increased energy, pain relief, feel good endorphins, improved endurance, regulate weight gain, reduced risk of incontinence, can aid labour and post birth recovery.  The key is to work with your GP and a training exercise professional to find a plan that is safe and suitable for you and your pregnancy.