As a physical therapist and a mom, helping women understand how to enjoy pregnancy-safe exercise is a huge deal. There are so many myths and misconceptions about prenatal exercise, ranging from the idea that you can’t do it at all to a lack of modifications that can cause you unnecessary stress or pain.
For most moms-to-be, YES – you can (and should!) exercise through each trimester. But your workouts should also evolve over time, helping you stay strong and prepare for labor and motherhood while honoring your body’s changes during pregnancy. Some women may be able to continue with certain exercises longer than others, and some may need to stop certain movements earlier than others.
Before we get into the specifics, I want to note that these are general guidelines from your friendly online pelvic floor physical therapist. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists also released a great resource with answers to commonly asked prenatal exercise questions. Always discuss prenatal workouts with your provider. They’ll be able to speak to any of your health conditions that could be contraindications for prenatal exercise. It’s also great to seek individualized care, if you are able, from an in-person pelvic floor physical therapist or a pre/postnatal certified trainer. They’ll be able to come up with a workout plan that’s safe for your pregnancy and individual health needs.
These early weeks commonly bring fatigue and nausea, and it’s good to accommodate your body as it adjusts. Be patient with your body’s changing hormonal and energy levels — this is a massive shift for you in every way, and you’ll probably need to slow down more than you’d like to. This could look like decreasing your total workout time per week, or increasing your rest time between sessions to give yourself time to recover. Some important adjustments in your first trimester:
Your belly is growing, and your workouts will probably (literally) have to make room for it. If you were already working out before pregnancy, reduce the load (less sets or reps) from your pre-pregnancy numbers. You also may need to modify or eliminate movements with barbells if your belly is in the way and interrupts the path. Some important adjustments in your second trimester:
By this point, you’re probably feeling very pregnant and very tired. Stay active when you can in ways that feel good to you. You may need to reduce the intensity of your workouts, the total load (less sets or reps) of your exercises, or overall workout frequency if your energy levels are zapped. It’s also important to increase recovery time between sets or circuits. Some important adjustments in your third trimester:
Still feeling overwhelmed when it comes to building safe prenatal workouts? Want more guidance throughout every single week? Check out my Movement Through Pregnancy program. It’s perfect for beginner to intermediate exercise levels. With 37 weeks of exercises, designed with minimal equipment so that you can do each workout right at home, you can follow along with me throughout each trimester. I filmed this course when I was pregnant, so you can trust that these moves have been tested and approved by a PT mama-to-be.