So, you’re staring at a positive pregnancy test, and you’re thinking a thousand thoughts at once. A few of them probably sound something like, “How is my body going to change? Am I ready for this?” As a mom to a 1-year-old daughter, I remember those thoughts in my own head – even as a pelvic floor PT! There’s nothing like walking through pregnancy yourself, even if you know a lot about it going in.
I can’t answer every question you have floating around in your mind right now, but I can answer those two from above! Yes, your body is going to change… a lot. But yes, your body is prepared for this! Growing a little life is literally something it’s designed to do. And yes, there are ways you can help your body as it changes and evolves throughout your pregnancy to give you less pain and a better labor and delivery experience!
Lots of women aren’t sure if exercise is even safe during pregnancy, especially in the early days. But actually, building strength and staying active is one of the best things you can do for yourself throughout your pregnancy. Basically, exercise is more than just possible – it’s encouraged! I recently wrote about the benefits of exercising during pregnancy, including the why, when, and how of prenatal workouts.
You won’t work out in only one way throughout your pregnancy. Each trimester brings its own specific changes, and with those changes, you’ll want to focus on modifying your exercise regimen to provide maximum benefit (and minimal risk!) to you and maximum safety for your little one.
Today, we’re going to focus specifically on those first 12 weeks of pregnancy. I’m here to help you understand some of those changes in your body, because knowledge makes them seem less scary (and honestly, more amazing). Then I’ll share the 4 modifications that will help you step into pregnancy-safe exercise with confidence! Congrats on your growing family, mama. Now let’s get moving.
Your belly may not be popping out just yet, but trust me, there’s a lot going on in your body behind the scenes. Making space for a new life and providing it with everything it needs means that almost every part of your body is working hard! Here are just a handful of things that are happening in those first 12 weeks:
All of these changes (and more) are perfectly normal. If you are experiencing anything that feels painful, uncomfortable, or worrisome to you, it’s always a good idea to check in with your provider (and potentially your pelvic floor physical therapist, if applicable). But for the most part, you can rest assured that your body knows what to do along the way.
Maybe you’ve been consistently active leading up to your pregnancy, or maybe you’re ready to start moving your body consistently now to prepare for labor, delivery, and motherhood. Either way, prenatal workouts are a good choice. However, your movements and your intensity may change a lot from your pre-pregnancy routine, and that’s perfectly fine. Here are four ways I’d consider modifying your strength training in the first trimester.
This is an individual choice, so it’s open to interpretation a little bit! My best advice is to consult with your physician and check in honestly with your body. Along with the nausea I referenced earlier, your body is probably feeling fatigue from the rapid changes happening within. Make sure you’re accommodating your needs — there’s a difference between giving yourself a healthy challenge in the gym and pushing yourself further than you should.
So what does decreased “volume” mean? Essentially, it means editing the length and intensity of your workouts. You may still work out 4 days each week, but you can opt to increase your rest interval between sets, decrease your number sets overall, or shorten the entire workout by doing 3-4 exercises instead of 5-6. Again, this is all dependent on your body and your needs! If you’re feeling extremely fatigued or nauseous, some movements won’t be accessible to you during this trimester, and that is fine.
If you’ve been around here for any length of time, you know this is important for all of us, not just expecting mamas — but it matters even more during pregnancy.
Imagine your core is like a can of soda. Your diaphragm is the top and your pelvic floor is the bottom. On the sides, your abdominal and back muscles wrap around. To keep everything safe inside (including your baby!), you want to maintain the right intra-abdominal pressure. This sounds complex, but it all works together subconsciously most of the time. However, now is the perfect time to think about it, training your core and pelvic floor.
It’s important to learn how to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles now, because as your baby grows, the pressure on it will continue to increase. Think of it like a trampoline! When you inhale, your pelvic floor gently lengthens against the pressure. When you exhale, it reflexively lifts back up. Train your brain to connect to your breath, both in daily life and in your workouts.
This one is especially for mamas-to-be who are used to strength training (I’m raising my own hand!): your first trimester is not the time for PRs. In fact, none of your trimesters are — so it’s a good idea to start practicing this mindset shift now. It will hold true for the rest of pregnancy. Your exercise routine for the next 9 months should focus on labor and delivery prep, functional strength training, and practical movements. There will be time to hit PRs again, but this season is meant for taking care of yourself.
This may be the hardest modification of all! You may not feel up to going “full out” in your workouts these days, and that’s fine (and even good). Again, nausea and fatigue are very common as your body is changing, and you should honor what your body needs.
If you need to skip a workout, don’t beat yourself up. Practice compassion even as you figure out what consistency looks like. And if morning sickness is getting the best of you, know that this is temporary. You can get back to traditional “workouts” in the second trimester. In the meantime, practice gentle movement when you can, or go for walks when you feel up to them.
Now that we’ve discussed mindset and modifications, you may be thinking, “Great! But what movements or programs can I actually do that’ll be safe and effective for me?” As a pelvic floor PT, I got this question from in-person clients a lot. So when I got pregnant in 2021, I decided to film a 37-week exercise program in real time throughout my trimesters.
Movement Through Pregnancy was designed to give you a plan for staying active and reducing pain throughout pregnancy, preparing you for labor, delivery, and motherhood. In the program, you’ll find 50+ workouts, designed for each week of your pregnancy, with audio and video cues to help you along the way. You’ll also find educational modules that address common diagnoses and bodily changes like SI joint pain and pelvic girdle pain. Plus, you’ll get exclusive access to my free app and a Facebook community of other mamas-to-be who are staying strong and active as they move through pregnancy!