Pregnancy can be one of the most wonderful yet challenging times in a woman’s life. If you’re wanting to know what to include and avoid in your gym workouts, we break it down trimester by trimester. 

Pregnancy can be a period of great uncertainty, and exercise brings up a lot of questions and mixed opinions. Can I exercise? Should I exercise? How often? How much? What intensity? What type? What exercises? What should I avoid? Every mum's facebook group post seems to have conflicting information. In fact, you often find that people discourage women from exercising when pregnant. This is mostly due to fears and concerns, around doing the foetus harm. In actual fact, exercise can be amazingly beneficial for mum and bump - physically and mentally, and, as long as it’s done correctly, should absolutely be encouraged. As a qualified personal trainer for pre and post natal individuals, here are some of the key exercises to be included or avoided in your gym workouts. Disclosure - you should always discuss any new exercise regime with your doctor, and this article is not prescriptive as medical advice. 

Trimester 1
When it comes to Trimester 1, which covers up to week 12, you tend to reasonably OK continuing on with your standard exercise programme with minimal adaptations. Of course, there are some basic recommendations we encourage:

  • Metabolic changes when you’re pregnant place you at higher risk of overheating. To avoid this, and allow better temperature regulation, you should wear loose, comfortable clothing and always ensure there is an adequate water supply.

  • Respiratory changes from the early stages in pregnancy can result in feelings of breathlessness. This can happen at rest, or when exercise, and is partly due to the breathing centre within the brain becoming more sensitive to levels of carbon dioxide. Care should be taken to measure intensity more closely than before, and allow adequate rest if you find it difficult to regulate your breathing. Paradoxically, symptoms can be improved through gentle exercise such as walking. 

Trimester 2
Weeks 13 - 28 sees further hormonal and physiological adaptations by the body. As a result, further changes and considerations are necessary when exercising. You should continue with the recommendations above, as well as: 

  • Do not exercise, or perform any exercises in the supine position (lying horizontally on your back, with face up). This position reduces blood flow to the mother and baby, by causing undue pressure on the inferior vena cava.  A supine position can result in a 25% reduction in cardiac output, and a fall in stroke volume too, compared to a side lying position. The exception to this is swimming, whereby downfacing strokes (front crawl, and breast stroke) can be performed due to their non-weight bearing nature.

  • When pregnant, your body can experience changes within blood pressure. From Trimester two, you should avoid all overhead exercises such as overhead shoulder press, or any olympic lifting movements. This is because it can cause a higher than normal increase in blood pressure - which can cause faint-headedness and other possible risks for mum and bump.

  • Postural changes as the size of the foetus grows can cause difficulties with balance and muscular weakness. To combat hyperlordosis of the lumbar spine, be sure to include exercises that help in strengthening the mid and lower back, such as Lat Pull Down.

Trimester 3
The final trimester of the pregnancy, weeks 29 to 40, is, unsurprisingly, the trimester that requires the most caution when exercising. Intensity of the workouts must be extremely closely monitored, and adaptations must be made for the specific moves and exercises. Again, it is crucial to continue with the avoidance of supine and overhead positions. In addition to this, we recommend the following: 

  • With the weight of the baby at its heaviest, and postural changes causing kyphosis of the thoracic spine as well as lordosis of the lumbar spine the centre of gravity of the mother has shifted. As a result, you should try to adapt your standing exercises into seated alternatives. For example performing a seated cable chest press, or leg extension.

  • In Trimester 3, the body is working at its hardest to circulate blood, oxygen and nutrients to the foetus. This can result in greater fatigue. High intensity workouts, especially working till exhausted, should be avoided. Instead, work at a lower intensity, and do not surpass 50% of your 1 rep max. Sets should also be reduced to 1-2. You are still safe to perform major compound exercises such as squats and deadlifts, the former of which in fact, has been shown to improve birth.

  •  You should try to perform kegel exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, every time you work out, if not more. Kegel exercises are the motion of ‘pulling up’ your pelvic floor, squeezing, and holding. Think holding in a wee! Pull up for 10, hold for 10 seconds, and repeat. During birth, these muscles are involved in the contractions, and are thus vital to the delivery of the foetus.

Post Natal
Before starting exercise after pregnancy, it is vital you are cleared by your medical practitioner. This is usually after 6 weeks, but could be more depending on the birth. 

  • Continue with your pelvic floor exercises. After birth, these muscles have been stretched and weakened. This weakened state can cause incontinence, discharge and bladder discomfort, so it is recommended you perform these every day.Many women will know the dangers of a trampoline, or an unexpected sneeze, all too well! 
  • If you’re breastfeeding, you may choose to avoid prone (lying face down) positions, so try to have suitable alternatives for this. There is no direct danger from performing prone positions, it is just likely to be uncomfortable. Instead of a lying back extension, you could do this whilst standing, for example. 

Finally, I recommend you do a 10-15 minute gentle warm up, and a 5-10 minute cool down with some gentle stretches. If you’re ever in doubt, talk to your medical practitioner, and get yourself a qualified pre and post natal personal trainer to help get you to where you need to be. 

Pregnancy and post-pregnancy are delicate times and care should be taken not to rush. That being said, exercise is wonderfully beneficial, and should be incorporated into your pregnancy journey if possible!