A Guide to Pregnancy Workouts by Trimester

When you’re pregnant, getting plenty of exercise is one of the best things you can do to help support a healthy pregnancy and feel your best. Although your changing body and everything that comes along with pregnancy – the exhaustion, aches and pains, changes in your balance, and ability to move – might have you wanting to just rest and relax most of the time, keeping up with your workouts can actually help you feel better and ease some of the discomfort. For most women, exercising during pregnancy is perfectly safe, and even recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).

Although you should use an abundance of caution while exercising during pregnancy and avoid high-impact workouts, there’s no reason you can’t incorporate movement into your everyday life. Before you begin any exercise routine, talk with your doctor to make sure what you are planning to do is safe, and always take it easy to prevent straining or doing anything that could lead to complications. When you take those precautions, you’ll continue to reap the benefits of exercise both during and after your pregnancy. 

The Benefits of Exercise During Pregnancy

pregnant women on exercise ball with light dumbbells

According to ACOG, working out while pregnant benefits women in several key ways. For starters, staying active can help keep you from gaining too much weight while pregnant and help you lose any extra pounds after you give birth. Exercise also helps promote healthy blood flow and oxygen levels, while strengthening your heart and blood vessels. It can reduce back pain, ease constipation, and improve your sleep, while also reducing your risk of several complications, including preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and the need for a Caesarean section. 

The exercise guidelines for pregnant women are the same for all adults: 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. Moderate intensity means that you increase your heart rate and start sweating but you aren’t working so hard that you can’t talk. If you already exercised regularly before you became pregnant, you can generally continue working out as usual throughout your pregnancy, with some modifications in the later trimesters. If you don’t already work out, start gradually, adding time to your workouts each week until you reach the 150-minute mark. 

Keep in mind that these exercise guidelines are only for women with normal, healthy pregnancies. Certain complications, such as preeclampsia, severe anemia, problems with your cervix or amniotic fluid, or being pregnant with multiples generally means you need to put your workouts on hold until after delivery. Your doctor will let you know if you shouldn’t exercise.

When to Stop Exercising

Although most healthy women can exercise right up until their due date, there are some times when you should stop exercising, at least temporarily. It’s important to avoid overheating, for instance, as that can cause complications. Other signs you should stop exercising and call your doctor include:

  • Uterine contractions
  • Bleeding or fluid leaking from the vagina
  • Muscle weakness
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Dizziness
  • Headache or pain in the chest or calves 

And of course, there are some exercises you should avoid during all stages of pregnancy. High-impact exercises (like CrossFit) and contact sports, exercises that come with a high risk of falling, such as cycling or skiing, and any exercises that require lying on your back (which can restrict blood flow to your uterus) should wait until after you have your baby. 

First Trimester Workouts

During your first trimester, you can often continue your regular workout routine with a few modifications to reduce the intensity. While the extreme fatigue and nausea often associated with the first trimester might make you want to skip working out, getting in even just a few minutes of exercise can actually help you feel better. 

Low-impact exercises are usually best during the first trimester, but if you exercised regularly before getting pregnant, you can probably still engage in some more vigorous exercise as long as you don’t have any complications. For example, many women can continue running, jogging, or light weightlifting throughout their first trimester without an issue.

For most women, though, exercises like walking, swimming, yoga, Pilates, and stationary cycling are appropriate during the first trimester. Even short walks (10 to 20 minutes) throughout the day are beneficial, especially if you are new to exercise or the first-trimester fatigue makes longer walks feel daunting. If you’re experienced with yoga, you can typically continue your usual practice, as long as you avoid spending too much time on your back, raising your legs above your heart, or holding positions that require bending or twisting the abdomen. 

Swimming is often recommended for pregnant women because it’s an excellent aerobic exercise with a low risk of strains or injuries. The natural buoyancy of the water takes some of the strain off of joints as well, relieving many of the aches and pains of pregnancy. Biking is also a good choice for a low-impact exercise, but you should avoid standard bicycles as the risk of falling is high. Instead, ride a stationary bike at a moderate pace. If you normally take spin or biking classes, you can keep going with your doctor’s approval throughout the first trimester. 

Second Trimester Workouts

Your second trimester is often called the “golden period,” since many of the discomforts of early pregnancy have subsided and your energy has returned. Your body is changing, and you likely have at least some belly at this point, but you can continue to work out. Keep in mind, though, that even if you feel good during this part of your pregnancy, there are still changes taking place that can influence your workouts. 

For example, as your blood volume increases during pregnancy, it also increases your heart rate, which can lead you to feel winded or out of breath more quickly than normal. This change in blood volume can also lead to low blood pressure, causing swelling, sweating, and dizziness. Glucose sensitivity also increases during the second trimester, leading to gestational diabetes for some, but regular exercise can help control your blood sugar.

During the second trimester, you might also experience increased lower back pain as your posture changes due to your growing belly and loose joints and ligaments. All these changes mean that proper form and support are vital during your second-trimester workouts, and you may need to reduce your workout intensity. For instance, women who run throughout their first trimester may find that they don’t have the same endurance and need to either take shorter or slower runs or switch to jogging or walking. 

For the most part, you can continue the same workouts in your second semester as you did during your first. Walking and swimming are still ideal, or you could switch to a prenatal yoga class. Light weight training, using 5-pound hand weights while doing squats, lunges, overhead presses, bicep curls, and forward rows, can help keep your muscles strong and toned if you do it three times a week in addition to some cardio exercise. 

Third Trimester Workouts

pregnant women on exercise bike

The third trimester of pregnancy is the home stretch, but it’s not the time to stop exercising. You might feel more uncomfortable than you have at any other point during your pregnancy, but staying active can help alleviate some of those discomforts. The most important thing to remember is that you may not be able to maintain the same pace anymore and will need to reduce the intensity of your exercise or change your routine entirely. Some women are able to keep up their running or jogging routine all the way through their pregnancy, while others find that it’s too difficult to run in the final months and switch to walking instead. 

Many of the body’s changes that begin in the second trimester – increased blood flow, blood pressure changes, difficulty breathing – intensify in the third trimester. You might also find your balance is off due to your changing body. Still, regular exercise, like walking, swimming, light training, and prenatal yoga continue to be beneficial. It’s also worth adding Kegel exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor to prepare your body for the rigors of delivery. The bottom line, though, is that it’s OK to rest and relax more at this point in your pregnancy, and just do your best to get in some daily movement. 

Exercise is beneficial during all phases of pregnancy, but it’s most important to work out safely to protect you and your baby. Talk to your doctor about your exercise habits and stop exercising any time you experience discomfort or signs of a problem. Exercise doesn’t have to be intense to be good for you, so take care of yourself and your baby by incorporating some moderate exercise into your daily routine.