My first trimester workout experience:
I remember so vividly the day I found out I was pregnant.
It was Friday at about 4pm and we were getting ready to head to a CrossFit gym to do Open workouts 21.3 and 21.4.
I thought I might be pregnant and decided to take a pregnancy test right before we were about to walk out the door.
When that second line showed, I couldn’t contain my smile!
It wasn’t until we arrived at the CrossFit gym that it hit me.
Am I even allowed to do this intense of a workout now?!
I had been lifting for years, and even trained other people for a living, yet I felt totally lost as to what my body could do, or was supposed to do.
I ended up completing the workouts, and hit numbers I was really excited about.
The next morning I started ripping through articles on the internet for guidance on strength and interval workouts for pregnancy.
I found a ton about yoga.
A ton about walking.
And a ton about not lifting anything over 25lbs and not getting my heart rate up over 140bpm.
Given the fact that I had just pushed a 135lb barbell over my head the night before and my heart rate was probably somewhere in the 170’s, and that I felt totally fine afterwards, I quickly realized that this whole strength training while pregnant thing might be a more under-looked area than I thought.
So this one is for you if you’re like newly-pregnant me, or plan to become pregnant in the future, and are looking for more updated guidance on what’s appropriate for your first trimester workouts!
Here are some pregnancy workout facts up front:
A full overview can be found in the article Physical Activity and Exercise During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period produced by The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, but here’s some truths:
- Working out does not increase your risk of miscarriage, low birth weight or delivery
- “Women who habitually engaged in vigorous-intensity aerobic activity or who were physically active before pregnancy can continue these activities during pregnancy” (straight from the article)
- Working out during pregnancy has the following benefits:
- decreased gestational diabetes
- decreased rates of cesarean birth
- decreased use of instruments in vaginal delivery
- better postpartum recovery times
- decreased depressive symptoms
- many other benefits!
- “Women with uncomplicated pregnancies should be encouraged to engage in aerobic and strength-conditioning exercises before, during, and after pregnancy.” (another direct quote)
With that base of knowledge, hopefully some fears are already subsiding!
So let’s get into the fun stuff.
If you have been working out consistently, here’s what I’d recommend for your first trimester workouts:
Continue doing what you’re doing, for the most part, for the remainder of your first trimester.
Many women tend to find out their pregnant when they’re about 6 weeks along. So the first 6-7 weeks or so (meaning week 6 to week 12 of pregnancy) is actually a great time to continue building your fitness level and strength! Especially in your core, back and legs.
What I recommend you don’t do, however, is go for any PRs, attempt max lifts, or perform full out sprints.
- We don’t want to go for PR’s or maxes, even though our bodies technically could. We know we’re going to have to regress load and intensity over the months, so there’s no point to hit max loads at this point. It’ll put extra strain on the core and pelvic floor, and right now that’s not what we want.
- We want to cut back on full out sprint efforts because of the hormone relaxin. This hormone comes about around week 6 and spikes at week 12 of your pregnancy. It is the hormone responsible for loosening your muscles, joints and ligaments during pregnancy and opens your hips for birth. This means your joints are going to be less stable, which poses a threat for injury during high intensity sprinting or other high impact movements.
To keep things safe, stay at or above 5 reps for those strength moves, and keep things at or below a 8/10 intensity when running or doing any high intensity movement.
When it comes to core work, you can still safely perform things like sit ups, Russian twists, planks and pull-ups if they’re your thing! These will not affect your baby in any way.
Since these moves produce high intra-abdominal pressure, I wouldn’t do them very often to maintain the integrity of abdominal connective tissue. But they are still considered safe during this time.
I personally removed these movements around week 14/15 of my pregnancy, but to be safe I’d remove them around week 11/12. Some women show earlier, some start feeling core tension early, and everyone has a different experience.
If you have not been working out consistently before finding out you’re pregnant, here’s what I’d recommend for first trimester workouts:
Use the first 6 weeks (week 6-12 of your pregnancy) to build a solid routine or habit around movement, and develop a solid baseline fitness level!
To help ease any fears around starting a new fitness routine (since that has also been a big misconception) here is a direct quote from that same ACOG article as above:
“In the absence of obstetric or medical complications or contraindications, physical activity in pregnancy is safe and desirable, and pregnant women should be encouraged to continue or to initiate safe physical activities.”
ACOG also states that “pregnancy is an ideal time for maintaining or adopting a healthy lifestyle.”
So, what kinds of things should you start with?
- Build a solid aerobic foundation. Start with 30 minute walks 3x/week.
- Develop good form in basic movement patterns. Examples include squats, lunges, overhead presses and hip hinge movements (like a deadlift or good morning). As a start, you can do 3 sets of 10 reps of each type of movement 3 days a week.
- Work on stretch and mobility. The changes your body goes through during pregnancy are no joke, so build flexibility and mobility early on to reduce aches & pains!
- Practice the connection breath. This is the deep, diaphragmatic breathing that helps connect your core and pelvic floor. It is important to practice while lifting during pregnancy and will be even more important during your postpartum recovery!
Remember – pregnancy is a unique time. Your body goes through a ton of changes, but you are not made of glass.
There are certainly guidelines to help keep your body and baby safe during pregnancy, but you are capable of more than you think!
Make sure to follow along on the blog, and on social media @katedarkofit so you can continue to navigate the gym confidently during pregnancy and postpartum!
I got you,