Your Guide to a Safe Exercise Routine as a Pregnant Woman

Before engaging in a resistance training program, pregnant women should always get medical clearance from their physician. Key points to remember when entering into your exercise routine (to be monitored no matter which trimester you are in):

  • Adjust your goals. You should seek to maintain a reasonable level of fitness, with the specific protocol based on your current fitness level. Anything the body is already accustomed to in terms of exercise may be continued (including running) unless there are underlying medical concerns. Rather than focusing on gaining muscle or losing fat, aim to maintain fitness while gaining a healthy, not excessive amount of weight (average demographic for optimal weight gain is around 25-35 lbs).
  • Manage your core body temperature. Keep it under 100 degrees fahrenheit (38 degrees celsius) especially during the third trimester. Wear loose- fitting clothing and make sure the training environment is cool and well ventilated. Moreover, it is essential to keep well hydrated throughout exercise to increase heat dissipation. Consuming 8 oz of water before training and then an additional 8 oz for every 15 minutes of exercise is a good rule of thumb to maintain fluid balance.
  • Keep your heart rate in check, especially during cardiovascular activity. A good rule of thumb: you should be able to carry on a conversation without getting out of breath. This will vary depending on the mother’s level of prenatal fitness and previous exercise regime. If unsure it is always best to err on the side of caution.

Best and Worst Exercises for Pregnancy, and Things to Change and Avoid in Each Trimester

“Results are in. We’re having a bad ass.”

The First Trimester:

The first trimester is the most important period for fetal growth, including development of limbs and internal organs. During this time, major physiological changes take place without significant changes in the mother’s measurements or proportions. Weight gain averages less than 4.5 kilograms, so there generally is no need to modify exercises based on those considerations.

During the first trimester you may be overly tired, unpredictably nauseous, and scared that each move you make will harm the baby. However, working out during the initial three months can help increase your energy levels and minimize many pregnancy induced discomforts. Plan a simple workout: If you are a non-exerciser start with brisk walking or take up a prenatal yoga class under supervision of a certified instructor. Be regular with workouts: Try to make it a point to spend at least 30 minutes a day doing something active during the initial months and gradually increase your time and pace with the kind of regimen you follow. For example, a program involving resistance training three times a week and alternating light to moderate intensity cardio on your days in between will give you 30 minutes of activity a day, 5 to 6 days a week, plus a day or 2 of just rest and recovery. And finally, don’t miss warm-up and stay hydrated!

The Second and Third Trimester:

Working out in the second trimester generally feels much better, after battling nausea and fatigue it is common for many women to feel a surge of energy and better overall fitness that you can take advantage of. But it’s also important to remember significant changes in body habitus take place throughout the second and third trimesters, with weight gain averaging 22–35 pounds. Compounding matters, weight gain is centered about the midsection, altering posture and center of gravity. This can make the execution of many exercises difficult or impossible to perform. Breathing can become more difficult due to the fetus pressing on the diaphragm. It therefore can be necessary to modify or eliminate exercises to suit a woman’s comfort level. If necessary, towels and pillows can be used to facilitate performance. Other examples would be trading the cross trainer for a seated stationary bike, or performing body weight squats using a chair for balance and changing your feet to a wider stance, angling your toes outwards slightly.

Exercise-related restrictions warranted at the onset of the second trimester:

  • First, the supine position (lying flat on your back facing upwards) should be avoided as it tends to obstruct major veins (compressing the vena cava) carrying deoxygenated blood from the uterus back to the heart. This can decrease cardiac output and result in orthostatic hypotension (abnormally low blood pressure).
  • Second, exercises that require forward flexion at hips and/or waist should be avoided after the first trimester or until it starts to feel uncomfortable. The pregnant woman’s uneven weight distribution tends to make these moves awkward and places increased stress on the lumbar region. They also can result in dizziness and/or heartburn. As an alternative, a modified all fours position (hands and knees) is more conducive.
  • Thirdly, any overhead movements should be eliminated (e.g. overhead shoulder presses, or lat pull downs) as they can cause the baby to roll prematurely, moreover increasing risk of the umbilical chord becoming entangled around the baby.
  • Finally any dynamic abdominal exercises (e.g. crunches) as they become uncomfortable.

Key Points on Resistance Training:

Before exercising: Prenatal exercise should always begin with a light warm-up and end with a brief cool down. Generally, 5–10 minutes of light cardiovascular activity is generally sufficient for both the components. It is important to exercise after a sufficient meal to avoid hypoglycemia. Most importantly, it is essential to be aware of the warning signs to stop exercise should adverse symptoms arise.

Resistance sets should be anywhere from 1-3 and rest between sets should last approximately 2 minutes, allowing enough time for recovery of maternal heart rate. Sets should be somewhat challenging but should not progress to the point of absolute muscular fatigue. Similarly, static exercises (non moving holds) should be held until the muscles are challenged but not to the point where the woman can no longer support her body weight. Doing higher reps helps you maintain normal breathing and avoid stressing your joints, so choose the weights that allow you to maintain a rep range between 12-20 for each set. Avoid using momentum to move the weights, make sure to lift and lower with your primary mover muscles.

Note: Given that joints are much less stable during pregnancy due to a significant increase of relaxin during the first trimester, it is particularly important for the pregnant woman to use proper form during exercise. Repetition speed should be slow to moderate, taking approximately 2 seconds on the pulling action and 3 seconds on the releasing action. It is also best to stay active between sets, this can be accomplished by walking around the room or performing light dynamic stretching movements.***

Avoid the Valsalva Maneuver: The breathing maneuver (used when lifting) where you forcefully exhale without actually releasing any air. Breath holding increases both heart rate and blood pressure and can decrease oxygen flow to the fetus.  Breathing should be steady and regimented throughout the duration of any form of exercise.

Cardiovascular Activity:

When choosing cardiovascular exercise routines, try to choose activities that create less joint stress, e.g. walking, swimming, stair climbing (at a walk pace), elliptical machine, the stationary bike and yoga. Avoid high impact activities that could injure your joints or the baby, e.g. contact sports, skiing, sprinting, or plyometrics.

As far as frequency of working out, again it will depend on your current level of fitness and previous workout routine. 30 minutes of activity per day (whether it be resistance training, walking, or yoga) is a good place to start. A 3-day-a-week resistance routine can be employed with excellent success. Training should be performed on nonconsecutive days to allow for sufficient neuromuscular recuperation. Above all, listen to your body, what it allows you to do may change throughout your pregnancy. Make changes and modifications as necessary.

The Importance of Core Training:

When designing a routine, particular emphasis should be placed on training the core, which can help to counteract lumbar stress and alleviate stress and pain in the low back. Static (stationary) endurance-based core exercises such as planking (see descriptions of these exercises below) are ideal for the pregnant woman because they have been shown to promote back health while minimizing stress to the spine. Dynamic (moving) core exercises, such as crunches, also can help to improve core strength, although these movements tend to become difficult as term progresses and may be best tolerated during the first trimester. Just remember to always support the spine!

Warning Signs to Terminate Exercise Session Immediately:

Vaginal bleeding

Difficult or labored breathing before exertion



Chest pain

Muscle weakness

Calf pain or swelling (rule out thrombophlebitis)

Preterm labor

Decreased fetal movement

Amniotic fluid leakage

Next week I will discuss Nutrition and Supplementation!

Chat soon 🙂


Meet The Author

Whitney has been working with One to 1 Fitness and Wellness for the past 4 years. Previous to working with One to 1 she was actually utilizing their services to reach her own goals (and still does!). In 2014 she was the winner of the One to 1 Fitness Trainer of the Year and just competed in her third ABBA fitness competition finishing top 10 in her class.

After training as a client at One to 1 for a year and a half (and falling in love with every aspect of her journey) she gained a constant thirst for more knowledge and developed a powerful desire to impact lives the way that hers has been.

The first step in getting anywhere is deciding you are no longer willing to stay where you are!

If you have any topics your would like Whitney to discuss next don’t hesitate to email her at – or visit her at One to 1 Fitness – 403.341.4041