How to Exercise in Your First Trimester

By Nicole Radziszewski |

First Trimester: Weeks 0 to 12

Respect early symptoms of pregnancy and be willing to adapt. Take this time to understand your body and prepare for the changes ahead.

The first trimester of pregnancy is often viewed as a time to maintain fitness, with little need to modify your workouts — but there are some adjustments worth making now.

“Just because you don’t look pregnant yet doesn’t mean you don’t have a reason to adapt,” says California-based coach Brianna Battles, MS, CSCS, founder of the Pregnancy and Postpartum Athleticism program. “It’s important to start out with a mindset of adaptability and willingness to honor your varying energy levels.”

Rather than trying to commit to a rigid routine and pushing through fatigue or nausea, give yourself a break. Choose exercises that require little preparation; take extra time to transition between movements; stay well hydrated; and prioritize sleep.

“You’re exhausted and you may not feel good,” but those things aren’t visible, says Stephanie Winters, NASM-CPT, a personal trainer and instructor at Life Time Academy in Chanhassen, Minn. “You have to remind yourself that you’re growing a human. It’s like running a marathon every day.”

The first trimester is also a time to plan for changes you’ll experience later. “It’s a good idea to start being more aware of your posture and daily activities that may be adding more stress to your spine and to your pelvic floor,” says Theresa Plasencia, MPT, a Twin Cities–based women’s-health physical therapist. “It’s also an ideal time to learn how to engage your core and connect with your breath.”

Strive to understand your tendencies during exercise, Battles advises, and learn how to address them before the baby gets in the way. When some women attempt to engage their core during exercise, for example, it may result in bearing down or pushing the pelvic floor downward. During exertion, you want to instead feel a gentle lift of the pelvic-floor muscles.

Additionally, some women put pressure into the linea alba — the connective tissue that supports the abdominal wall — which looks like your belly is pushing out, or in the case of diastasis recti, coning at the center of the abdomen. The harder your core has to work during an exercise, the more you should feel your belly drawing in and tightening.

“Knowing how to connect with breathing strategies can support you during the rest of your pregnancy and postpartum,” Battles says. (For more on this, see “Connect With Your Core” below.)

A proactive approach now can also help stabilize the pelvis and prevent symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD) and sacroiliac joint dysfunction (SJD) later in the pregnancy.

“Typically, women don’t experience issues such as SPD or SJD in the first trimester, but it’s good for them to use exercise to start stabilizing their pelvis early on,” explains Lindsay McCoy, an exercise physiologist in Minneapolis and cofounder of the One Strong Mama program. McCoy recommends incorporating moves that strengthen the hips, such as lateral-band walks.“Prehab before rehab,” she advises. “It’s much more effective.”

Exercises to Try

Kettlebell Deadlift: The functional movement of lifting a heavy object off the ground is a huge part of motherhood and life, as well as a great way to strengthen your posterior chain and dial in good breathing strategy.

  1. Perform three sets of 10 to 12 reps.

Dumbbell Overhead Press: The first trimester is a good time to start building upper-body strength to prepare for all the time you’ll soon spend carrying baby.

  1. Perform three sets of 10 to 12 reps.

Internal and External Hip Rotation: This exercise strengthens the musculature around the hips, which can minimize and prevent hip discomfort and low-back pain.

  1. To make it harder, place a ball between your knees or have a partner gently give resistance for you to push against.

This originally appeared in “Fit for Two” in the April 2019 print issue of Experience Life.

Exercising safely during and after pregnancy is less about choosing specific movements and more about applying good strategy to how you move.One of the most important choices you can make is to connect with your deep core muscles — particularly your pelvic floor, transversus abdominis (TA), and diaphragm — so they can support you during exercise. Following is a quick tutorial for connecting with these muscles.

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