Strength Training Exercise Choices During the First Trimester

I’ve written in my book, Stay At Home Strong and elsewhere that pregnant women need to embrace exercise and strength training during and after their pregnancies. There are many possible benefits of strength training while pregnant, including:

  1. Better energy and sense of well-being.
  2. Faster post-partum recovery and increased fitness for labor and delivery.
  3. Reduced discomfort from having strong muscles (e.g., pelvic floor and back).
  4. Decreased likelihood of varicose veins from improved overall circulation.
  5. Decreased risk of excessive weight gain, which can lead to stretch marks.
  6. Less water retention.
  7. More rapid return to your pre-pregnancy weight.
The DB (or even a bodyweight) squat is fine during the first trimester. However, caution needs to be exercised beyond the first trimester as your center of gravity shifts and sense of balance changes.

The DB (or even a bodyweight) squat is fine during the first trimester. However, caution needs to be exercised beyond the first trimester as your center of gravity shifts and sense of balance changes.

The X-Band Walk Out will help strengthen the musculature around your hips and knees. These joints need to be as strong as possible throughout your pregnancy.

And it’s never too late to start.  There’s a myth that if you’ve never exercised, you shouldn’t start while you’re pregnant.  So long as you don’t decide that now would be a good time to start CrossFit, heavy and strenuous lifting, contact sports, sprinting/interval training of any sort, or any other activity that you’ve never done before, the exercises in the photos here are appropriate during your first trimester.  What I’m saying is that the key to a good program is to make good strength training exercise choices during your first trimester.

This client, in her first trimester, performs the row with the hand, knee, and shin supported and a lighter weight than she'd normally use.

This client, in her first trimester, performs the one arm row with the hand, knee, and shin supported and a lighter weight than she’d normally use.

As the baby grows and the pelvis shifts to accommodate your baby, certain exercises shown here will be increasingly difficult (squats, step ups, or split squats) and are not recommended, as your balance will shift as well.  Same goes for any exercise performed on the back, as lying flat on the back can diminish blood flow to the brain and uterus.

Finally, it’s important to always listen to what your body tells you, and to adhere to your doctor’s recommendations. If you’ve consistently exercised prior to getting pregnant, have your doctor’s clearance, and want to continue to exercise, there’s no reason why you can’t.  Just remember the focus is no longer to build muscle or lose fat. You’ll need to adjust your goals with a healthy pregnancy first and foremost.

This client in her first trimester performs the Split Squat with a light dumbbell and her hand against the wall for support. Beyond the first trimester, this is not a recommended exercise.

During the first trimester Vanessa performs the Split Squat with a light dumbbell and her hand against the wall for support. Beyond the first trimester, this is not a recommended exercise.

In addition, remember to keep your exercise intensity in check.  When performing aerobic work, you should be able to speak short sentences, like “I forgot the milk!” but not be able to sing an entire nursery rhyme.  Wear nonrestrictive clothing, keep your body temperature well regulated (don’t exercise outdoors in excessive heat), and focus staying hydrated.  Additionally, the guidelines from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists for Exercise during pregnancy are covered here.

Here are some exercise choices (not all photos included)  generally regarded as safe during your first trimester. Special thanks to Vanessa, an experienced lifter in her first trimester (just barely “showing”).

The incline bench or DB press is safe to perform during your pregnancy with a sensible weight. Flat bench or DB pressing is not advisable  after your first trimester.

The incline bench or DB press is safe to perform during your pregnancy with a sensible weight. Flat bench or DB pressing is not advisable after your first trimester.

Chest: Flyes and presses with a light barbell, cables, and dumbbells. Pushups can be done against a wall to make sure you are not placing unnecessary stain on your wrists or shoulders. Some women develop carpal tunnel syndrome during pregnancy.

Back and traps: dumbbell shrugs, lat pulldowns with varying angles, and seated rows.  Lifting up baby in and out of the crib will mean lots of back work!

Erector spinae: partial rep deadlifts with 45 lbs or less, bird-dogs.

This client, in her first trimester, is also an experienced lifter and can still easily perform a supported step up. Beyond the first trimester, this exercise is not recommended, and especially not on a high step.

Vanessa, in her first trimester, is also an experienced lifter and can still easily perform a supported step up. Beyond the first trimester, this exercise is not recommended, and especially not on a high step.

Shoulders: Overhead presses, side lateral raises, or seated shoulder press machine.

Arms: Bicep curls, hammer curls, rope pressdowns, seated overhead dumbbell extensions, kickbacks. Strong arms will help you carry that baby car seat.

The single leg calf raise will need to be performed on both legs and on a very low step or riser as your balance perception changes.

The single leg calf raise will need to be performed on both legs and on a very low step or riser as your balance perception changes. Special thanks to Hoops the pug for inspecting form.

Legs: Seated leg curl machine, squats, lunges, leg extensions, standing and seated calf raises, incline leg press machine.  I’m convinced that my ease of recovery (getting in and out of bed) post c-section is attributable to my strong quads and hamstrings.

Abs:  Boat pose (modified), modified planks, curl ups in an incline position.

 

 

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