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:
- Better energy and sense of well-being.
- Faster post-partum recovery and increased fitness for labor and delivery.
- Reduced discomfort from having strong muscles (e.g., pelvic floor and back).
- Decreased likelihood of varicose veins from improved overall circulation.
- Decreased risk of excessive weight gain, which can lead to stretch marks.
- Less water retention.
- More rapid return to your pre-pregnancy weight.
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.
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.
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”).
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.
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.
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.