Thank goodness – you do not need to stop exercising in early pregnancy. In fact, data shows that staying physically active as your pregnancy progresses can yield significant health benefits including decreased rates of gestational diabetes, reduced likelihood for a C-section, and faster postpartum recovery. Exercise during pregnancy can also boost your mood and make you feel majorly empowered.
In addition to any guidance you receive from a healthcare professional, here’s what you should know about pregnancy exercises for your first trimester.
5 Top Tips: First Trimester Pregnancy Exercises
As you consider the best workout routines during early pregnancy, you’ll want to keep the following strategies in mind.
1. Rethink core work
One of the first questions many pregnant women ask is about whether to train their abs. The answer? Heck yes. A strong core system will support good posture, reduce aches and pains, and even help with labor and delivery.
You’ll want to focus on your core’s role in stability as you exercise. During pregnancy, the hormone relaxin increases, helping to relax ligaments and connective tissue. Unfortunately, these changes can also cause pelvic pain. Use the first trimester to be proactive and focus on strengthening your stabilizing muscles (more on this below). The following video offers a walk-through:
You probably still feel comfortable doing floor exercises on your back – you can do a full core exercise routine during the first trimester as long as it feels good. That said, ditching high-pressure flexion moves like sit ups, crunches, toes to bar, and knees to elbow, for example, is a good idea.
Now is the time to concentrate on your deep core. Practice crossbody movements as part of your exercise program and be sure (above all else) to focus on your breath, with pelvic floor and core engaged.
2. Learn to breathe right
Sad but true – most women are breathing wrong. The majority of us need to rewire our brains in order to relearn proper breathing techniques. This can be frustrating and take some time but it’s well worth it. Not only will breathwork help enhance your fitness in the first trimester; proper breathing will support your whole pregnancy, improve labor, and accelerate postpartum recovery. Here are two key principles:
Exhale on Exertion
When we breathe optimally, our pelvic floor relaxes and lengthens on the inhale. On the exhale, it recoils and lifts. For obvious reasons, we want our pelvic floor muscles lifting and supporting us, especially during the first trimester.
Ssssss or Haaaaa
As you exhale, make a “sssss” or “haaaa” sound. Yes, literally. Say it as you lift and let air out. In this way, the diaphragm will work alongside the pelvic floor to help you better manage intra-abdominal pressure.
Learning to breathe better does not mean you have to focus on deep breaths at every moment. Your breath should match the level of exertion required for the task at hand. As an example, if you are going to pick up a weight (or a heavy toddler), take a big inhale and exhale to really engage. If you’re picking up a pilates ball, you won’t need a big exhale – just a little exhale and a gentle brace.
3. Strengthen your stabilizers
There are four superstar muscle groups that will support your growing belly and shifting body during the first trimester. Each one plays a key role in preparing you for pregnancy and postpartum; for pelvic girdle pain, these are the muscles that can help.
Deep core. Your deep core sits beneath your six-pack muscles and wraps all the way around your torso, from top to bottom. Deep core strength will help your connective tissue do its job during pregnancy – it can also help you (proactively) reduce postpartum symptoms.
Pelvic floor. Pelvic floor exercises will train you to engage and release these muscles – the latter is key to successful labor. During birth, your uterus (not your pelvic floor) pushes the baby out.
Inner thighs. Your inner thighs are the anchors that will keep you balanced. Strengthening your inner thighs, in tandem with your glutes, will help support your pregnant belly and protect you from instability.
Glutes. Pregnant women often “tuck and grip” to compensate for the weight of a growing belly – this puts a lot of pressure on your pelvic floor and out against your tummy. Strong glutes will help keep you aligned.
Here are a six great exercises for your first trimester workout:
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4. Lift weights
Exercise should become your good friend during the first trimester and throughout pregnancy. And despite what you may have thought, weight lifting is a great way to yield a ton of benefits (even more than aerobic exercise alone). Strength training as part of your first trimester exercise routine – either using free weights or weight machines – can help you:
- Normalize hormone levels including estrogen
- Stabilize your pelvis
- Increase blood flow to your uterus
- Improve your mood
Be sure to focus on posture and breathing, lifting in a slow and controlled manner at all times. Pay close attention to how you hold weights during exercise and avoid jarring motions to prevent injury.
Weight training with proper form is not a harm or danger during pregnancy – with a doctor’s clearance, it’s an incredible support and preparation system for smoother pregnancy, labor, and postpartum recovery.
5. Foster an intentional fitness mindset
Now more than ever, it’s important to listen to your body – especially where pregnancy exercise is concerned. During the first-trimester, you may experience common discomforts like nausea and exhaustion. If you feel like total garbage, don’t beat yourself up for slowing down during exercise. You are growing a human, the most epic athletic feat ever.
Think of your core like the foundation for a house. Pregnancy isn’t the time to remodel. Physical exercise should help you maintain your foundation as best you can. Same goes for the rest of your body – exercising during the first-trimester should be about maintenance and preparation, not personal bests.
To this end, explore the best modifications for fitness class exercises you love. The video below shows pregnancy modifications for ten popular exercises, including burpees, pushups, and planks. You’ll definitely want to adjust high impact exercises that require extensive jumping.
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Form can be a challenge during pregnancy as your center of gravity shifts and it gets harder to take full, deep breaths. Slow down and take a “talk test:” if you’re huffing and puffing (and even cursing), you may be pushing too hard. Remember, your body requires twice as much oxygen during pregnancy and you have twice the blood to pump. You may encounter difficulty breathing much more quickly and this means it’s time to slow down.
Give yourself lots of recovery time and try not to exceed 3-5 workouts per week. A relaxing walk on rest days is a great option to keep your body moving without wearing you down. Low impact exercise during pregnancy, including prenatal yoga, is a great complement to other training. Remember, this time will pass faster than you can imagine. Exercising is fantastic for you, as long as your healthcare provider approves and you can commit to putting your wellness (and growing babe) first.
The Perfect Pregnancy Workouts For Your First Trimester
A regular exercise program during the first trimester (and throughout pregnancy) is vital for your physical development and overall health.
SLAM Pregnancy is a one-of-a-kind, holistic program that includes:
- Safe and sweaty workouts customized for each week of pregnancy
- Weekly health tips from experts including pelvic floor physical therapists, a doula, OB/GYN, lactation consultant, a perinatal clinical psychologist and more
- A comprehensive nutrition guide and access to a vibrant online community
Find out more today. And congratulations on your pregnancy!