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First trimester exercise: How to do it safely & effectively

First trimester exercise

In this post, we give you tips and workouts adapted from the book Pregnancy Fitness to use as part of your first trimester exercise programme.

During your first trimester, your body goes through pretty significant changes. With fluctuating emotions, fatigue and nausea it can be a challenging time. Exercise and movement can help lessen some of these discomforts, but can you do first trimester exercise safely and effectively?

Pregnancy Fitness Book

Adapted from:

Pregnancy Fitness

Julia Di Paolo, Samantha Montpetit-Huynh, Kim Vopni

In the past few years, staying fit throughout pregnancy has become more and more popular. With fitness fanatics and athletes continuing their exercise regimes well into their pregnancies.

Runner Beatie Deutsch won the 2017 Tel Aviv Marathon while she was seven months pregnant. Serena Williams also famously won the Australian Open whilst in her first trimester. Whilst we’re not suggesting you tackle a marathon or a tennis match, the benefits of regular exercise during pregnancy are well known.

Exercise isn’t only safe during most pregnancies, but it can also ease a lot of pregnancy discomforts. Possibly shortening your labour, delivery and recovery time. However, it can be difficult to know where to start and what workouts to do.

Should you exercise while pregnant?

There’s no question that exercise is a fundamental part of a healthy lifestyle. The benefits far outweigh the risks and this doesn’t change once you become pregnant. The NHS recommends keeping up with your normal daily physical activity or exercise (sport, running, yoga, dancing or even walking to the shops and back) for as long as you feel comfortable.

If you weren’t active before you got pregnant, you shouldn’t suddenly take up strenuous exercise. If you’re starting an aerobic exercise programme, such as running, swimming or fitness classes, remember to tell your instructor you’re pregnant. To begin with, you shouldn’t do any more than 15 minutes of continuous exercise, three times a week. You can increase this gradually to at least four 30 minute sessions a week.

If you do decide to take up exercise while pregnant, you need to be smart and listen to your body. The many physical and physiological changes that occur from the moment you conceive until you give birth can change your focus and how you work out. If your pregnancy is safe and uncomplicated, chances you’ll be encouraged to exercise.

As mentioned in NSCA’s Essentials of Training Special Populations the benefits of exercising throughout pregnancy include:

  • Promotion of muscle strength and endurance
  • Increased energy
  • Improved posture
  • Improved sleep and mood
  • Decrease in backaches, bloating, swelling and constipation
  • An easier return to pre-pregnancy body shape

Exercising during pregnancy should be adapted as necessary to ensure both your’s and your baby’s health and safety. Also, it ensures you feel good while exercising throughout all the trimesters.

What are the risks of exercising while pregnant?

As mentioned above, exercise has many well documented benefits. However, it’s important to know what signs to watch out for if you do exercise while pregnant. Therefore, remember to listen and pay attention to your response to exercise. This tells you whether you need to modify or stop the activity.

Your heart rate increases approximately 10 to 15 beats per minute when pregnant, but keep in mind everyone adapts to exercise differently. An Olympic athlete, fitness enthusiast and sedentary person will all have different resting heart rates. Therefore, it’s important to always listen to your body and speak with your doctor or midwife. There are some other conditions that can affect whether or not you should exercise. These include:

  • Gestational diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Pre-eclampsia
  • Varicose veins
  • Excessive weight gain
  • Back pain

Weight gain can be a constant struggle for pregnant women. In September 2017, we featured an article titled Weight gain during and post pregnancy – Who isn’t exercising? which aimed to answer the question: how much should pregnant women exercise?

Exercises to avoid during pregnancy

Although exercise is recommended for uncomplicated pregnancies, you should avoid certain exercises. These include:

  • Exercises that involve lying flat on your back for prolonged periods, particularly after 16 weeks. The weight of your baby can press on the main blood vessel that brings blood back to your heart. This can cause you to feel faint.
  • High impact sports in which there’s the risk of falling or injuring your abdomen. These include football, horse riding, skiing, etc.
  • Lifting heavy weights or using machines that require wearing a belt around your waist.

First trimester exercise

The first trimester can be very tough on your body. It’s important not to push yourself too hard or overheat. You might experience low energy levels and nausea, which can be hard to battle through. This can limit the first trimester exercise you can do and determine how far you should go. If you’re a regular gym goer or class participant, this can make your first trimester tough. Try not to become too discouraged if you can’t perform at the levels you could prior to conceiving.

You might find it hard to do anything other than survive, but don’t panic. Remember, this will pass. However, it’s important to bear in mind that some exercise is better than none. Also, your energy levels will likely return in the second trimester. Sometimes, simply going for a walk can help increase your energy and lift your spirits. Pre-natal yoga can also be great for freeing the mind, body and spirit during, what can feel like, a challenging time.

First trimester workouts

If you’re new to fitness, it can be difficult knowing where to start. You may be uncertain about the exercises you can and can’t do. You may even feel intimidated about going to the gym. This can make it difficult to maintain a regular fitness routine. Below, you’ll find details of a sample programme for first trimester exercise.


If walking is your only cardio, then you should aim to do it around three to four times a week. This should be for around 20 minutes a day. However, if you also want to include swimming or aqua fitness classes, walking can be done two to three times a week. Your first trimester is the first time you can create a habit for the rest of your pregnancy, and walking is one of the best exercises out there. The authors of Pregnancy Fitness even recommend walking whilst in labour (if possible), so starting to walk in your first trimester can literally train you for the big day. Remember, be careful not to get overheated.

Full body strength training

You should aim to do your strength training one to two days a week, performing one to two sets of 8 to 12 repetitions. When doing your strength training there are various workouts you can do. You can use the some of the sample first trimester exercise programmes below or even pick and choose the exercises to create your own workout. Just remember to make sure you hit all the major muscle groups – legs, chest, back, arms and core.

  • Stability ball squat (fig 1 and 2)
  • Deadlift
  • Clam shell
  • Ball squeeze rotation
  • Seated back row
  • Barbell biceps curl
  • Skull crusher
  • Seated shoulder press
  • Core breath
  • Bridge (fig 3 and 4)
  • Cat and cow
Stability ball squat first trimester exercise
Fig 1. Stand with your back to a wall. Put an exercise ball against your lower back, with the bottom of your shoulder blades touching it. Move back so the ball is touching you and the wall.
Fig 2. Inhale to expand as you bend your knees and lower down. Press your bum back and keep your weight on your heels. Exhale to engage as you straighten your legs to move back up.
Bridge first trimester exercise
Fig 3. Lie on your back with your knees bent. Your feet should be pelvis width apart and shins vertical. Place a small ball or cushion between your legs.
Bridge first trimester exercise
Fig 4. Inhale to expand and prepare. Exhale to engage and press your hips up towards the ceiling. Inhale to expand as you lower your hips back down.

Some of these first trimester exercise routines shouldn’t be done in or need to be adapted for the second or third trimester.

Functional movement

Functional movements are exercises that maintain or improve a person’s ability to perform daily activities. Therefore, try to incorporate these movements into your daily life, or at least on most days. This helps you maintain the strength and endurance needed for labour, birth and motherhood. These can include walking, climbing stairs, squatting, lifting and lunges.

Release work

You can perform release work exercises daily. Hold these for 30-60 seconds each. Be cautious about over stretching. This is because the hormone relaxin (produced whilst pregnant and at its highest in the first trimester) can give you a false sense of flexibility.

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Hi, I’m Hannah, marketing assistant and one of the bloggers here at Human Kinetics Europe. I wasn’t blessed with the coordination to play most sports, but that’s not stopped me becoming a great watcher of them. Particularly when it comes to football! So I’m here to bring you all you need to know about exciting new product releases and the latest in sport, fitness and PE.

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