Working Out in the First Trimester of Pregnancy: What You Need to Know

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Hi Everyone!

Having a baby is an exciting time! It can also be a confusing, and scary time when you hear conflicting information on what is and is not safe for you and your baby. Well meaning people will offer you conflicting advice, and internet searches can turn up some scary results.

I have put together some Must Know information for working out in your first trimester. If you have anything to add to this list, or a question about working out in the first Trimester post it in the comments below or on my Facebook page:

  1. There is No Set Heart Rate you Must Stay Under During Your Workouts. For a long time, doctor’s recommended that women keep their heart rate under 140 beats per minute during exercise while pregnant. This was based on one study that was done in the 1980s. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists changed this recommendation back in 2002, yet this advice continues to be common today.

You should pay attention to your Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) when working out. If it feels to intense, it probably is. You should be able to talk during exercise, and never work out to the point where you are gasping for air or feel sick. This guideline was changed because individual heart rates are very variable, and for most athletes 140 BPM is barely a warm-up, let alone a workout. Rate of Perceived Exertion is a much more reliable and individualized method of monitoring your workout intensity.

When I run and workout, I give myself the “talk test.” Even if I am alone on the treadmill, “Are you still doing okay? Yup! You can chat so you’re in the right zone! Keep it up!” Sounds cheesy I know, but I am willing to be cheesy if it means keeping my baby safe and healthy.

run dec

Running Outside at 11.5 Weeks Pregnant. I heard Baby Bender’s Heart Beat at my doctor’s appointment the very next day. A strong 160 BPM.

2. It is Never to Late to Start a Workout Program. Previously, women were told “If you didn’t work out before you shouldn’t start while you are pregnant.” Wrong! The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that pregnant women get At Least 30-Minutes of Exercise Per day. If you are brand new to exercise you should not start a high intensity program. You want to build a little bit at a time. Week one, walk 5 minutes per day. During week 2 increase that to 10 Minutes per day. Continue to add 5-minutes of exercise at a time until you are getting in at least 30-Minutes most or all days of the week. Pay attention to your RPE, and keep your exercise in the mild-moderate intensity range.

jess preg walk

Walking with my sister while she was pregnant with Dax. She didn’t exercise consistently pre-pregnancy, but her daughter & walks around the neighborhood kept her active.

3. You Can Continue Your Current Workout Program. If you have an established workout program/routine it is generally safe to continue as long as you monitor your RPE and make adjustments for your changing body & endurance levels. Athletes can work out at a higher intensity level than people who are brand new to working out, because that is what their body is used to. Higher intensity workouts are not harmful to your baby. The baby will become conditioned to your workouts. Babies whose mom’s worked out during the pregnancy handle delivery better, and show less stress through the birth process. The babies also have improved cardiovascular systems at birth! The baby is only at risk if the mom is working out at an intensity level they are not used to. If you are gasping for air, baby is probably not getting enough oxygen either. Listen to your body. If it tells you to stop, listen! If your body handles your workouts well, then you are good to go!

Unfortunately, if your sport of choice is Scuba Diving, Downhill Skiing or High Contact Sports that would risk a blow to the stomach, doctor’s recommend that you don’t participate in these activities during pregnancy.
single leg pushup

4. You Can Keep Running Throughout Your Pregnancy: Pregnancy running is a safe workout. Be sure to monitor your RPE and recognize that as your body changes, and your weight increases your times will slow down, and your balance will change. Be careful on runs of any tripping hazards, and don’t run in extreme heat. Be sure to re-hydrate after your run and support the exercise with good nutritional choices. Pregnancy is not the time for a calorie deficit.


5. During the First Trimester Monitor How Hot You Get During Workouts. The first trimester is a fragile time of growth. The baby is completely dependent on you to maintain it’s body temperature. Stay hydrated and avoid working out in extreme temperatures. If you have a fever, skip your workout. Women who are already athletic are more efficient at regulating their body temperature and are not as prone to overheating. Your temperature should remain within 3 degrees of normal.

18 minute cardio sweat post workout

Pregnancy is not the time to finish your workout lying on a mat, sweating and gasping for air! Pace yourself & monitor your Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE). If it feels “too hard” it is!

6. You Can Work Your Core During Pregnancy: During the first trimester you can maintain your normal core workout routine as long as it doesn’t cause you any discomfort. When you enter the second trimester, some women need to stop all supine (lying on your back) exercises because they cause dizziness or nauseousness. This is due to increased pressure on a major blood vessel called the Vena Cava, which can reduce blood flow to you and your baby. If you experience these symptoms change positions and discontinue supine exercises. There are still plenty of standing core exercises you can do! A strong core will help improve posture, decrease back pain during pregnancy, and improve the ease of labor.

Some core exercises will place you at increased risk of Diastasis Recti (abdominal separation) during the later stages of pregnancy. You don’t have to worry in the first trimester about abdominal separation because there isn’t a lot of abdominal pressure yet. Keeping your transverse abdominals strong can reduce your risk of Diastasis Recti, but it also helps to avoid core exercises where your abs bulge outward. For example, crunches. During my workouts, I always say “Keep your core strong.” That means engage the transverse abs by pulling them in toward your back. During all core exercises, planks, and pushups focus on keeping the transverse abs engaged. If it is difficult to keep your core engaged by pulling the transverse abs in during a particular exercise try switching to a different exercise.


Even during exercises that would traditionally bulge the abdominal muscles outward, you can engage the transverse abs by pulling the core in strongly. During the first Trimester it is safe to perform core exercises on your back.

7. You Can Continue Strength Training During Pregnancy: Focusing on proper form during pregnancy is very important because you hormones are promoting increased flexibility. If you use improper form this can increase your risk of injury. As always, listen to your body. If it feels like the workout is to intense, decrease the amount of weight you are using. Don’t worry about setting PRs in weight lifting while you are pregnant. Focus on choosing the right exercises to make you and baby stronger and healthier.


Don’t hold your breath while lifting weights, as it can increase abdominal pressure & reduce oxygen to yourself and the baby. Although it isn’t time to aim for new weight lifting PRs, lifting weights is great for keeping your strength and staying healthy throughout your pregnancy.

8. If You Have Any of the Following Symptoms Stop Your Workout: Vaginal Bleeding, Dizziness/feeling faint, extreme shortness of breath, chest pain, headache, muscle weakness, calf pain or swelling, uterine contractions, decreased fetal movement, or leaking fluid. Check with your doctor regarding your symptoms, and when it is appropriate to start working out again. This doesn’t mean you can’t ever workout again during your pregnancy, it just means that you should stop this workout & consult with your doctor.

9. If You Have Any of the Following Diagnosis You Should Not Work Out Unless Medically Cleared to do so By Your Doctor: Significant heart disease, restrictive lunge disease, incompetent cervix, multiple gestation at risk for premature labor, persistent 2nd and 3rd trimester bleeding, Placenta Previa after 26-weeks gestation, premature labor during the current pregnancy, ruptured membranes, or pregnancy inducted hypertension (high blood pressure).


*The information contained in this website is provided for general informational purposes only. It is not intended as and should not be relied upon as medical advice. The information may not apply to you and before you use any of the information provided in the site, you should contact a qualified medical, dietary, fitness or other appropriate professional. If you utilize any information provided in this site, you do so at your own risk and you specifically waive any right to make any claim against BenderFitness its employees or representatives, as the result of the use of such information.*

17 thoughts on “Working Out in the First Trimester of Pregnancy: What You Need to Know

  1. Angela

    Congrats! I wish you a happy and healthy pregnancy! I started your workouts a couple months ago to lose my 20 pounds of pregnancy weight that refuses to budge and its slowly coming off. It’s great that you are providing prenatal exercise info – I have vowed to stay fit with you if I get pregnant again! Enjoy this time!

  2. I’m one week before my due date and I wish I found all this data on one pile when I did my research… 🙂 One of the coolest articles about working out (especiall with the weights) is this one:
    What is extra cool here is that she introduces you to Katy Bowman, who is a (very good) biomechanist and you might already heard of her. She is explaining a lot about pelvic flood and diastasis and I think you will be interested into her blog as a physical therapist. 🙂

    I worked out (heavy weights included) till middle of 7th month, then I switched to walks because I felt so. Now I’m walking daily uphill to keep some activity, but in general I miss my workouts SO MUCH.

    Good luck with your pregnancy and I hope you will be able to work out for a long time! 🙂


  3. Anonymous

    Congrats on your pregnancy! I have had four babies, and I did your workouts during and between my last two pregnancies. (My youngest two are 18 months apart!) We are not planning on having any more babies, but I am actually a little disappointed I won’t do your pregnancy variations while pregnant 🙂 Hope you have a pleasant pregnancy and a safe and joyful birth.

  4. Heather Jordan

    I’m a huge fan of every single one of your workouts and follow you on here and your website. The workouts I’ve done since March 2015 have helped me to lose 70lbs!! Yes, 70lbs!!! All the workouts are challenging yet completely worth it. I’ve had such amazing results all because I chose to follow a plan that works for me and the goals I set for myself. And although my children are all teens now, my oldest just turned 17 on the 20th, and I will not be having any more children, I thought reading this article was very informative and useful information I can pass to my sister whom just started having her children. We are both big on keeping our bodies healthy and strong and any info that is correct and helpful is worth passing on! Congratulations on your pregnancy!! You’re amazing and to be completely honest I will never stop using your videos to help myself and others! Everyone I know asks me how I’ve lost the weight and toned my body and your name is the one I give! You’re amazing and beautiful in every sense of the word! Thank you!!

  5. Anonymous

    Congratulation you two, very exciting!
    Thank you for this information, I’m flirting with the idea of having a third, this post came right on time for me As always you are inspiring.
    Merry Christmas Benders.

  6. I really appreciate you offering this information Michelle. As you mentioned there is a great deal of confusion on this topic. I have worked with and watched quite a few women workout during their entire pregnancy and several worked out on their delivery days. One thing I also noticed is that these women often got back into shape very quickly after giving birth some within 30 – 60 days looking even better then before they were pregnant.

    • benderfitness

      I completely agree with you. If you ever want to write an article for my blog (on pregnancy or another aspect of training) let me know. I am consistently impressed by the research you put into your training techniques, and the interesting movement combinations you come up with.

  7. Renelle

    Hi melissa,
    I am also due to have my baby in July 2016! So excited! I was working out regularly before I found out I’m pregnant. But not long after, I’ve been struck with awful fatigue. I haven’t worked out in a few weeks now and it’s a little frustrating. I’m hoping to start asap. I’m happy to see you have a prenatal version of your routine !! You’re a great inspiration ! Happy Holidays !!

    • benderfitness

      The past two weeks the fatigue has really hit me hard. It definitely interrupted my workout plans. Sometimes your body tells you what it needs. We will both be back to our regularly scheduled workouts before you know it. 🙂 Happy Holidays!

  8. Kate

    I’m also not planning any more pregnancies but found this info really interesting anyways. The only thing I would add is that prenatal yoga can be a lifesaver. As you know, at some point, real exertion can become unsafe for some women, but yoga can help us manage the stress of pregnancy, build a spiritual and physical connection to our babies, and maintain our core muscles, and our connection to them, which will be so important during and even more so after childbirth. Like many pregnant women, I could often feel my baby responding when I practiced yoga; it was very obvious he was getting more oxygen and I dare say he enjoyed “doing yoga” with me. Love to you and Baby Bender.

  9. Kate

    PS: Remember, during first trimester fatigue, even more than the baby, right now you’re building a robust and healthy placenta, which will be the foundation of a healthy and robust baby (and also help with your hormonal balance). So don’t feel like a loser because you can’t get off the couch! Seriously, your body
    s working overtime! 🙂

    • Grace

      This is great reassurance Kate. Thank you from all of us who experience fatigue and feel like losers because we can’t workout like we used to. This has helped me realize it’s just a season!

  10. Camille

    Hi Melissa! Congratulations on your pregnancy! I am in my 11th week of pregnancy now and had to stop working out for 6 weeks because of the nauseas that were too intense and the fatigue (I lost 5 Kg since the beginning of my pregnancy because of the nauseas that prevent me from eating properly). I was coming back to your blog to look for workout variations as I feel ready to start working out again and was a little scared because of the unconsistent information you can find on the internet or what my physicians say (if I listen to them, I should not do any cardio exercise, stop running and only take Yoga classes or go swimming.) So thank you for this article and for the variations you propose on your workouts, and most importantly… good luck with your pregnancy!

  11. Deanna

    I just found out I was pregnant on New Year’s Eve! I was so excited and extremely happy Because we will be pregnant at the same time! I have been following you for a long time and am so grateful for your research and sharing of information! Thank you and congrats again!

  12. Stephanie

    Yeah! I am most likely done having children, but I am so thankful to see more and more true information being shared about exercising during pregnancy. Many of the exercises on common baby websites do not challenge a mother to be who has exercised before. During my last pregnancy, exercise helped with restless legs. My doctor recommended I keep at it because I tend to be anxious about appts and the endorphins are great for blood pressure issues due to anxiety. (Please follow your doctors recommendations if you have PIH or other blood pressure issues.). I always took my blood pressure at home to know if I was in a normal range or not.
    Yoga was great for me towards the end when a lot of the impact exercises were not comfortable but I still wanted to be challenged.
    I am not sure how often you look at other fitness blogger sites, but I did find blondeponytail very helpful as well. Look her up. She has exercised, including cross fit and weights through two pregnancies, and also has a lot of good information.

    I hope your pregnancy goes uncomplicated, and baby arrives safely. Remember if something does happen, you did your best to prevent those things, and you did your best to have a healthy pregnancy, but sometimes complications just arise that are out of our control.


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