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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.*

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