Can You Workout In Early Pregnancy?

First of all, good for you for wondering, "Can you workout in early pregancy?" While we often worry about overdoing exercise in early pregnancy, the truth is that very few women actually exercise enough throughout pregnancy.1 And, the less you exercise in the first trimester, the less likely you are to exercise enough in the second and third trimesters too, because, let's face it - that baby isn't getting any smaller!

Can you workout in early pregnancy? Absolutely. Here's what you need to know about first trimester pregnancy and exercise.

The first thing to realize is that a ton of women exercise for a couple of months without even knowing they are pregnant. Not every woman has a consistent period, and even for ones who do, it's easy to overlook one missed period. 

The good news is that it's not likely a big deal, as restrictions in early pregancy on working out are very minimal if any.

However, every woman and every pregnancy is different, so be sure to consult with your doctor and also consider hiring an expert to guide you if you are unsure of what you can/can't do.

I am certified in pregnancy and postpartum corrective exercise, and I love creating prenatal plans for women! Check out my program here.

One thing that is important  to know is that it is safe and recommended to begin exercising even if you were not before becoming pregnant, as long as it's done  with appropriate intensity which we will detail below. Being physically active has been shown to decrease the odds of developing gestational diabetes mellitus and diminish maternal weight gain.2

Engaging in moderate physical activity for an expectant mom has also been shown to increase fetoplacental growth, a larger placenta and also results in larger newborns with less body fat.3 Physical exercise during pregnancy is also associated with a 31% reduction in risk of gestational diabetes, and when the exercise program is conducted throughout pregnancy, the reduction in risk of gestational diabetes is even greater at 36%!3

Modifications you might need to make to strength workouts in early pregnancy

For some women fatigue can be a big issue during early pregnancy - quite often fatigue can be worse in the first trimester than the second  or the third! To help manage fatigue but still maintain strength levels - which you will want to do to help ensure a healthy delivery and the best ability to heal postpartum - you can decrease how many workouts you do per week or how many sets of an exercise you do per week. Start there, and if that still is too challenging you can reduce the amount of weight you lift. It's easier to maintain strength when you keep your weight lifted the same, which is why I recommend doing that whenever possible. It's also likely that you may not be able to do that as pregnancy moves along, so first trimester is a great time to take advantage keeping those strength levels up.

I don't recommend going for personal bests in strength training while pregnant if you haven't been working out regularly up until pregnancy. If you have been an athlete, you may be able to approach this during first trimester, but it needs to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis so I recommend working with a pregnancy and postpartum exercise specialist before embarking on aggressive strength training goals. That being said, there no cut-and-dry list of what exercises are and aren't allowed. A lot of it has to do with how you manage pressure. You'll read more about that below.

Modifications you might need to make to cardio workouts in early pregnancy

Fatigue can be an issue here, too. If you were doing interval training, now might be the time to move to steady cardio or intervals that are less demanding. You might  find that there isn't always extra energy available for cardio. I recommend prioritizing strength workouts if you have to choose. It's totally OK to miss some workouts here and there, too. Pregnancy is a time to do your best, but not beat yourself up if you miss more workouts than usual. The extra stress you can place on yourself by beating yourself up will not be helpful during this time. Frequently too, the second trimester you will feel better physically so that is something to look forward to.

Being pregnant is not the time to hit new personal bests with your cardio. If you are used to doing cardio at an intensity of 9 out of 10, you want to back off to an intensity of 8 out of 10 or less in general. For more specific guidance, you'll want to seek out a trainer certified in pregnancy and postpartum exercise.

pelvic floor exercises in early pregnancy

Things to master when working out in early pregnancy - both for exercise and for life

One super important thing to master is a good 360 breathing pattern. This means that air not only expands toward the belly (belly breathing) but it also leads to the back ribs and side ribs expanding, too. This really helps manage pressure that can lead to diastasis of the abs as well as prolapse in some women. 

Another important aspect is to be sure that the breath goes all the way down to the pelvic floor. This helps train the pelvic floor to be responsive and takes advantage of the natural "trampoline-like" effect of rebounding strength with the stimulus of the breath.

Once those two things are mastered, it's imporant to check that you're able to maintain these patterns when you exercise. A good prenatal trainer can run you through a variety of exercises and screen for which ones make the most sense for you to stick with during this special time in your life.

Pregnancy and Postpartum Fitness Articles by Gina Paulhus, PCES Certified

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can you workout early pregnancy

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1 BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 2017 Sep 5;17(1):286. doi: 10.1186/s12884-017-1460-z. Determinants of physical activity frequency and provider advice during pregnancy. Eilann C Santo 1 2, Peter W Forbes 3, Emily Oken 4, Mandy B Belfort 5

2 BJOG. 2015 Aug;122(9):1167-74. doi: 10.1111/1471-0528.13429. Epub 2015 Jun 3. Effectiveness of physical activity interventions on preventing gestational diabetes mellitus and excessive maternal weight gain: a meta-analysis. G Sanabria-Martínez et. al

Sanabria-Martinez G Garcia-Hermoso A. Effectiveness of physical activity interventions on preventing gestational diabetes mellitus and excessive materal weight gain: a meta-analysis. 2015 Aug;122(9):1167-74. doi: 10.1111/1471-0528.13429

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