Adjusting workouts in pregnancy

Let’s start this whole thing off with a caveat: We’re going off of the assumption that you have medical clearance for exercise from your provider, your pregnancy isn’t high risk, and you aren’t experiencing medical concerns during exercise that you should see your provider for.

The following is a tiny portion that I pulled straight from Pregnancy Basics.

Exercises to avoid during pregnancy

For the most part, training during pregnancy is more about how you perform an exercise rather than simply what the exercise is. However, there are some activities generally considered unsafe to perform during pregnancy. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Scuba diving
  • Sky diving
  • Activities with an increased risk of falling (rope climbs, horseback riding, bar muscle ups, etc)
  • Contact sports
  • Hot yoga or other activities that may raise your core body temperature

Outside of that, it’s hard to give a simple yes/no list for training during pregnancy. Some factors to consider ➡ what activities were you doing prior to pregnancy, do you experience any symptoms, what is the risk vs reward, etc.

How to adjust your workout for the first trimester

During the first trimester, you may generally continue training as normal while being mindful to avoid contraindicated exercises and lookout for the symptoms. While your training may not need to change very much from a programming point, it’s important to listen to your body’s signals and adjust as needed based on how you feel. 

Many people note a dramatic decrease in energy, and an increase in food aversions and vomiting during the first trimester. This is normal. It is not too early to scale at this point in your pregnancy. If you are not adequately hydrated, nourished, or rested, reducing the intensity and/or quantity of your training may be beneficial.

How to adjust your workout for the second trimester

For many people, the second trimester is when the abdomen really starts to expand as the baby grows and pregnancy progresses. You will want to take this into consideration during your exercises, especially with the following areas.

Bar path

Doing cleans or snatches with a barbell? It might be time to consider switching to dumbbells or kettlebells. The reason for the switch isn’t a question of whether or not the weight is too heavy or if you will hit your abdomen with the bar. Instead, the difficulty with these movements has to do with your bar path. 

Lifts like cleans and snatches are very technical movements that ideally have you making contact with the bar at a specific part of your upper thigh and keeping the bar close to your body as you move to get under the bar. With your abdomen expanding, even in the beginning when you may have a smaller bump, you will adjust your bar path to hit further down your thighs and to go further out around your abdomen. 

Muscle memory is a real thing. Making these bar path adjustments even for just a few months during pregnancy can be a difficult skill to retrain postpartum.

Increased pressure

An expanding abdomen and growing baby mean added pressure on your core and pelvic floor. Even in the absence of symptoms, the increased pressure is still present. This might be a good time to consider reducing impact movements such as jumping, running, and burpees. 

How to adjust your workout for the third trimester

The 3rd trimester typically brings in more fatigue and an even greater expanding abdomen as you near the homestretch of pregnancy. This is a time to really tune in and listen to your body and adjust as needed. You may find the following adjustments to your training routine beneficial.

Lower the intensity

Exercise may help give you more energy, but the 3rd trimester isn’t a time to overdo it. Increasing rest periods within your training, lowering the weight and slowing the tempo, and EMOM or TABATA style workouts over AMRAP can all help you to reduce the intensity and add in breaks to your training.

Decrease pressure

You will continue to have increased pressure on your core and pelvic floor throughout the 3rd trimester. If you didn’t reduce impact movements in your 2nd trimester already, now is definitely the time to consider doing so.

Pelvic floor relaxation

Like any other muscle, the pelvic floor needs a balance of strength and relaxation. But pelvic floor relaxation is also important in labor and delivery. During the contraction and pushing stages of labor, it is important for the pelvic floor muscles to be able to relax to allow the uterus to do its job and for the baby to pass through. However, you can’t suddenly relax your pelvic floor during labor if you haven’t been practicing previously.

Want to know modifications, exercise alternatives, how to control pressure to reduce your risk of diastasis or pelvic organ prolapse, and more? Get your copy of Pregnancy Basics, a Core and Pelvic Floor Basics for Lifters guide.

If you want to take a deep dive on more core and pelvic floor topics, join my weekly Q&A email list. It may or may not also be the only place to snag a discount on programs. So run, don’t walk, to join.

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Hi friend! I'm Casey

I help people whose abs and vaginas are as cooperative as a 2-year-old at naptime return to lifting & living in a way that feels good again—and maybe even train them to behave along the way.

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