exercise trimester pregnancy

How to exercise right for each trimester of pregnancy

For years it was thought that when a woman was pregnant, she must rest and not over-exert herself. Now we know better that it’s actually great for mum and baby when the mother stays active throughout pregnancy! So how much exercise do you need and what exercises are safe during each trimester of pregnancy. We asked an exercise physiologist to break it down for us…

Why exercise is important during pregnancy?

Finding ways to be physically active during pregnancy can provide so many benefits. Physically, it can reduce risk of pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, excessive weight gain and low back pain. Mentally, being active can reduced the risk of or severity of depression and improved overall well-being. And it’s great for the baby too, reducing the risk of newborn complications and childhood obesity!

Incorporating healthy choices into your life will provide benefits beyond as well pregnancy. Physical activity can reduce your risk of developing chronic disease and certain cancers, improve your post-natal recovery, prevent future injuries or aches and pains, and may improve your mental health. It’s important to note that physical activity hasn’t been associated with miscarriage, stillbirth, low birth weight, birth defects or birth complications.

By starting to incorporate physical activity into your daily life, you are also giving your little ones an amazing role model – teaching them that getting out and moving is great for the body and mind!

How much exercise should pregnant women do?

Guidelines suggest women should be aiming for at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week. What does that look like? At a minimum you want to aim to be physically active three times a week. However, it’s best if you try to move every day – a lunch break walk, an exercise circuit in your living room or a post-dinner-date-stroll on the beach. Try to make it fit, in an enjoyable way!

exercise for pregnancy

What kinds of exercises are best?

Women are encouraged to incorporate both aerobic and resistance training into their daily routine. If you’re already active when you become pregnant, you can often continue your exercise and modify throughout each trimester. If you aren’t active yet, that’s ok! Start by visiting an Accredited Exercise Physiologist if you feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start.

Types of exercise to add to your day:
Aerobic exercise – helps improve your heart and lung function and muscular endurance. This includes exercises such as walking, light jogging, cycling (stationary bike is recommended), swimming, dancing and rowing. The intensity you are aiming for is moderate, which means you should be able to still hold a conversation while exercising!

Resistance exercise – helps increase your muscular strength. You can use your body weight, resistance bands, free weights and weight machines (depending on your experience and what is available).

Read more: When can you start running after having a baby?


Pelvic floor and core – When most people think about pelvic floor training, they think of Kegels. This is only one part of the picture! Your pelvic floor is the “floor” of your core. Your diaphragm is the “ceiling” and your abdominals and deep back muscles make up the “walls”. These all have to work together to ensure your core is functioning optimally. Learning how to incorporate breathing, pelvic floor contraction and functional movement patterns sounds complicated but anyone can do it with some education and practice.

Exercise Throughout Pregnancy and What to Expect!

How you approach exercise during pregnancy often depends on how active you were before you conceived.

If you’re new to exercise

For those new to exercising, it’s a great idea to visit an exercise physiologist who can get you started with an individualised program. If you are happy to begin on your own, start by adding 10-20 minutes of aerobic exercise and aim to work at a 4-5/10 effort. Slowly start to increase the duration until you’re getting 150 minutes in a week!

Also incorporate some resistance training. Start with 2-4 exercises for your upper body and 2-4 for your lower body and keep the repetitions high (8-15). If you are going to do any overhead exercises (eg shoulder press), make sure you are seated rather than standing – this will help you keep your pelvis in a strong, neutral position! Making sure you focus on good form, rather than how much weight you can lift is important. This is where an exercise buddy comes in handy!

TIP: Don’t hold your breath during resistance training – try exhaling when your muscles are working and inhale as they relax!

This is also a really great time to start incorporating pelvic floor and core exercises into your routine.
Pelvic floor exercises start with your breath. When you inhale, breathing into your belly and expand your ribs, letting everything relax. When you exhale, flatten your ribs down and slowly start to squeeze your pelvic floor together and up.

Read more: A mum’s guide to exercising with kids – from pregnancy to teens!


If you exercise regularly

For those who have been exercising regularly, you can generally continue to exercise at the same intensity depending on your fatigue levels. Keep in mind, you are aiming for 4-5/10 effort and want to do higher reps for resistance training.

If you’re an athlete

For those who are athletes and training at high intensity, you might want to start considering a plan for tapering your exercise intensity and modifying movements.

Women who engage in very heavy strength training (like powerlifting, Olympic lifting, Crossfit etc), are increasing the amount of pressure on their pelvic floor, due to using the Valsalva maneuverer to brace and create stability. There is risk that this can weaken the pelvic floor, so considering modifying training and incorporate pelvic floor exercises into each session.

Trimester 1

Welcome to pregnancy! The first trimester can be tricky to navigate. These three months can come with a range of challenges (queue morning sickness!), but this doesn’t mean you can’t stay active. Here are some of the common challenges are how to overcome them:

1. Morning sickness! You may or may not experience nausea during your first trimester. Contrary to its name, you may experience it at any time of day. Try to schedule your exercise for a time you generally feel good!

2. Fatigue – High levels of pregnancy hormones will make you want to hibernate! You may feel like exercise is the last thing you want to do, but it can actually increase your energy levels. So, get on those running shoes and move your body – you’ll thank yourself afterwards! Keep in mind, if your exhaustion levels don’t seem to be improving, let your doctor know – you may be anaemic.

3. Constipation – Let’s not be shy about this…because it happens to lots of women! Those pesky hormones can also cause you to become constipated. This can be compounded if you are taking iron supplements to combat anaemia. Physical activity is your friend – along with a good diet and lots of fluids, exercise can help “keep things regular”!

4. Overheating – Particularly during the first trimester, avoid overheating in hot and humid climates because the fetus cannot regulate its temperature yet.

exercise trimester 2

Trimester 2

As your belly starts to grow, you may start to feel better during trimester 2. Fatigue levels and morning sickness tend to reduce, so use your new-found energy levels to continue your exercise routine! Here are some things to consider when working out during this trimester:

1. Loose joints – Pregnancy hormones will affect your ligaments causing an increase in laxity. Second trimester is a great time to strengthen the muscles around your joints to help support what your ligaments do. Remember, good form is important so use an exercise buddy or exercise professional to help you out!

2. Swelling – You may start to see some swelling or you might feel a bit puffy! This is a normal aspect of pregnancy and daily exercise can help keep fluid moving1. However, if you notice a sudden increase in swelling, visit your GP to see if you’re at risk of developing pre-eclampsia.

3. Lying down – Avoid exercises where you need to be on your back. The weight of the baby can temporarily squish your large vein1 which may cause you to feel dizzy and/or breathless.

4. Glucose sensitivity – Gestational diabetes can start during the second trimester, so be sure to keep your scheduled appointments with your doctor to monitor your health. Exercise is one of the best ways to help manage glucose sensitivity, but proper fuelling and glucose monitoring will also be important

5. Increased sweating – Due to increases in blood volume, you may notice you are sweating more – try swimming or water aerobics classes instead of land-based if you are tired of the sweat!

TIP: All women who are safe to exercise should incorporate some abdominal exercises into their routine. Crunching-type movements aren’t actually that effective – try adding some Pilates exercises that focus on functional core movement instead!

Trimester 3

Welcome to the last trimester. Your belly is growing, and bub is getting ready to make his or her appearance. Here are some things to consider when exercising over the next few months:

1. Centre of gravity shift – Now that you belly is well and truly popping, you might find your centre of gravity has shifted. This can make balancing trickier than usual. Try to avoid exercises that challenge your balance too much – swap lunges for some bodyweight squats!

2. Blood pressure – Be mindful of signs of high blood pressure. Look out for symptoms like swift weight gain (in 1-2 days), belly pain, headaches, less urination, nausea and dizziness. Exercise is a fantastic way to prevent pre-eclampsia but if you do have it, strictly follow your doctor’s recommendations for activity levels.

3. Diastasis recti – How do you even say this one let alone know what it is?! Diastasis recti (DR) is a separation of the abdominal muscle tissue1. It will occur in most women in the third trimester, but the severity of it might be reduced with proper core exercises. All the work you’ve done over your pregnancy should have assisted in reducing DR, but it’s important to continue your breathing, pelvic floor and core exercises – this will help recovery post-partum! Also, remember to not hold your breath during resistance training – this adds to the strain on your DR.

4. Overheating – Remember to stay cool and hydrated during your exercise sessions! It can be hard to thermoregulate during pregnancy so be mindful of where you exercise and make sure you’re drinking enough fluids.

TIP: Avoid jumping exercises such as skipping, box jumps, jumping lunges etc. to reduce additional pressure on pelvic floor.

Where you can get more advice

Although most women are encouraged to participate in physical activity throughout pregnancy, there are some who have conditions or circumstances that may need to be considered before they start an exercise program. Therefore, it’s very important to schedule an appointment to see an Accredited Exercise Physiologist to make sure you have a program that is tailored just for you!

There are some Accredited Exercise Physiologists who specialise in women’s health, so consider seeking one out by clicking here.

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Written by Julianna Dreger. Julianna is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist and research assistant who is passionate about women’s health.