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Expert Answers: Working Out While Pregnant

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Should I temper my workouts now that I’m pregnant?

Q | I just found out I’m pregnant. Should I adjust my workouts?

A | Forget antiquated advice to cut back on or abandon working out while pregnant. “Pregnancy is not a state of confinement,” stresses Raul Artal, MD, main author of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ exercise guidelines for pregnancy. Regular prenatal exercise has been linked to benefits for both mother and baby (more energy, better sleep, fewer interventions during delivery, etc.), and in the first trimester, you can continue doing most of the things you were doing preconception.

If you were inactive prior to getting pregnant, now is not the time to start training intensely — but you can start training at a lower intensity, adds Brandi Dion, personal trainer, triathlete, mother of two, and coauthor of The Pregnant Athlete.

The key to a fit pregnancy is listening to your body.

The key to a fit pregnancy, says Dion, is listening to your body: Does what you’re doing feel challenging — or painful? Is a movement supporting or aggravating a sensitive area? Stop if you feel any abnormal discomfort. You’ll also want to drink plenty of water, eat enough to keep up your energy, and avoid exercising in hot, humid conditions. Train as intensely as you comfortably can, aiming for no more than an 8 on a 1-to-10 exertion scale.

Regardless of your pre-pregnancy activity level, Dion suggests adding core work to your exercise regimen.

“The core includes everything from your knees to your shoulders,” says Dion. These areas are put under a lot of strain as your body changes during pregnancy. A strong midsection can help prevent or alleviate back pain and make delivery and the recovery process easier.

Dion offers the following tips for safely strengthening your core:

  • Aim to do more upper-body pull exercises than push exercises. Pulls, such as cable and resistance-band rows or dumbbell bent-over rows, strengthen your upper back and prevent you from being pulled forward by the weight of your belly and the baby.
  • Do single-leg exercises such as plyometric hops, step-ups, and single-leg Romanian deadlifts to strengthen your hips, help with balance, and decrease lower-back and hip discomfort due to muscle fatigue. These can be uncomfortable and are not recommended during later months.
  • Continue your normal abdominal exercises for as long as they are comfortable, knowing it’s safe to be on your back until about 18 to 20 weeks. Pelvic tilts and planks (on your knees or toes) are effective moves throughout pregnancy. Actively engage your core by drawing baby toward your spine.
  • Avoid movements that involve rotation while in a seated position.
WEB EXTRA!

First Trimester Workout

By Nicole Radziszewski

Rather than view early pregnancy as a time to water down your workouts, instead make an effort to maintain your fitness, and use exercise to prepare your body for the months to come, says Brandi Dion, personal trainer, triathlete, CrossFitter, mother of two, and coauthor of The Pregnant Athlete. Dion offers the following workout for women in their first trimester.

Warm-Up

Start with five to 10 minutes of easy jogging, followed by about five minutes of the following dynamic stretches.

Walking Knee Pulls

Warmup

  • Standing on one foot, use both hands to pull your opposite knee toward your chest.
  • Return your raised foot to the ground, stepping forward.
  • Repeat on the opposite side. Continue alternating sides for 15 to 30 seconds.

Soldier Kicks

Soldier-Kicks

  • Standing on one foot, reach your other leg as high as possible, keeping your leg straight.
  • Reach your opposite-side arm toward the foot of your raised leg.
  • Return your raised foot to the ground, stepping forward.
  • Repeat on the opposite side. Continue alternating sides for 15 to 30 seconds.

Forward Inchworms

Forward-Inchworm

  • Stand with your feet together.
  • Bend down and “walk” your hands out until you are in a pushup position.
  • Drop to a pushup.
  • Walk your feet in to your hands. Repeat five to 10 times.

WORKOUT

Repeat the following circuit three times.

Pushups

Pushup-1 Pushup-2 Pushup-3

  • Lie prone on the floor with your hands slightly wider than shoulder width.
  • Raise your body up off the floor by extending your arms with your body straight.
  • Keeping your body straight, lower your body to the floor by bending your arms.
  • Push your body up until your arms are fully extended.
  • Repeat 10 times. Make the pushups harder by doing dynamic or plyometric pushups. Make them easier by elevating your hands on a sturdy box or bench. (This is a more efficient way to build strength and maintain proper form than dropping to your knees.)

Overhead Lunges

Overhead-Lunges

  • Hold a dumbbell or weight plate overhead with locked-out arms. (For beginners, just keep your arms overhead, without a weight.)
  • Step forward with the right leg, landing on your heel, then your forefoot. Lower your body by bending at the knee and hip.
  • Stand on your forward leg with the assistance of your rear leg.
  • Lunge forward with your left leg and lower your body.
  • Repeat 10 times by lunging with alternating legs.

Standing Double-Arm Cable or Tubing Rows

Standing-Double-Arm-Row

  • Secure tubing on a support. Grasp the tubing handles with both hands, allowing your shoulders to be pulled forward by the weight and tension.
  • Pull the handles to the sides of your torso while pulling your shoulders back, squeezing shoulder blades together, and keeping your chest tall.
  • Return to start by slowly extending your arms with your shoulders pulled forward.
  • Repeat 10 times.

Single-Leg Romanian Deadlifts

Single-Romanian-Deadlift

  • Stand with a shoulder-width or narrower stance, holding a dumbbell in one hand.
  • Lower the dumbbell toward the ground, keeping your opposite leg on the ground and letting the leg on same side as the dumbbell rise off the ground behind you.
  • Slightly bend your knees during descent and keep your back straight so your back is parallel to the floor at the lowest position.
  • Lift the dumbbell by extending at your hips and knees until standing upright. Keep your shoulders pulled back.
  • Repeat 10 times.
WEB EXTRA!

Second Trimester Workout

By Katie Dohman

The following workout for the second trimester was created by personal trainers Brandi and Steve Dion, EdD, authors of The Pregnant Athlete. As always, before beginning a workout regimen, be sure to consult your physician to ensure the activities you are looking to incorporate into your daily life are safe for you and your baby.

In regard to the exercises themselves, your body is the best warning light there is. If a movement makes you feel uneasy, unstable, or causes a sensation that does not feel right, stop the movement or change position.

Warm-Up

Your warm-ups can be the same or similar to the first trimester warm-ups. As you reach your third trimester, the inchworm could be modified from a pushup to a plank.

WORKOUT

Repeat the following circuit three times.

Kettlebell Swing

  • Straddle a kettlebell with your feet slightly more than shoulder-width apart. Squat down with your arms extended downward between your legs and grasp the kettlebell handle with both hands with an overhand grip. Position your shoulders over the kettlebell with a taut low back and your trunk close to vertical.
  • Pull the kettlebell up and forward off the floor by standing up.
  • Immediately squat down slightly and swing the kettlebell back under your hips.
  • Quickly swing the kettlebell up by raising your upper body and extending your legs. (See our video for tips on mastering the hip hinge, which is key for good form.)
  • Continue to swing the kettlebell back down between your legs and higher on each swing until its height at eye level can be maintained.
  • Repeat 15 times.

Double-Leg Romanian Deadlift

Double-Leg-Romanian-Deadlift-1 Double-Leg-Romanian-Deadlift-2 Double-Leg-Romanian-Deadlift-3

  • Stand with your feet at shoulder width or narrower.
  • Grasp a barbell with an overhand grip or dumbbells facing inward at your sides.
  • With your knees straight, hinge at the hips and lower the barbell or dumbbells to top or sides of your feet. Keep your back straight and don't let your shoulders round.
  • Lift the barbell or dumbbells by extending your hips and waist until standing upright.
  • Repeat 10 times.

Overhead Press

Overhead-Press

  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, holding a barbell or two dumbbells at shoulder level.
  • Press the weight straight up, finishing with your arms locked out and close to your ears.
  • Lower the weight and repeat.
  • Repeat 10 times.

(Note: You can also substitute with pike pushups if you do not have the equipment to do an overhead press.)

Dumbbell Push Press

  • Begin with dumbbells at shoulder level and your hands facing each other (similar to the overhead press; see above).
  • Dip your body by bending your knees, hips, and ankles slightly. Explosively drive upward with your legs, pressing the dumbbells off your shoulders and vigorously extending your arms overhead.
  • Return dumbbells to your shoulders and repeat 10 times.
WEB EXTRA!

Third Trimester Workout

By Katie Dohman

The following workout was created by Brandi and Steve Dion, authors of The Pregnant Athlete. As always, before beginning a workout regimen, be sure to consult your physician to ensure the activities you are looking to incorporate into your daily life are safe for you and your baby.

Warm-Up

Your warm-ups can be the same or similar to the first trimester warm-ups. As you get into your third trimester, the inchworm could be modified from a pushup to a plank.

WORKOUT

Repeat the following circuit two to three times, resting as needed.

Dumbbell Single Arm Bicep Curl to Overhead Press

Dumbbell-Single-Arm-Curl-1-2 Curl-to-Overhead-Press

  • Position two dumbbells to your sides, palms facing in, arms straight down.
  • With your elbows to your sides, raise one dumbbell and rotate your forearm until your forearm is vertical and your palm faces your shoulder.
  • With the dumbbell at shoulder level, press the weight straight up, finishing with your arm locked out, and your bicep close to your ear.
  • Lower the weight back to your side and continue to alternate between sides.
  • Repeat 10 times per side.

Dumbbell Front Squat

Dumbbell-Front-Squat

  • Begin with your dumbbells at your shoulders so the side of each dumbbell rests on your shoulder. Balance the dumbbells on your shoulder by holding on to the dumbbells with your elbows flaring outward.
  • Bend your knees forward while allowing your hips to bend back behind, keeping your back straight and your knees pointed in the same direction as your feet.
  • Descend until your thighs are just past parallel to the floor.
  • Extend your knees and hips until your legs are straight.
  • Return to starting position and repeat 10 times.

Dumbbell Farmer's Carry

  • With a heavy dumbbell in each hand, walk the prescribed distance trying not to put the weight down.
  • Turn around and return.
  • Walk 50 yards and return to start.

Donkey Calf Raise

  • Stand in a wide stance in a half squat position.
  • Raise your heels by extending your ankles as high as possible, coming up onto your toes.
  • Lower your heels by bending your ankles until your calves are stretched.
  • Repeat 20 times.

Nicole Radziszewski is a writer and personal trainer in River Forest, Ill. She blogs at www.nicoleradz.com.

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