Everything You Need to Know About Working Out During Pregnancy

Got a bun in the oven but don’t want to give up the booty strength you’ve been trying to sculpt for years? As your body changes during pregnancy, staying fit and keeping baby safe are all about small but crucial adjustments. Here, the vetted intel from a top trainer, ob-gyn, and Ph.D. for each trimester—plus, the best exercise to make each stage more enjoyable.

First Trimester

We’ll begin with the number one truth, because it gets muddled so often: “You can carry on pretty much any activity you did before you conceived, as long as you don’t ramp up intensity or frequency beyond what you’re used to,” says certified strength and conditioning specialist Brad Schoenfeld, Ph.D., an assistant professor of exercise science at Lehman College. That means runners can keep logging those miles but shouldn’t begin training for a marathon. Likewise, if you’re a CrossFitter, go ahead with your heavy lifting. But if you haven’t touched a barbell in years? Now’s not the time to start.

It’s worth noting that the biggest change during these three months will be less about a growing baby bump and more about your energy level. We get it—fatigue and morning sickness can thwart all intentions of going to the gym. So try rating how awful or tired you feel on a scale of one to five (one being the worst), suggests maternity fitness trainer Andrea Orbeck. Give yourself a break on the ‘one’ and ‘two’ days (when just standing up or climbing stairs feels like hard work), but on the others, force yourself to do something for 10 minutes. “Getting your blood pumping actually boosts your energy and can, for some, help fight nausea,” says Orbeck. Those 10 minutes often lead to more. But call it quits after an hour, so you don’t work yourself into fatigue.

Go-To Move: The DeadLift

Pregnancy wrecks your posture—but building a strong, aligned foundation now will help you maintain it later. The almighty deadlift strengthens your posterior chain (back, legs, glutes), which you’ll need when your belly starts shifting your center of gravity forward. (Plus, it’ll prep you for picking up your little one up to an estimated 50 times a day!) Incorporate it into your resistance-training circuit twice a week, doing three sets of 12 reps with a set of 2 to 5 kilogram dumbbells. Haven’t done deadlifts before? Practice the hip-hinge movement with just your body weight—it’s very low-risk.

Do It: Stand with your feet about hip-width apart, weights in front of your thighs, palms facing you (a). Keeping your back flat, core tight, and knees soft, push your hips back to lower the weights toward the floor, keeping them close to your body (b). Squeeze your glutes as you return to start. 

Second Trimester

Your energy should be the highest it will be during your entire term, so use it to your advantage: If you missed out on your speedy runs or cycling classes during the first trimester, get back at it! Just make sure you’re never exerting yourself so much that you can’t hold a conversation, says Schoenfeld. (Experts call this measure the “talk test,” which replaced the old-school rec of keeping your heart rate below 140 beats per minute—a confusing guideline since normal heart rates vary from person to person.) “Because your heart has to pump oxygen to your baby, you want to avoid making it work too hard,” he says.

More important, you want to focus on your core—and especially your lower back. As your belly grows, so does the strain on that area, which is why you need to work extra hard now to protect it. “Think of your middle as a corset,” says Orbeck. “You want it to be strong so you feel stable and upright.” Not only will you help beat back pain, but you’ll also improve your balance—another new issue, brought on by an increase in the hormone relaxin, which loosens your joints and can potentially make you more prone to falls.

Now’s the time to minimize on-your-back positions, crunches, and twists, which can compress the main vein that returns blood to your heart, says Schoenfeld. Limit lifting weights overhead, as it can invite back pain.

Go-To Move: The Dolphin To Plank

Your ab workouts may be more limited by the positions you can take, but that doesn’t mean you’re out of options. Setting up in the good ol’ plank position is an ideal way to activate your core (and pretty much every major muscle group) and perfect for now, when you’re strong and small enough to lift your body weight. This variation adds movement in your hips to help maintain flexibility before you start to get stiffer in a couple of months, says Orbeck. Aim for five to eight reps, four days a week.

Do It: Place your forearms on the floor, elbows under shoulders, then extend your legs while lifting your hips so your body forms an inverted V (a). Slowly lower your hips until your body forms a nearly straight line from head to heels (b). Pause, then reverse the movement to return to start. 

Third Trimester

Don’t change your post code to the couch just yet. “Delivery is an athletic feat,” says Jennifer Ashton, M.D., an ob-gyn in Englewood, New Jersey. “Why stop training right before the main event?” You may be so over being pregnant, but staying active—through yoga, power walks, jogging (if you’re a runner)—will help keep you and baby as healthy as can be. (FYI: This is when the fetus gains most of its fat tissue—and research shows women who exercise this late give birth to babies with up to 41 fewer grams of fat. While some fat is needed for growth, a leaner infancy could possibly set your child up for a lower risk for obesity later in life. Note: We are not saying to put your baby on a diet!) And if you’re feeling huge—blame it on reduced circulation—exercise can help get things flowing so you feel less puffy.

That said, you may want to dial down the volume, says Schoenfeld, who recommends two to four 30- to 60-minute workouts per week, if you can manage. Ideally, you should include at least one cardio and strength-training sesh each week, though breaking up, say, a 30-minute bout into three shorter ones works too (again, it’s all about what you can handle). You might want to pause on the heavy lifting (maybe stick to 2 kilogram). If your belly is rather large, your balance may feel a bit wobbly, so no reason to challenge it.

Go-To Move: The Wall Assisted Squat

Just how difficult is it to sit down and stand back up? Welcome the squat: a crucial move to help you bounce from down to up with (some) ease, both now and when you’re toting an infant, says Orbeck. Squats increase circulation, and they engage your core and pelvic-floor muscles, which you want to keep intact for push day. But with your center of gravity slightly off, adding a support, like a wall or sofa, can help with balance issues. (If you feel super unsteady, position a chair behind you.) Try for about two sets of 10 to 15 reps twice a week.

Do It: Stand at arm’s length in front of a wall, hands holding onto the wall and feet slightly wider than your hips (a). Keeping your chest tall, sit your hips back and bend your knees to lower into a comfortable squat (b). Pause, then return to start. 

This article originally appeared on Women’s Health US.

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