Guide to Exercising: First Trimester

Guide to Exercising: First Trimester

I see most pregnant clients go one of two ways when approaching exercise during pregnancy.

  1. Become overly cautious and stop their exercise routine entirely.

  2. Throw caution to the wind and exercise at a high-intensity through the very end.

Now I vote for a happy medium. Some routines will need to be put on hold for a bit. But movement and training is an important part of your prenatal care routine.

And it shifts throughout pregnancy. Training will look different in each trimester and postpartum (and for every woman). For some, their training may not look much different than pre-pregnancy at this point.

During the first trimester, there are numerous changes happening both physically and psychologically. Morning sickness and fatigue are typically at their most intense as hormones levels change. The body starts to produce the hormone relaxin, which softens ligaments, allowing for changes in the hips and pelvis, impacting posture and alignment.

All this impacts how often and what kind of training is tackled during the first trimester.

First Trimester Training Focus:

Keep moving

  • Incorporate moderate intensity cardio work 4-5 days per week.

  • What does that look like? Movement that you can sustain moderate effort at for 20-30 minutes. For example: hiking, cycling, zumba, rowing, running, walking, squats, med ball slams, sled pushes, bear crawls or bodyweight exercises. Basically 20-30 minutes of movement YOU ENJOY.

  • Incorporating low to moderate intensity cardio training throughout pregnancy improves cardiovascular function

  • Mommy brain is a real thing… Luckily exercise during pregnancy is associated with improved mood and memory and lowered instance of depression and anxiety. (1)

  • Some women find that exercise also reduces or alleviates nausea, morning sickness and fatigue! (1)

  • It also can decrease physical discomfort and improve birth recovery time (2)


Connect with Breath & Pelvic Floor

  • So much of postpartum training is rehabbing the pelvic floor and reconnecting with breath, but if we can start building awareness of this connection early on in pregnancy propensity for injury and lengthy recovery is reduced.

  • Beginning each workout with diaphragmatic breathing will help activate glutes, core and stabilizing muscles throughout your workout.

Build Strength

  • Strength train 2-3 days per week. This could be part of your cardio training too!

  • My favorite strength routines include all of the following:

    • Push

    • Pull

    • Squat

    • Hinging movement

    • Carry

  • Stick to lifts in the 6-8 rep range at a weight where you know you could do at least 3-4 more reps each set.

  • While we want to build strength and muscle mass, pregnancy is not the time for 1 rep maxes or heavy lifts. These put additional pressure on the pelvic floor.


“Women who continue regular weight-bearing exercise throughout pregnancy tend to have easier, shorter, and less complicated labors” (2)

Shift Your Mindset

Pregnancy, postpartum and parenting are challenging (and wonderful). Many women just want to be able to workout or run or maintain their same routine throughout all of pregnancy. I totally get that feeling and much of your training can look similar, but probably not the exact same. BIRTHFIT talks about training for birth-- and this is a mindset I work with many of my clients on. (3) 

Rather than training for that local crossfit comp, setting PRs or hunting down a certain physique, we are training for birth and I’d argue we are also training for faster postpartum recovery.

So ask yourself: is this workout helping me get stronger for birth? Is it supporting my ability to move through this pregnancy without injury? Is it strengthening my breath and pelvic floor connection so I can recover more quickly postpartum? What is the intent behind the movement? Is there another move that can meet that same intent, without compromising my training goals?

Connect with your body

  • Do you need to sleep? Sleep! Adjust your training schedule without guilt.

  • Do you need to eat? EAT. Calorie and nutrient needs shift during pregnancy and look different for everyone. Eat to support your workouts and pregnancy with plenty of nutrient dense whole foods.

  • Do you need to just relax and gain some brain space? DO IT. Shut the door, turn off your phone, hide away for a bit. Set a timer. Give yourself 15 minutes or an hour or a night, whatever you need.

Try one of these workouts!

AMRAP 20 Minutes

  • 500m Row

  • 5 Walkouts

  • 10 Russian Kettlebell Swings

  • 15 Bodyweight Box squats

  • 50’ Suitcase Carry

Four Rounds

  • 25’ Bear Crawl

  • 10 Dead bugs

  • 25’ Bear Crawl

  • 10 Tall Kneeling Presses (kettlebell, dumbbell, banded!)

Example Training Schedule:

Monday: MIC + Strength Training

Tuesday: MIC

Wednesday: Rest

Thursday: MIC + Strength Training

Friday: MIC

Saturday: Strength Training

Sunday: Rest

Things to keep in mind

Rely on how you feel pre and post workout rather than tracking your heart rate. Heart rate isn’t a great measurement for exertion because it varies based of people’s athletic ability. 

Start to pay attention to that bar path. I drastically reduced olympic lifting during the first trimester and pretty much cut it by week 12. Not because I couldn’t move the weight, but because I was showing much earlier than my first pregnancy and I was hyper aware of my litttttle bump (causing me to alter my bar path and compensate).

Ditch the sit-ups and crunches. Here’s the real, real: most athletes can’t do crunches and sit-ups with good form. This doesn’t mean we avoid core strength training, quite the opposite, we just opt for more appropriate and functional movements.

Want more guidance?

Contact me for private training, online training and group class options! 

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  1. Kollias, H., PhD, Hart, M., & Thomas, J. (2017) et al. Pre- & Postnatal Coaching Certification Manual. Coaching and Training Women Academy.

  2. Clapp, J. F., & Cram, C. (2012). Exercising Through Your Pregnancy. Omaha, Neb.: Addicus Books.

  3. Empowering Mothers | Motherhood Transition | Prenatal & Postpartum Online Programs. (n.d.). Retrieved from