Pregnancy & Exercise? Part 1

What you need to know & what nobody tells you

1.) Should you exercise during pregnancy?

2.) 1st/ 2nd/ 3rd trimester exercise considerations.

3.) What nobody tells you when you are pregnant.


1.) Should you exercise during pregnancy?

A lot changes when one falls pregnant. 

Some feel excited, anxious, worried, empowered, moody, happy, hungry, sick and much more.

The body starts to change physiologically, the mind starts to change because there is another life on its way, daily life changes take place because one doesn’t feel the same as before.

You have guessed right: because everything is changing exercise needs to change too.

I’ve met women that are worried about exercising, contemplating whether they should stop it altogether and I’ve met women that feel like they want to exercise more or keep lifting really heavy.

Balance is key.

Keep exercising for Your Health, the Baby’s Health and train for Muscle Memory but know WHAT you are doing.

I’ve seen many pregnant females in the gym who just carry on with their exercise routine as before even until they are very far into pregnancy without changing a thing, maybe because they don’t know better? Maybe because there isn’t much education out there on what you can and can’t do?

Some may even be worried about putting on too much weight and that’s why they keep hitting the gym a little too hard.

When it comes to exercise during pregnancy:

  • Honour your body &
  • Know that performing the correct exercises with good technique won’t harm your baby

What I mean by “honouring your body” is to take a “selfless approach to exercise” knowing that fat loss or weight loss are no longer priority for the time being (especially from the second trimester onwards) but maintaining what you have: strength and cardiovascular fitness as best as possible and training for muscle memory so your body can return to its previous shape fast and safe after the baby is born.

Of course you can still lose weight during pregnancy; it is even recommended for overweight females but it should not be your number 1 goal for at least the 6 months before labour.

“Honour your body” and do exercises that will help you to feel healthy, energised and that will help your body return to its initial state rather than doing exercises that increase the risk of having an abdominal separation, pelvic floor problems, hip problems or similar later on.


Know that performing the correct exercises with good technique won’t harm your baby

Some females have expressed their concerns that doing certain activities may impact the baby’s health. It is good to know that the baby is always fine given that the pregnant female performs the right exercises with good technique. 

Exercise does not have a negative impact on the baby; you should focus more so on protecting your structure (skeletal and muscular)as best as possible.


Should you decrease exercise intensity?

Ask yourself where you are at now and decide on the intensity you are exercising from there.

Initially you can keep training at the same intensity but should still listen to your body whether this is right for you as an individual or not.

This leads onto the next point:


2.) 1st/ 2nd/ 3rd trimester key exercise considerations

They say “everything is possible during pregnancy”. 

The body is going through a complete shift which makes each woman feel different.

If you feel fine for the first 12 weeks keep doing what you have been doing in terms of exercising.

Consider getting a qualified coach to take you through the fundamentals of good core function and pelvic floor strengthening. You may also incorporate abdominal exercises in the first trimester if you are untrained. 

The purpose of this is more so to train for muscle memory- that your “abs know where they belong after labour”.

If you haven’t exercised a lot before make sure that you meet basic activity levels such as walking or swimming for an absolute minimum of 30min daily.

You can still start to lift weights but I would only recommend doing this with a qualified coach. 


Key points for the 1st trimester are:

  • Know where you are at, listen to your body and decide on exercise intensity. This may change from one day to the next 
  • Emphasise resistance training
  • Meet basic activity levels of 30min walking/ swimming on a daily basis
  • Focus on strengthening your back and core especially your glutes, deep core muscles and pelvic floor
  • Learn about proper TVA activation/ Bracing when executing resistance training
  • Work on imbalances especially through the lower body (e.g. If your left leg is stronger than your right you may want to focus on doing more single leg exercises to avoid a pelvic shift or imbalance in the hips later on)
  • You may want to include some hip flexor stretching in the first 8 weeks if these are tight because your pelvis is going to tilt anteriorly during pregnancy and put more pressure on your lower back. By performing these stretches (2min each side 3-5x week) you are basically giving yourself a head start. Also focus on hamstring exercises to encourage a good hip position.
  • Work on stress management and a balanced lifestyle
  • If you are a runner, play netball or volleyball (or similar) you can still run until week 10-12 or your body may tell you to stop earlier


Key points for the 2nd trimester are:

  • Stop all running and jumping activities because they increase the pressure on your pelvic floor
  • For cardio activities choose: rowing, cycling, power walking, cross trainer, swimming
  • Stop single leg exercises or choose those that don’t make you shift your pelvis such as low step ups or close stance split squats. 
  • Generally emphasise leg exercises where you use both your legs such as deadlifts and squats.
  • Stop all abdominal exercises such as sit ups and crunches etc. Keep strengthening your core but focus on your deep core muscles, your glutes, obliques (muscles on the left and right of your trunk) and pelvic floor. Pregnancy Pilates is great to work on this.
  • Weight train 2-3x week and do cardio 2-3x week depending on how trained you are
  • Stop exercises that require lying flat on your back or flat on your tummy
  • Get someone to frequently check your abdominals (whether there is a split or not) once you are showing


Key points for the 3rd trimester are:

  • Best exercises for the last trimester are: 90’ squats, deadlifts (Kettlebell or Dumbbell), back exercises, standing leg curls (e.g. using a cable machine), pelvic floor/ TVA exercises and some cardio on e.g. the cross trainer, bike, walking or swimming
  • Avoid all exercises that put pressure on your abdominals. If you don’t know what they are ask a qualified coach. 
  • Decrease exercise intensity as well as the weight you are lifting and take longer rests between sets
  • Avoid all overhead lifting such as lat pull downs and overhead presses. 
  • Make sure to get someone to check your abdominals (whether there is a split or not) especially if you are experiencing back pain. Adjust your exercise routine accordingly.
  • Listen to your body
  • Be happy :)


3.) What nobody tells you when you are pregnant.

What encouraged me most to write this article were some of my clients’ comments:

“Nobody told me about that” or “I’m glad you told me about X-subject because now I don’t have any issues”…

I’m not sure why there is not much information out there about “Rectus Diastase” (Abdominal separation during pregnancy) but there is A LOT you can do to avoid it or to minimise it.

Abdominal separation occurs when the abdominals are stretched too much due to the growth of the belly/ baby.

A “2 finger” width split is normal and will most likely disappear a little while after labour.

Anything over a 2 finger width split especially when back problems occur needs to be monitored by a qualified professional.


Here are some key points you need to know for pre and post labour:

  • Once you are “showing” or from week 12 onwards don’t lie or sleep on your back anymore as this puts a lot of pressure on your abdominals. Instead lye on your side (you can use a pillow underneath the top leg to level out your back); lying on the couch elevate your shoulders with a cushion. 
  • When you get up from a lying position roll onto your side and straighten your body up side ways to avoid pressure on your abdominals
  • Practice pelvic floor exercises several times a week to prevent incontinence during and after pregnancy. Include short holds such as 10x 5 sec holds with a 10sec rest in between, up to a 60sec hold. Practice standing/ sitting/ kneeling- it doesn’t matter what position you are in. Tip: make sure you are still breathing normally when performing these exercises rather than holding your breath. Also try to avoid tensing your abdominals while performing these exercises.
  • Give your body time to recover post labour until you start to exercise again. 8 weeks are recommended for natural birth and 12 weeks or longer (get your doctor to give you the “all clear”) for caesarians. During your recovery period do some leisurely walking to promote good posture and strengthen your pelvic floor again to avoid incontinence. (Initially start with shorter holds and increase the time you hold as the weeks progress post labour).
  • If you had a minimal abdominal separation you can also include TVA activation and drawing in your abdominals. If not get a physio check before commencing on any exercise. 
  • Be aware of potential post labour depression. Get yourself well informed beforehand so you know about it in case you get it
  • Post labour: Do you have rectus diastase? Before engaging in any new exercise routine post labour you want to check first whether your abs have closed again or not. This is really important because in this initial state you can work on bringing your abs together if they haven’t closed on their own. Key factor to close your abs is to work on your TVA/ deep core muscles. Avoid actual abdominal exercises such as crunches and sit ups- these will only worsen the condition. If you are not sure get a professional to check your abdominals.
  • If you do have rectus diastase and are working on closing your abs after labour I would recommend to focus on strengthening the following body parts: back, hamstrings, glutes, pelvic floor, TVA, .Avoid running and jumping until you’ve regained full pelvic floor control and don’t have an abdominal split anymore
  • Generally are you ready to run and jump again? To test perform 10 aerial star jumps on a full bladder. Is your pelvic floor holding? If yes you are ready to start with some light jogging and jumping again.

Happy pregnancy x

Nina Egenberger
Nina Egenberger