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Exercise in the First Trimester

“What should I do for exercise in the first trimester?”

“Are any exercises off limits?”

I get asked questions similar to these from moms wanting to continue exercising throughout pregnancy, but are unsure if anything should be done differently in the first trimester.

Most women are told to continue doing what they were doing prior to pregnancy or to just listen to their body. But what does that really mean? In this blog, I will help you cut through all of the overwhelm to help you learn what you should take into consideration and how you can adjust movement when needed.

I am currently towards the end of my third pregnancy and I have had hyperemesis gravidarum in my last two pregnancies, so I am no stranger to not feeling great during pregnancy. Although all three trimesters tend to be pretty rough for me with a lot of nausea, vomiting, and overall low energy, it is common for many women to experience at least some morning sickness and low energy levels in the first trimester. It may feel like you are just trying to survive and get through each day, without really adding anything extra, especially if you have other kids.

When feeling like this, doing anything structured for exercise may feel nearly impossible.

Other women may feel great and feel up to continuing to exercise multiple times a week.

Wherever you fall on that spectrum, I am here to help guide you and to help you learn what to listen for and how to listen to your body.

The first thing that you want to start bringing some awareness to is your mindset. This will carry over throughout the rest of pregnancy, so if you can help set yourself up here early on, it can be very helpful later on!

If you tend to be a competitive person (hello, that’s me too!), this one can be easier said than done some days. Know that you have NOTHING TO PROVE in your pregnancy. Some women feel pressure to continue to exercise how they did prior to pregnancy for as long as possible because their friend or favorite Instagram influencer did it, regardless of how their own body is responding.

If you can go in knowing that exercise should evolve and look different as your pregnancy progresses to maintain the integrity of your core and pelvic floor and your long term athleticism, you will be in a much better position.

AND exercise throughout pregnancy is going to look a lot different for each woman. Your individual experiences should be taken into consideration; just because something worked for your friend, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will work the same for you.

Is it okay to workout when you aren’t feeling so great?

The answer to this is going to vary from one woman to the next. If you can’t muster the energy to get out of bed, it’s probably safe to say that you’ll be better off just resting. Or if you tend to feel worse when exercising, you may need to change some things.

Others find that they actually feel better during and after working out, so in that case, I’d say go for it!

Whichever side of that you fall in, it may be helpful to approach exercise a bit differently when feeling sick or having low energy.

Here are a few ways you can get movement in without overdoing it:

  • Reduce the intensity or frequency of your workouts-you don’t need to push your limits nor do you need to workout everyday when you aren’t feeling so great

  • Reduce the volume or resistance-a 15-20 min. workout or reducing how many reps and sets you do may be sufficient right now, and if lifting, decreasing your weights a bit may be a better option

  • Get some fresh air-go for a walk or play outside with your kids (a change of scenery and fresh air can do wonders!)

Just because you may be choosing these options for movement right now doesn’t mean that you will always need to-do what feels good for you now and you can always adjust it when you are feeling a bit better.

Is it okay to workout at higher intensities if you are feeling good?

Again, the answer is going to vary a bit. In the first trimester, it’s likely that continuing to do higher intensity workouts will be just fine, as long as your doctor hasn’t given other recommendations. Many women are concerned about harming their baby if continuing to do high intensity or high impact exercise; the likelihood that that could happen is pretty low, assuming you aren’t doing something irrational. Use your own judgement and know that if you don’t feel comfortable doing an exercise, it’s perfectly fine to take a break from it for that peace of mind.

For most women, doing things like burpees, heavy lifting, jumping, pull-ups, handstand push-ups, cycling, etc. in the first trimester may be just fine, but there are some signs that it may be too much.

If you experience any of the following symptoms (even if just a little bit), it may be time to make an adjustment, switch to another exercise, or consult with your OB, pelvic floor physical therapist or coach:

  • Coning or doming along the midline of the abdomen

  • Pulling sensations in the abdomen

  • ANY amount of unintentional leaking (urine or feces)

  • Pelvic pain or pressure

  • Heaviness or a bulge feeling in the vagina

  • Pain during or after exercise (back, hips, pelvic, belly)

  • Fatigue, exhaustion, or excessive soreness-this is likely a sign you need to back off a bit

  • Spotting or bleeding-some women experience in this in the first trimester, but it’s best to call your doctor if you notice any

These are ways you can learn to listen to your body.

Remember that this won’t be forever, just for now and it can really help set you up long term!

As far as guidance around whether or not specific exercises are okay or how to adjust them, it will really be very individual and that is one way I help my clients navigate exercise during this chapter.

Making informed decisions about what is most appropriate for you and your body can help you maintain activity, without pain or symptoms, and help with recovery postpartum.

Want more info on how you can navigate symptoms, exercise, and your journey? Fill out this form to schedule a FREE call with me to discuss how you can get better guidance with exercise and managing symptoms in pregnancy!

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