The first trimester is one of unbelievable highs and lows, a mix of excitement, fear of the unknown, and often with a decent bout of morning sickness thrown into the mix! This can mean many women struggle to stay on top of their health and wellbeing.
However, staying active is a great way to strengthen both body and mind for the upcoming pregnancy and motherhood journey. Exercising in the first few weeks of pregnancy (and beyond) has endless benefits to both you and your growing bub.
Read this blog as Rosie, a physiotherapist, yoga teacher, fitness trainer and 3x mother, shares insight into the do’s and dont’s of how to best exercise during the first trimester of your pregnancy. Knowing what to do to nourish and care for yourself and your baby in terms of how to move can make the journey a little smoother, and ease morning sickness.
Starting Exercise During Pregnancy
Before you begin exercising, it’s always advisable to get the clear from your care provider. Be sensible with activity in the first trimester, starting with gentle exercise like walking if you are new to exercise, or reducing your effort with usual exercise if you are a regular exerciser and taking some additional precautions as per the outline below.
How Much To Exercise
In the first trimester, maintain daily exercise at a moderate level for up to 150 minutes per week, or a low-moderate level-up to 300 minutes per week. Keep your intensity moderately intense at most, around 12-15 on the Borg Scale. Exercising during your pregnancy is more for well-being purposes and less of aiming for higher personal best times or weights. Remember to take regular breaks! Explore our prenatal exercise page for a deep dive into the recommended exercises for every trimester.
How To Get Started
During the first trimester, aim to establish good exercise habits gradually. The right amount of exercise will depend on how active you were prior to becoming pregnant. It is best to favour low-impact exercises, especially walking, yoga, swimming, and strength training. If you were previously a runner, some light jogging is fine in the first trimester for most women.
Do’s: Good Exercises That Are Safe During Early Pregnancy
Whilst the type and intensity of exercise primarily need to take into consideration in your pre-pregnancy routine and fitness, there are some sure-bet pregnancy safe exercises you can do without having to second guess.
So you are probably wondering what exercises can you do during pregnancy?
Before we get started, there are a few things to keep in mind when exercising. Remember to have a light snack before and after exercise to keep your blood sugar stable, take rest days, stay hydrated and avoid overheating.
Walking is one of the best and safest ways to get moving and exercising during the first trimester. Aim to walk daily and build it up by 5-10 minutes each week.
Swimming & Water Aerobics
Swimming and pool exercises are another highly recommended form of exercise, as the buoyancy of the water helps reduce the impact on your joints, whilst the eater provides gentle resistance.
Yoga stretching & breathing exercises during the first trimester is important to maintain emotional & physical well being. These can help to relieve morning sickness, stress, and later will help to relieve lower back pain during pregnancy.
Pilates is a safe and guided way of exercising as the exercises tend to be great pregnancy specific strengthening, including thigh, core, back and squatting exercises. All of which will be tailored for your pregnancy.
Stationary Exercise Bike (Cycling)
Cycling is a great exercise that is gentle on the back and knees. We recommend a stationary bike due to greater safety than training out on the roads.
Light Resistance Training
During your pregnancy, it’s advisable to avoid high impact, heavy or extreme exercise. Maintaining resistance training is important for muscle building but consider exercise that trains you for the job of motherhood- and that as your own weight increases over the course of the pregnancy, your resistance weight will likely reduce, rather than increase.
Dont’s: What Exercises To Avoid In The First Trimester
Exercising in the first few weeks of pregnancy can be challenging. There are so many things happening during this precious period. The most important things you can do is to listen to your body and take care of yourself and your new growing life.
Use the guidelines below as a checklist on what not to do when exercising:
- Don’t push yourself if you are feeling tired, have had extreme nausea, vomiting, or pregnancy-related insomnia.
- Don’t get up and down quickly. Your body will be experiencing huge cardiovascular changes going on between 8-12 weeks which means you will likely have lower blood pressure. This happens as your blood vessels widen and soften to accommodate increased blood volume.
- Don’t exercise in the heat or over-heat.
- Don’t practice hot or heated yoga.
- Don’t participate in contact sports or other high-risk activities.
- Don’t exercise beyond a 12-16/20 Effort on the Borg Scale (The Borg Scale is a Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale, ranging from 6 to 20, where 6 is minimal/ no effort, and 20 is maximum intensity)
- Don’t do traditional core exercises like crunches or any movements that overly compress your abdominal region.
- Don’t over-stretch. During this period, your body will also experience amazing hormonal changes which increase ligamentous laxity, and the main driver, Relaxin, peaks in your body between 12-16 weeks.
- So you want to bring more core strength awareness into your stretching, and limit your maximum range to around 70% of your maximum. Definitely avoid any pain or discomfort.
- Stop strenuous or high-impact activities, unless you were previously a runner and can continue running at a lower intensity and for shorter periods of time.
- But, whilst running is relatively safe in the first trimester if you were running pre-pregnancy, there are a myriad of other, pregnancy safe exercises you can perform which will help you ease into your pregnancy exercise routine. If you must run, run at a low intensity and out of the heat, and keep your duration less than 5km at a time (if you were previously running more than this).
Having said all of the above, the biggest thing to consider when designing your pregnancy exercise routine is your prior level of activity and fitness.
Each woman is an individual, and what is a moderate load to one, may be too intense for another, or not enough to stimulate muscle strengthening or cardiovascular improvement for another.
Working with a prenatal qualified trainer or program can also be a great way to ensure an appropriate level of exercise! Download our FREE Pre-Natal Physio-Approved Exercise Guide for an in-depth guide to keeping fit with your baby.