When you’re expecting, exercise is a must for most women. Among the benefits: “Staying active during pregnancy ultimately helps you better manage labor and delivery and bounce back to your pre-pregnancy body,” says Joy Southworth, a personal trainer and founder of Body By Trimester. What’s more, you’ll enjoy a boost in endurance, muscle tone, balance, energy and, yep, self-esteem as your body changes. With help from Southworth, we’re breaking things down by trimester and giving you a guideline for sweating for two:
After you’ve gotten your doctor’s okay to exercise, go ahead and continue with your pre-pregnancy routine, whether that was running, lifting weights or going to group classes. The most important thing is that you stay active—and doing what you loved before will help motivate you to get out there. “It’s a vicious cycle that when you feel tired, you take a nap—and become more tired. Get up and get moving, even if that’s a short walk outside. You’ll get a boost of endorphins that will improve your energy,” says Southworth.
One thing that will be different from working out pre-pregnancy: your intensity. It will go down. While experts used to advise women to keep their heart rate under 140 beats per minute, the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG) is now say using “perceived exertion” is a more accurate way to judge your intensity. Stay between a 4 and a 6 on a scale of 1-10, says Southworth. (“1” is laying on your couch, “10,” a full sprint.) “Keep everything at conversation pace,” she says.
By the second trimester, you’re definitely noticing more changes in your body. Focus your workouts to reflect the changes with a strength session two to three times a week. Southworth has her pregnant clients focus on a three key areas:
- Upper back: “As our belly grows, the extra weight in front starts to pull us forward.” Doing strength moves that work your upper back will correct posture.
- Legs: Focus on your inner and outer thigh muscles with squats and lunges. “Your weight in your body is shifting. Toning your legs will prevent the waddle that happens later in pregnancy,” says Southworth. Avoid pushing yourself too deep in any move—increased levels of the hormone relaxin makes you more flexible (to open hips in labor). A good thing, yes, but you can risk pulling a muscle if you’re not careful.
- Core: Keep your core and pelvic floor strong to assist with labor and delivery and bounce back after baby. “This will also help prevent diastasis recti, the separation of muscles in the vertical midline of your abdomen,” says Southworth. She favors pelvic tucks, ab pulses, and kegels. Do them daily. Kegels, for example, can be done anywhere—on your commute, in line at the grocery store or at work.
This is the time to listen to your body and ask yourself, “How am I feeling today?” One day you might scale things way back, the next you can go harder. Prenatal classes are great options throughout pregnancy, but especially now. Look for classes taught by prenatal exercise specialists who will cater the yoga class or bootcamp, for example, to your changing body. Southworth also emphasizes stretching exercises that focus on your lower back (which helps support your belly) and hips (to keep them loose).