A Pregnancy Workout Plan to Get You Through Each Trimester
January 14, 2021
It’s incredibly beneficial for women to keep up a consistent fitness routine throughout pregnancy. Not only does it strengthen your body to help carry the weight of a growing baby more easily, but it also improves your stamina and endurance for giving birth. But figuring out which exercises to do and how often to do them can often feel daunting for moms-to-be. So what does a good pregnancy workout plan really look like? We checked in with three trainers from Aaptiv, a fitness app that delivers trainer-led and music-powered audio workouts, to break down the exercises you can do as you move through all three trimesters.
In this article: The importance of strengthening muscles during pregnancy Pregnancy workout plan for first trimester Pregnancy workout plan for second trimester Pregnancy workout plan for third trimester
A lot happens during pregnancy, so it’s important that your body is prepared. “In 10 months your body will go through more changes than a man’s body will in their entire life,” says Aaptivtrainer Jaime McFaden, an ASM perinatal and PROnatal certified fitness instructor. “Your body needs to be strong to endure all the changes and to recover post delivery.”
NASM-certified Aaptiv trainer Jade Alexis agrees, adding, “During pregnancy, you have all this extra weight on the front side of your body. The stronger you are, the easier it’ll be to carry around—at some points—an extra 30 to 40 pounds. Plus, the added endurance will help you have a nice, easy delivery.”
Another piece of good news? If you were working out prior to pregnancy, most exercises are safe to continue, although there are a few moves you’ll want to avoid. “Keep in mind that the entire torso area needs to be spacious—you’re housing and creating space for this human. You never want to lay, crunch or twist the belly,” says FRCMS and 500+ RYT certified Aaptiv trainer Nicole Sciacca. “Any sport that asks for that, I would steer clear of.”
Before starting any fitness routines, get the okay from your doctor. Every pregnancy is different, and therefore the ideal pregnancy workout plan will vary based on the individual. Once you get the green light, though, there are plenty of exercises you can safely do to keep you and baby healthy through each trimester.
Many of the exercises below are okay to continue through all three trimesters. However, be sure to always check in with your doctor, as every mom-to-be will have different individual needs and limitations, especially as pregnancy progresses.
Pelvic Floor Exercises
During pregnancy, your pelvic floor is one of the most important muscles to strengthen. Bridges are a great way to work your glutes, lower back and pelvic floor in all one. You can do a Kegel at the top of the bridge to add in some extra pelvic floor strengthening.
- Grab a mat and lie on your back so your knees are bent and feet are flat on the floor.
- Lift your hips, forming a straight line from your knees to your shoulders.
- At the top of the bridge complete a Kegel by squeezing your pelvic floor muscles. Imagine you’re trying to hold in a full bladder. The muscles that you’re squeezing are your pelvic floor muscles.
- Slowly lower your hips back down to the mat.
- Repeat 10 times, for four to five sets or for as long as you feel comfortable.
Hamstrings Curls on a Stability Ball
Alexis recommends leg exercises for pregnant women to build strength in the lower body. To do this one, you’ll need a mat and a stability ball. But, before you attempt it, make sure you have the green light from your doctor. To do the exercise:
- Lie face up on a mat, with your heels and the bottom halves of your calves resting on the stability ball. Your arms should be alongside you, your palms facing down.
- From here, lift your hips off the mat, as you would for a bridge exercise. Your head and shoulders should still be on the mat. Take extra care not to strain your neck here. You want to keep your chin tucked into your chest.
- Bend your knees and roll the ball in towards you, lifting your hips up higher as you do this, so that your feet are resting flat on the ball.
- Extend your legs and roll the ball back so that you’re back in your bridge-like position.
- Keep rolling the ball backwards and forwards for 30 seconds. Repeat this for another two sets, or for as long as you feel comfortable.
Your core extends way beyond your abs and also includes the muscles in your sides (obliques) and lower back (quadratus lumborum). The core muscles affect everyday habits from posture to how difficult it is to carry groceries up a flight of stairs. But when it comes to pregnancy, a strong core can help decrease the severity of any lower back pain that you may experience.
“After a lot of deliveries, a lot of times new moms have pain in their lower back, and that’s just because of the core,” Alexis states. “Plus, a lot of times moms go to take the baby out of their cribs without using their abs, so they strain their lower backs—and that lower back pain can last a long time.”
But, don’t worry! Keep reading for core exercises that will help you build strength around your entire midsection.
Both McFaden and Alexis agree that planks are an excellent ab exercise for pregnancy. A stronger core will help support the extra weight from your growing baby. To do the plank:
- Grab a mat and get into the plank position. Make sure your wrists are stacked below your shoulders and you’re forming a straight line from your shoulders to ankles.
- Push out through your heels to make sure your core muscles are engaged.
- Hold the plank for 30 seconds, or as long as you feel comfortable, repeating the exercise twice more.
The reverse plank works to strengthen the muscles in your lower back, as well as your abs. To do the reverse plank, McFaden recommends grabbing a mat.
- On top of your mat, get into the reverse plank position. This position essentially involves making sure that your shoulders are stacking over your wrists, but instead of facing the floor, you’ll be facing the ceiling.
- With your legs together and your neck in line with your spine, squeeze your glutes and hold the reverse plank for 30 seconds, or as long as you feel comfortable.
- Repeat twice more, or as needed according to your fitness and comfort level.
Cardiovascular training is great to help reduce stress and anxiety, as well as to maintain weight and a healthy blood pressure—all of which are really important to look after during pregnancy, says Alexis. Of course, it’s really important to get the OK from your doctor before doing any cardio, especially as you progress through your trimesters and become more limited in your movements. Below she lists two of her favorite forms of cardio exercise for women in their first trimesters.
Whether you prefer running outdoors (make sure to watch out for your surroundings!) or on a treadmill, as long as you get clearance from your doctor first, running and jogging should be safe to do during the first trimester of your pregnancy, says Alexis, adding that you just need to make sure you’re not pushing yourself too far past what you used to do prior to your pregnancy. In other words, your pregnancy is not a good time to try something new and challenging! Go slow and pace yourself, instead of pushing yourself.
Stationary Bike Riding
Similar to the treadmill, most cardio machines in the gym are safe to use, says Alexis, again, as long as your doctor gives you the green light. Stationary bike riding can be a great way to strengthen your leg muscles, as well as to build cardiovascular endurance. Plus, a stationary bike is much safer to use than a traditional bike because it decreases your chances of falling off and getting hurt.
While following a maternity fitness plan, the one thing to always be mindful of is your body. As you move through trimesters, it’s incredibly important for you to pay attention to your needs. Sciacca states that the body is capable of being pushed past its limits if we allow it to be. She advises practicing patience and modifying wherever you need as you move through your second trimester.
Pelvic Floor Exercises
According to McFaden, Kegels are great exercises to do throughout your pregnancy—not just in the first trimester. In the second trimester, you may still be able to lay on your back to do bridges, but of course, check with your doctor to make sure. Even if you can no longer do bridges, you can do Kegels anytime, anywhere. All you need to do is squeeze your pelvic floor muscles to strengthen them.
This exercise is one of McFaden’s favorites for strengthening the pelvic floor. It’s also an excellent way to make sure you’re paying attention to your breath, as that’s what will get you through delivery, she says. To do this exercise:
- Sit down on the edge of a chair and place your hands on your belly.
- Inhale through your nose, and feel your diaphragm filling with air. Exhale, keeping your mouth closed. Pull your belly in as you exhale, hugging your baby.
- Maintain this pattern of breathing for 30 seconds. Keep repeating it for 30-second intervals for as long as you feel comfortable.
According to McFaden, lunges are an excellent way to improve stability and build strength in your lower body. Of course, make sure you get cleared for the movement from your doctor before attempting it. To do the exercise:
- Step one foot out in front of you and come down so that your front leg is bent at a 90-degree angle. Your back leg should also be bent at 90 degrees. Take care that your front knee isn’t coming too far past your toes.
- From here, use your lower body strength to return to a standing position. Repeat the exercise on the opposite side.
- Do five lunges on each leg for a total of 10 times. Repeat the exercise for one to two more sets, or as long as you feel comfortable.
Sumo squats are another great way to build leg strength to help support the extra weight of pregnancy, states Alexis. Sumo squats target the inner thigh muscles, which are also useful to pay attention to when trying to strengthen the lower body and pelvis. To do this exercise, Alexis says to:
- Step your left foot out to the side so that your legs are farther apart than they would be for a typical squat.
- Squat down, sitting back on your heels and going as low as your body comfortably allows.
- Using your glutes and leg muscles, lift yourself back up out of your squat and step your feet together. That’s one rep.
- Do the exercise for 10 reps and two sets, or for as long as you feel comfortable.
Both Alexis and Sciacca agree that when it comes to ab exercises for pregnancy—and improving stability— the bird dog is a great go-to. It’s also a great exercise for moms-to-be looking to practice mindful breathing. To do the exercise:
- Come down onto all fours on a mat. Your shoulders should be stacked over your wrists and your hips should be over your knees.
- From here, extend your right arm out in front of you while simultaneously extending your left leg back behind you. It’s important to keep a neutral spine as you do this.
- Take a breath in this position, then return to the starting position. Repeat the exercise on the other side.
- Repeat the exercise five times on each side for two sets, or for as long as you feel comfortable.
The Farmer’s Carry is a deceivingly simple way to build full body strength. The exercise requires you to hold a weight in your hands and walk around. There are two caveats to this, however. First, you must get the weight you hold for this exercise cleared by your doctor—even if you can only lift light weights, that’s okay! The second is to make sure you’re engaging your core and keeping your spine straight, resisting the weight and the urge to lean to one side or another. To do this core exercise:
- Grab a set of weights that feels comfortable for you. Hold them at your sides and walk for 30 seconds, keeping your spine straight and aligned.
- Repeat the exercise for another 30 seconds, or for as long as you feel comfortable.
As was the case in your first trimester, remember to get your doctor’s approval before attempting either of these, or any other cardio exercise.
According to McFaden, burpees are an excellent way for mamas-to-be to get in some cardio—in a safe way. She recommends a few modifications below, but remember to modify until you’re doing the exercise in a way that feels good for your body. To do the exercise:
- Step your legs apart to create space between them for your belly. Crouch down so that your fingers are touching your mat.
- From here, step your legs back into a plank position that feels comfortable for you. Make sure that you’re keeping proper form as you do this exercise. If you’re not comfortable with planks, McFaden suggests talking to your doctor before attempting the movement.
- From the plank position, step your legs back to your hands, keeping them wide to create space for your belly.
- Slowly rise back up. Repeat the exercise 10 times, or for as long as you feel comfortable.
Step Jacks are a modified version of jumping jacks, explains McFaden. She likes to use them for low-impact prenatal cardio. To do the exercise:
- Stand tall, with your hands at your hands.
- From here, step your feet out and bring your hands up above your head. You should be standing in the position you would be in at the top of a regular jumping jack.
- Bring your arms down and step your feet back together. Repeat the exercise 10 times for two to three sets, or for as long as you feel comfortable.
During the third trimester, you want to be as careful as possible, as there are many limitations you may now face that you didn’t in your first trimester. “During the third trimester, you don’t want to lay on your back for long,” explains McFaden. “There is a large vein running through your body—the vena cava—and it delivers deoxygenated blood supply to the baby. When you lay on your back, you are at risk of compressing it.”
Along with paying attention to your positioning, you also want to pay attention to the level of energy that you’re exerting with each movement. Modify when you need to—and stop whenever you start to feel uncomfortable.
Pelvic Floor Exercises
As mentioned you want to stay away from laying on your back in your third trimester. While you may no longer be able to do bridges, continue to do Kegels, either while standing up or while sitting down. Just make sure not to place too much pressure on yourself or your muscles.
Additionally, both McFaden and Alexis recommend continuing your diaphragmatic breathing. “For your actual labor and delivery, if you maintain really good control of your breath, it can help you have an easier time,” states Alexis. “The breath keeps you calm and the baby calm—and when everything is calm, the delivery is easier.”
Another excellent, low-impact way to build strength, says Alexis, is with calf raises, as it not only helps with strengthening your calves, but it also helps build stability. Make sure, she adds, that as you do this, you have something, such as a wall to hold on to. This will help you to stabilize yourself, should you need to. To do this exercise:
- Stand near a wall or something else that’s sturdy to hold on to, so that you can if you need it.
- Slowly come up on the balls of your feet, raising your heels off the ground.
- Bring your heels back down to the ground. Repeat the exercises 10 times for two to three sets, or as many times as you feel comfortable.
Side Plank with Knee Down
One of McFaden’s favorite ab exercises for pregnancy is to use this modified plank variation as a low-impact way to strengthen the core. Also known as kneeling side plank lifts, the exercise requires a mat. To do it:
- Lie on your side, with your forearm down on the mat as you would before going into a side plank. Your legs should be stacked on top of each other and bent at the knees, so that the bottom half of both are tucked behind you. Also make sure that your shoulder is directly over your elbow and your knees are in line with your hips.
- From this position, inhale and slowly lift your hips off the mat. Make sure to keep your side body in a straight line. Focus on engaging your core muscles.
- Exhale and slowly lower down. Repeat the exercise 10 times for two to three sets, or for as long as you feel comfortable.
As you step into your third trimester, make sure that you’re taking care to pause, drink water, and stop when you need to. Alexis recommends walking and swimming as two full body, low-impact pregnancy cardio exercises. Talk a 20-minute walk, if you can, every day. Or, go swimming for 20 minutes. However, make sure that if you do go swimming, you’re mindful of other people in the pool. Also, talk to your doctor about swimming in a chlorine versus a salt-water pool, and get the okay before you take your first lap.
While moving through pregnancy is really important to help you support both yourself and the weight of the baby, what’s more important is listening to your body’s needs. “There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer here,” McFaden states. “Just make sure to stay hydrated, eat enough, and, above all, take care of yourself.”
Sciacca agrees, adding the importance of pacing yourself. “Have a strong sense of self and be mindful that you’re creating a human being inside of you,” she says. “You never know what the pregnancy is going to bring, but make sure you’re building a strong sense of self, so that you can get through it as your healthiest, happiest self.”
Updated December 2020