Exercise is a really important part of my life and on becoming pregnant I was determined that this wasn’t going to change. Everyone’s experience is so unique but I thought I would share first hand my thoughts on the highs and the lows of exercising when pregnant and the massive benefits it brings.
Exercise in the first trimester can be a big ask:
I truly believed I would spend the first 3 months of my pregnancy running on the beach, glowing with energy, wind in my hair and nourishing myself and growing bump with the very best superfoods on offer. In reality I was hit with debilitating tiredness and all I wanted to do was curl up on the studio sofa and nap and eat beige coloured food (yes this did happen). Don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t feel up to exercising in your first trimester, in the majority of cases this feeling will pass and once it does you can get back on track with your exercise routine. Keep things ticking over by getting out walking and listen to your body when it wants to rest.
Second trimester, feeling sane again – phew:
Once you feel like your energy levels have returned to normal comes the next big challenge of what is safe and what is not. Here are some very simple rules to follow:
Maintain existing fitness levels: Your goal when pregnant is to simply to stay fit, you are definitely not targeting peak fitness and introducing new intensities and weights.
Keep your cool: stay hydrated, drinking plenty of water and avoid exercising in a really hot room.
Monitor your exertion levels: Wear a heart rate monitor and work within recommended training zones. See helpful chart below.
Keeping it light: Avoid high impact, high intensity exercises. Overheating can be dangerous for your developing baby. When you exercise during pregnancy, your overall body temperature increases more than it would do normally. Plus as you get bigger high impact exercise can put too much pressure on joints and pelvis.
Work on your pelvic floor: This one speaks for itself!
Overstretch: When pregnant your body releases the hormone relaxin which softens the ligaments and cartilage and reduces the stability of joints. You may revel in your new found extra bendy status but be careful when stretching not to over extend and cause permanent damage.
Get up and down from floor too quickly: Blood pressure can be lower than normal and this may cause dizziness.
Avoid exercises leaning on tummy area.
Avoid exercises lying on your back after the first 4 months: In this position there is a risk that the uterus may compress the inferior vena cava (one of the main veins of the heart) leading to a drop in cardiac output and blood pressure and potentially depriving your baby of oxygen supply.
Avoid contact sports.
Avoid exercises that are too challenging balance wise as you get bigger.
Benefits of exercising when pregnant:
Improved circulation: Blood volume increases when you’re pregnant and exercising can reduce the risk of varicose veins, alleviate fluid retention – yes we’re talking cankles here – and aid the digestive process reducing the occurrence of that lovely pregnancy symptom constipation.
Control maternal weight gain: Unfortunately the old adage of “eating for two” when pregnant is a total myth. I found that as soon as I became pregnant everyone wanted to give me larger potions, which is not good for a food lover with a potato famine complex and the willpower of a nat. The recommended weight gain from start of pregnancy to end is 25 – 34lbs. The recommended extra calorie intake per day is a mere 200 calories and this is only in the 3rd trimester. Exercise is a great way of helping to keep weight gain within healthy parameters.
Sporting heroes are made on the labour ward: This is the one I really want to believe. Studies have shown that those who exercise regularly and are used to testing their limits in sport often have reduced perceived pain during labour. Surely giving birth can not be as hard as hitting the wall in a marathon, can it?? Research also points to shorter and less complicated labours. Heres hoping!
Mental health: Finally for me I would say maintaining mental sanity was a huge reason to keep working out. Just recently the other half gently encouraged me to do some exercise so I could “benefit from the positive endorphins” as he so nicely put it. ie. stop me from turning into a complete grump!
The lows: Hand on heart these are few and far between
Comfortable pregnancy gym gear: Somebody somewhere please develop an attractive yet practical range! We don’t all want to look like Kim Kardashian when working out.
Clumsiness and lack of coordination: This may just be me but exercises I previously found straight forward now seem to tie me up in knots
Put the triathlon on ice… for now: I love pushing myself and taking part in sporting events and it can be tough putting that part of life on hold . Exercising when pregnant for me involved a big change in my mentality and attitude towards fitness. Previously I focussed a lot on setting myself goals and achieving PBs. Now when pregnant I exercise to keep myself healthy and happy and most importantly to make sure I have a healthy, happy baby (future Olympian of course). This is a precious 9 months and you need to make the most of it.
*Chart referred to above
Most guidelines advocate a maximal heart rate of 60-70% for women who were sedentary prior to pregnancy and the upper range of 60-90% of maximal heart rate for women wishing to maintain fitness during pregnancy (Table 1)
Table 1. Modified heart rate target zones for aerobic exercise in pregnancy
Maternal age (years)
Heart rate target zone (beats/minute)