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The 1st Trimester: Navigating Fitness During Pregnancy Series

We’re Pregnant!

Ok, I’m not pregnant, but maybe you are!

When I think back to the week before I found out, I now realize my body was telling me things were changing. I immediately felt winded during workouts that were manageable and overcome with emotion (aka tears) when I couldn’t do something! While I am an emotional person by nature this totally took me off guard.

Changes in our bodies happen fast in the 1st trimester. Some of us may feel fatigue, sick, have headaches, food aversions, and tender breasts to name a few things!

With these changes navigating fitness can sometimes feel challenging, frustrating, and scary.

We can feel stuck and alone with how to proceed especially if we aren’t telling others yet that we are expecting.

I had so many questions:

  • Could I still work out and keep doing what I’ve always done?
  • Should I run? Jump? Plank? Continue to lift weights?
  • Should I buy a fancy heart rate monitor to make sure my heart rate didn’t go above 140?

And on and on these questions ran through my head.

There are some big changes in the 1st trimester.

Changes in our hormones and energy levels can affect the way we feel, eat, and train. You may feel anxious, nervous, scared, excited, or even sad with the news of becoming pregnant. Some women may be ready to embrace all of these upcoming changes while others may be anxious at the thought of losing their identity, worried about weight gain/body image, or athleticism.

All of these are valid feelings!

I have collected some common questions which I receive on a daily basis as a CrossFit and Pregnancy and Postpartum Athleticism Coach and am sharing some general thoughts, considerations, and information to help you transition into this new chapter.

Can I continue working out?

Whether you are a seasoned athlete or just starting an exercise program, aerobic exercise along with moderate strength training can benefit most everyone unless your medical provider has advised against exercise due to absolute contraindications (found here in the ACOG guidelines: Box 1)

Exercise has been associated with some of the following:

1st Trimester Fitness

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that pregnant women get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week.

We are exercising to stay healthy, maintain muscle, help improve mindset, prepare our body for birth and for healing postpartum. You may need to make additional adjustments rather than doing what you’ve always done.

In this season of our fitness we start to adapt and adjust how, why, and what we do now to set us up for a strong postpartum recovery, function, and strength later.

Can I or should I start an exercise program?

Yes, for most women with healthy pregnancies, it is fine to start exercising. However, you should speak with your medical provider first. There are many benefits to start exercise as shown above. Introduce low impact/intensity movement and work with a trainer who understands pregnant and postpartum considerations.

What are common symptoms that will impact my workout routine?

The 1st trimester is full of fun changes! Check out the chart to see just some of those changes you could be experiencing.

1st Trimester Fitness

Hormones play a huge role in how we feel during the 1st trimester. The chart shows some of the signs or symptoms we could be experiencing [1].

Speaking of hormones, there is another hormone on the block that is rapidly increasing called relaxin. Relaxin levels are at their highest during the 1st trimester and help promote implantation and growth of the placenta [2]. It is also thought that relaxin can relax ligaments in the pelvis and widens the cervix [3].

This has the potential to make all joints and ligaments less stable. This is one reason to potentially limit high impact activity and utilize lower impact movements like walking, swimming, farmer carries, rowing, and stationary biking to name a few.

You may start to experience more fullness in your breasts and abdomen. This is a great excuse to pick up a few pairs of extra sports bras or shorts/leggings that are more comfortable.

Can I run and jump?

It depends. Do you still want to run or jump because you love it? Or do you feel like you have to run because that is what is considered “good” cardio? It’s important to measure the risk vs. reward during this time looking ahead long term how movements, compensations within those movements, and your individual considerations can help support you long after you are pregnant.

If you do not have any symptoms of leaking, pain, pressure towards the pelvic floor and it is something you want to do depending on how you are feeling that day, running can be something many women enjoy during the 1st trimester. Take into account humidity, heat, and terrain. In my future blog post I’ll discuss why it is advised to start considering lower impact movements as your pregnancy progresses.

Can I lay on my stomach or back?

Generally yes, as long as you are not experiencing pain, dizziness, headaches, etc. Many women will start to limit lying down on the stomach or backs when the belly starts to grow more and it becomes uncomfortable in these positions. It’s recommended not to lie down for long periods of time as pregnancy progresses.

Continue to ask yourself why you are doing the movement, if movements in these positions cause any core/pelvic floor symptoms or pain, and how it will support you now and for later.

How hard should I push myself?

Often times we’ve been told to keep our heart rate under 140 which is outdated information (always check with your doctor as you may need to follow a specific plan). The ACOG has a great chart showing perceived rate of exertion for pregnant women using the “talk test.” Here is the ACOG link to the rate of exertion chart here [Table ].

Talk with your workout partner, coach, trainer about your fitness plan. Ask them to come and check in on you from time to time to help you determine your level of exertion. Taking short breaks between rounds, movements, or at a set time point can be helpful.

1st Trimester Fitness

Can I do core work?

I receive this question almost every single day. While traditional ab movements may need to be eventually modified, core work in general is still important during pregnancy to strengthen core musculature and potentially help reduce pain.

Some women continue to perform traditional ab movements (sit-ups, planks) because they “feel fine” while others are scared to do any type of core work throughout pregnancy because of fear inducing articles over the internet.

The answer will be different for each person.

Incorporating core work that focuses on developing stability for the whole core (diaphragm, transverse abdominals, multifidus, and pelvic floor) is beneficial during pregnancy and postpartum! Movements like farmers carries and Pallof presses can be great alternatives to traditional abdominal movements when you’re ready to start looking for something different.

Signs to potentially start adjusting/modifying/limiting movement in general:

1st Trimester Fitness

Building Awareness and Understanding Movement Considerations

Depending on how you feel your current fitness routine may start to change and that’s ok. This is a different chapter of fitness and doing what we’ve always done athletically should change as we change. Each pregnancy is unique with its own varying considerations. What works for one woman may not work for another.

Continuing to stay active during pregnancy doesn’t necessarily mean that we stop doing what we love to do- it means that we adapt, adjust, and create awareness on how we proceed so that we can be prepared for healing, rebuilding, and long term strength, function, and performance later.

Ok, Kate but what does that mean?

Due to fatigue, shortness of breath, hormones, emotional and structural changes you may feel not quite yourself even though you most likely won’t look pregnant. It’s important that you tell your coaches or trainers that you are so they can be an informed member of your team to support you.

Workouts may need to be adjusted based on how your feeling which will vary day by day, week to week. If your doctor has advised you to limit activity based on medical concerns, please listen. If you experience warning signs such as bleeding, dizziness, pain, cramping, severe headaches or chest pain, etc. that is an indication to stop and contact your medical provider.

Often times we focus on how exercise will be impact our baby. However, we should extend this focus to that of the mother. Let’s start building awareness within our routines that supports us long term!

Use this list as a starting off point to shift the mindset of intensity to intention and quality of movement over quantity, distance, load etc.

1st Trimester Fitness

Exercise Adjustments in the 1st Trimester (not all encompassing):

1st Trimester Fitness

Final Thoughts & Tips

  • Breathing: Breathe through movements limiting the use of breath holding. Ex: Inhale down breathing into your sides, letting your belly gently rise, relaxing your pelvic floor and then exhale gently lifting the pelvic floor up as you stand to pick up your groceries.
  • Clothing: While I did not have to secure a new sports bra right away, you may find yourself bra shopping looking for sports bras that will help support you and provide comfort. Target and King Soopers have some great options that are inexpensive for both bras and leggings!
  • Mindset: Keep the big picture in mind! Move in ways that support and prepare you for postpartum and long term strength and function. This is not the season we hang on to mile times, 1 rep maxes, or competition trying to maintain what we have- we grow forward in this season with a shifted perspective.

Please know that it’s ok to reach out with questions to your doctor and other important members of your prenatal team which could include a fitness professional, doula, pelvic floor physical therapist, midwife, OBGYN, chiropractor or general physician.

Each pregnancy is unique. It’s ok to reevaluate goals and meet yourself where you are! For more information and resources, please earlier blogs which discuss pelvic floor and core health and considerations. Enjoy this 1st trimester!



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