Working Out During Pregnancy: Full-Body Workouts for Each Trimester

Working out during pregnancy remains a subject of controversy: it seems like people either believe that it’s important to stay active and maintain strength during these nine months, or that pregnancy requires avoiding physical exertion as much as possible. I lean towards the first group of thinkers as I’m seeing great benefits of staying active into my third trimester: I hardly have any aches or pains, my energy levels are pretty high most days, plus it’s encouraging to see that my body is still capable of kicking some a$$ at the gym despite feeling like it’s not completely mine anymore 🙂

Today I’m sharing my typical workouts that I’ve been doing during my first, second and third trimester. I approached this pregnancy being quite strong after a year of lifting heavy (I had a few injuries during that year though, so I scaled the weights back before I learned that I was pregnant). This allowed me to maintain the intensity of my workouts, slowly dialing back every month and modifying my workouts to accommodate the changes in my body and to prevent injuries.

I had to eliminate burpees, deadlifts and ab exercises pretty early on as they just didn’t feel right anymore. However, I’m glad that squats either with a barbell or two dumbbells are still doable to this day (I’m at 33 weeks as I’m writing this) – I’m hoping to continue with those for as long as possible. I’m keeping all weights fairly moderate though: the heaviest barbell I squat with is 75 pounds (my pre-pregnancy PR was 140 pounds), and I usually do 5-6 sets of 10 reps with it once a week (4 sets of front squats, 2 sets of back squats). In addition to that, I squat with two 20-pound dumbbells held at my shoulder level, and do back lunges with a 30-pound dumbbell once or twice a week.

Whatever I decide to do at the gym, I try to follow these tips for lifting weights safely during pregnancy because it never hurts to be cautious. These tips have helped me maintain my fitness routine without getting injured or burnt out. (By the way, if you’re more into running than weightlifting, see my tips for running safely during pregnancy.)

I start and finish each workout with a warmup and a cooldown routine:

Warmup: 3-4 minutes on an elliptical, followed by some dynamic stretching for the whole body, a few bodyweight squats, and hanging off of a pull-up bar for 20-30 seconds.

Cooldown: 5-10 minutes of stretching for the whole body, starting with legs and moving up. Once again, I hang off of a pull-up bar for 20-30 seconds. I also try to incorporate some exercises and foam rolling that I’ve learned in our prenatal class.

BIG DISCLAIMER: The workouts I’ve listed below are just an example of what I’ve been doing during my pregnancy. Your experience and fitness level may differ from mine. I am not a certified fitness professional, so I can’t make any guarantees about your experience. Please proceed with caution – if it doesn’t feel good, don’t do it!

First Trimester

Challenges: I started running out of breath way easier than before about 6-7 weeks into my pregnancy. Fast running or high-intensity cardio workouts flew out of the window pretty quickly.

Out with: Burpees towards the end of the first trimester, EMOM (every minute on the minute) workouts – too intense. Weighted side lunges – put a lot of pressure on my lower back.

Weekly workout plan*: 3 workouts with weights a week, each ending with a 1-mile run on the treadmill with walk breaks as needed.

Typical workout**:

Warmup (see above)

3-4 rounds of:

  • 10 burpees
  • 10 squats with 2 heavy-ish dumbbells held at shoulder level (I’ve been using 2 20-pounders throughout my pregnancy)
  • 10 push-ups off the floor
  • 8 back lunges for each leg (16 total) holding a heavy-ish dumbbell or a kettlebell goblet-style
  • 10 barbell plate touch and presses (touch the floor, then press the plate overhead) with a 25-35 pound plate

To finish:

10 minutes of walking or running on a treadmill (walk breaks as needed)

Cooldown (see above)

Second Trimester

Challenges: I can feel that my ligaments are softening, which makes some moves more challenging. However, my breathing gets easier, so I work up to running 3 miles outdoors with only taking 2-3 short walk breaks.

Out with: Deadlifts – cause discomfort to my lower back. All ab exercises – don’t feel good anymore.

Weekly workout plan*: 2 workouts with weights (full body), 2 outdoor runs of around 3 miles each (walk breaks as needed).

Typical workout**:

Warmup (see above)

4 sets of 10 barbell squats (front or back barbell hold) with a fairly light weight – I use anywhere between 55# and 75# (scale with caution for yourself)

3-4 rounds of:

  • 10 assisted pullups
  • 10 dumbbell curls for each arm (20 total)
  • 15 standing dumbbell tricep extensions

To finish:

10 minutes walking or running on a treadmill (walk breaks as needed) OR elliptical

Cooldown (see above)

Third Trimester

Challenges: Slowly but surely, running has become uncomfortable as my belly is expanding. My last 3-mile run happened at around week 27. I tried shorter 1-mile runs later, but the bottom of my belly gets sore later in the day if I persist. Since I still belong to a gym, I’ve been using an elliptical machine for my cardio.

Out with: Running, flat push-ups (I’m still doing incline push-ups off of a bench)

Weekly workout plan*: 3 workouts with weights (full body) on non-consecutive days, each ending with 10 minutes on the elliptical.

Typical workout**:

Warmup (see above)

3 rounds of:

  • 10 squats with 2 heavy-ish dumbbells held at shoulder level
  • 8 back lunges for each leg (16 total) holding a heavy-ish dumbbell or a kettlebell goblet-style

3 rounds of:

  • 8-10 barbell overhead presses (I use an empty 45# barbell)
  • 10 one-arm dumbbell rows with a heavy-ish dumbbell (both sides)
  • 10 push-ups off of a bench

To finish:

10 minutes on the elliptical

Cooldown (see above)

Notes:

*While I try to stick to these weekly workout plans, life (or a strong need for a nap) interferes pretty often. If I can make one workout happen per week instead of the planned 3-4, I consider it a success.

**Not sure about how to do these exercises properly? Look them up online – Youtube or Bodybuilding.com are good for stuff like that.

While I’m calling these workouts ‘typical’, it doesn’t mean that I’ve followed them to a tee every time. I try to vary things as much as possible to avoid getting bored or overworked. if you decide to try out any of these and find that you hate some of the exercises, feel free to swap them for something more enjoyable – or drop them altogether 😉

I’ve mentioned this before in my Fit Pregnancy posts: I’m choosing to continue working out during pregnancy NOT because I’m deathly scared to pack on the pounds BUT because it helps me maintain strength, endurance, and energy to go through every day – even if none of those things are at their pre-pregnancy level anymore (I still hope to get them back eventually!). Setting the focus on health rather than looks is liberating!

Working out during #pregnancy: setting the focus on #health rather than looks is liberating! Click To Tweet

Question for you: If you are pregnant right now, or have been pregnant before, what did you do to stay active during this time?

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About Alina Zavatsky - Vegan Runner Eats

Alina first made a switch to a vegan diet in 2013 to optimize her athletic performance as a marathon runner. Being vegan eventually opened her eyes on the issues of animal welfare, environmental protection, human rights and feminism. Alina hopes that her blog will help its readers on their path to making this world a better place.

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4 Responses to Working Out During Pregnancy: Full-Body Workouts for Each Trimester

  1. Brian says:

    Hey, nice! My wife is pregnant now so I will definitely recommend her this post, of course don’t overdo it!
    Brian recently posted…6 Best Gym Towels For Sweat When Working Out (2017)My Profile

  2. JJ says:

    Dear Alina,

    I just want to say Thank You for your terrific blog! I’m a Beginner Vegan and I’ve found your tips on how to simplify vegan cooking (and life in general!) to be very helpful!

    Best wishes,

    J-

    • Alina says:

      Thank you so much, J! Glad you found my tips helpful – that’s why I write this blog, in the hopes that it helps people with all aspects of going and being vegan!

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