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Training During Pregnancy | Modify Your Workout

Written by Jamie Bantleman

Training Through Pregnancy

In this article I have teamed up with ‘training through pregnancy’ specialist, Rebecca Park. It intends to dispel myths and common misconceptions surrounding training in pregnancy and advise those on appropriate training that is of actual benefit to mother and baby, I will also suggest an advisory protocol on supplements and nutrition. I have segregated conception care, the trimesters and postpartum care for easy reference and hope that it serves as an informational source for all those who have recently found out they are pregnant or are well on their way to delivery. One comment I would however like to make to any pregnant women reading this article is please seek advice from a GP and a professional trainer to ensure it’s safe to commence or continue with training.


‘The Pregnant Exerciser’

If you are already an experienced exerciser and wish to carry on through pregnancy you will need to know what forms and phases of exercise are safest and of most benefit in each trimester as it changes slightly in terms of what to avoid and regress and also what you don’t need to avoid. I feel training through pregnancy is a grey area for most. To those who are thinking of commencing a training regime you will need to be carefully programmed for the reasons above but more so that you don’t dive in at the deep end of weight training.


Low Impact Weight Training is probably the best method of training for pretty much any candidate looking to start training but especially those with contra indications, from those looking to reduce unwanted body fat, those looking to gain muscle mass, pregnant women, those with coronary, respiratory or bone related issues, diabetics, young adults and people with old injuries/ joint issues. The reason being is it is proven to be a more effective cardiovascular workout and whilst it is mainly anaerobic it works the heart more than most types of exercise, it is low impact so preserves synovial joint fluid, it increases bone cell formation and then progressively as the muscles tighten and wrap around the bone they densify creating stronger bones and healthier more sculpted muscles. However other benefits more specific to my article and relevant facts regarding pregnancy are listed below;


» It helps prevent orthopaedic issues i.e. back and knee pain.

» Reduces risk of postpartum

» Squatting specifically and bio mechanically simulates delivery positions.

» Prevents excess weight gain through pregnancy.

» Helps to reduce water retention and bloating.

» Prepares women to return to exercise quicker after birth.

» Stronger vascular flow helps to up-regulate metabolic pathways which are essential in aiding healthy foetal development, meaning stronger bones and cranial formation.

» Exercise allows the placenta to grow to twice its normal size therefore allowing baby’s nutrient store to increase also to twice its natural size.

» Circulation improves allowing more oxygenated blood to get to baby and reduces cramps in legs for Mum.

» Reduces the risk of a Caesarean Delivery.

» Improves the speed of recovery after delivery especially Diastasis Recti (separation of stomach muscles)

» Promotes a ‘happier’ hormonal balance during pregnancy, eliminating low moods and irrational thinking.

» Energy levels are increased often helping with the lethargic feeling experienced through pregnancy.

» Increased Serotonin levels alleviating anxious, depressed, baby blue feelings.

» Can progressively alleviate morning sickness and nausea.

» Allowing transverse abdominal work through first trimester especially can aid ‘pushing’ through delivery.

» If mother has a healthy somatotype – embryo production in the first two weeks of pregnancy can help form a healthier somatotype for baby also.


Your First Trimester (0-3m)

In your first trimester your baby starts its new life the size of a ‘dot’ progressing into a ‘pea’ and slowly starts to develop into a tiny foetus shape. If you currently train there is no reason why you can’t carry on with moderate and progressive training or your normal programming. However my provisos would be to constantly carry cool water and a cold wet wrung out sweat towel to manually cool yourself down. As temperature regulation and dehydration is something you won’t be controlling well yourself through this phase. If you don’t train but wish to improve health through pregnancy then all the following advice is still relevant however the level and intensity may need to be lowered so please speak to a training professional with experience before embarking.


Weight Training is preferable its low impact and a fantastic cardio workout and will help you build strength and develop muscles that will aid you in delivery of baby. It will also help you ward off nausea and for those of you who are experiencing intense morning sickness, evening sickness or all day sickness bear with exercise it will see you through. I recommend throughout your first trimester adding more ‘back’ work in your programme as melatonin starts to infiltrate your bones softening them and preparing your hips to widen.


It is more crucial than ever to begin strengthening the muscles along the Erector Spinae and in all compartments of the back, the Cervical, Thoracic and Lumbar. In doing so you can prepare and prevent all or most back pain and orthopaedic issues that come with pregnancy and it will benefit you more. If you dedicate the first trimester to this process it will help further along in your pregnancy, as you will be able to achieve stronger muscle development the more time you devote to this aspect of your training. As bump starts to grow and more pressure is placed on your spine you will feel better able to deal with the weight and change at the front of your new body shape.

pregnant training

The ACOG advise that any more than approx. 7kg Dumbbells in each hand (equivalent of 15lbs) diverts too much blood flow away from internal organs to the muscles. However queries in collaboration with this statement would have to be the capability of the candidate? the build of the candidate? and the intensity of the phase of training currently being undertaken? With the addition of how long a rest period is being had in between sets? As long as these factors are considered when laying out a programme the benefits far outweigh temporary circulatory disruption.


My advice would be to keep workouts to 30-45ms depending on intensity, keeping to a minimum of 60-90s rest yet again depending on intensity to allow for heart rate, aerobic response and circulation to fall accordingly. The loudest piece of advice sounded by any professional, medical or other is that the question and answer must lie with the individual to assess how able they feel through training and take responsibility if they feel they are experiencing adverse reactions to training.


Cautionary notes through your first trimester would be to make sure you don’t dehydrate though your workouts constantly sip water and don’t perform too large a set’s depending on how advanced and intense your programme may be. Just be conscious that through your first trimester especially your body is not great at regulating its own temperature so allow proper rest times aiming for a minimum of 45-60s and if you start sweating excessively although you may feel able to train to intensity please be aware that you need to be responsible for manually cooling yourself down and keeping your cortisol (stress hormone) levels as suppressed as is possible and if temperature is raised excessively throughout pregnancy you can increase the chances pre-eclampsia.

pregnant training

Pre-eclampsia statistics record that is only linked to exercise when mothers perform in excess of 270 minutes per week so I would always play on the safe side and advise all my ladies and clients to stick to a ‘maximum’ of 4-5 times per week at no more than 45 minutes per session, unless doing something gentle like gradient walking, gentle cycling or low impact elliptical machines such as Stairmaster or Cross Ramp/Trainer just to keep active and get rid of some unwanted frustration and water retention and keep metabolism ticking along.


High impact/cardio exercise needs to be limited or reduced significantly depending on your current regime apart from increasing your temperature rapidly, its effect on the joints and bones whilst melatonin is beginning to soften them will only aggravate or encourage bone related or joint issues. In addition high impact cardio may also raise your cortisol higher than needed. There are more preferably forms of cardio available such as indicated above.


Abdominal exercises need to be tailored, however not necessarily removed. In the first 3 months there is actually no medical or physical reason why abdominal exercising needs to stop however it’s more beneficial to train your transverse abs as this will help when it comes to ‘pushing’ in delivery and they can be performed right up until Diastasis Recti happens (separation of the stomach muscles). Usually on average between weeks 23-27.


Monitor weights! If you are someone who trains using heavy weights you need to realise that from this point on in your pregnancy your goal is to not lift, squat, bench heavier than before, you can and should still challenge yourself but your new focus should be on maintaining health, strength and weight until necessary and advisable to start lowering. In the same breath great care and focus should always be imperative when performing any technique, if your are unsure as to the bio mechanics of weighted exercise please seek an experienced professional to guide you. But the most important aspect is usually keeping a neutral spine and learning to retract the scapular through most movements. Applying an extended tempo to your eccentric or concentric movements may help to advance your methods without upping the weights unnecessarily.


Other actions which will help your baby to develop in a marvellously healthy way are taking care of your nutrition and supplementation of vitamins and minerals that grow increasingly deficient through pregnancy and are necessary to helping baby’s foetal, skeletal, and neurological development. I have advised a supplement protocol for expectant mothers below through the first trimester. If you are someone with an external health condition or contra-indication to exercise and nutrition or supplements then please seek further advice to ensure you are not about to embark on something which could upset that predisposed condition.

Suggested Supplement Protocol 

 » Omega 3

Essential Fatty Acids for Energy, Body Composition and helping both mother and baby’s bone structure. Also allows molecules to attach to each other in the body for natural processes to occur.


» Vitamin D3

(5,000-10,000 iu per day) can alleviate depression, anxiety, mood swings by improving serotonin levels and cognitive brain function. Also plays a crucial role in normal foetal development at this stage and weeks 25-28 when baby’s brain starts to develop. This is also the second most common thing women become deficient in through pregnancy.


» Magnesium

(600mg at night) – reduces cortisol levels and magnesium levels fall dramatically through pregnancy making it harder to control our cortisol as our stores are shunted to the foetus and placenta. Which can instigate maternal insulin resistance which means more is produced therefore increasing chances of gestational diabetes which is a reality for approx. 1 in 4 women.


» Iodine

(min. 25mg daily) – Helps prevent neurological cretinism and also when women are deficient can lead to miscarriage.


» Iron or Folate

(1000mg daily) – is important to mother and baby’s development, it’s estimated that 40% of pregnant women in the world are deficient in iron and are anaemic.


» Zinc

Improves testosterone levels which help detox bad androgens and oestrogen’s which create toxicity in the body and in turn baby.


» Calcium D Glucarate

along with magnesium supports vascular flow as it up-regulates metabolic pathways which allow hormones to work harmoniously with each other and also are necessary for healthy foetal development.



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Faye Reid

Faye Reid

Writer and expert

Faye Reid has a Bachelor of Science in Sport and Exercise Physiology and a Master of Science in Exercise Physiology and Sports Nutrition. Faye has worked with numerous high-profile organisations, such as Men's Health, Sky Sports, Huddersfield Giants, Warrington Wolves, British Dressage and GB Rowing, providing her expert sports science support. Find out more about Faye's experience here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/faye-reid-8b619b122/. She puts her passion into practice as goal attack for her netball team, and in competitive event riding.

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