Exercise during pregnancy, a somewhat controversial topic! Yet, the evidence shows that for most of us there are huge benefits from maintaining an exercise regime whilst pregnant. Studies show that exercise during pregnancy can reduce the risk of pre-natal issues such as pre-eclampsia and incontinence. It can decrease post-natal recovery time and even reduce the risk of post-pregnancy issues/illnesses when paired with pelvic physiotherapy. Not quite sure what to do and how to adapt training throughout your pregnancy? Here is a brief guide to exercise during pregnancy*.

First Trimester

The effects of 'morning' sickness mean that it's important to:

  • Stay cool and hydrated: avoid activity in high heat or humidity, and have water on hand at all times.

  • Monitor the intensity of exercise. Using the RPE (rate of perceived exertion) scale, we shouldn't be working any higher than 8.5. When strength training there should always still be reps 'in the tank', i.e. 1-2 reps 'left' at higher volumes (12+ reps) and 2-3 reps for lower rep volumes (6-12 reps).

  • Go with your gut. If you're not feeling good, it might be better to skip training. Or maybe just do a shorter session.

What are we prioritising in our training?

  • Maintaining/improving strength, particularly in the upper back (to support increase breast size), front core (strong trunk to carry growing weight of baby) and back (strengthen posterior chain, particularly the glutes, to help balance anterior weight shift).

  • Improve the connection between core and pelvic floor.

  • Build or maintain a solid aerobic foundation. This is even more important when pregnant and has a whole host of pre- and post-natal benefits including a reduced risk of gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, preterm birth and urinary incontinence.

Second Trimester

The second trimester is often the best time to train during pregnancy. Many people have left the sickness behind them and aren't carrying too much additional weight. The intentions of second tri training are the same as the first but our body is now facing more physical changes as so some adaptations will need to be considered.

Include exercises to help reduce back or pelvic girdle pain (PGP)

  • Modifications to reduce PGP include decreasing the length of lunges, avoid wider squats (e.g. sumo or cossack) if pain is at the front of the pelvic and avoid standing on one leg.

  • There are many exercises to relieve lower back pain including cat/cow, figure of four stretch (if comfortable lying on your back) and a kneeling hip flexor stretch.

  • Modifications to reduce lower back pain include a change in breathing strategy when lifting weight, reducing the load or changing the position of the weight (e.g. opting for a front squat rather than back) and reducing the range of motion (e.g. incline push ups).

Ensure there is a lot of movement variability within sessions

As your body changes during pregnancy, certain positions become less comfortable. By training in many positions (e.g. standing, sitting, side lying, half kneeling, tall kneeling...) we strengthen the body in many different holds and hence will give you more options when certain stances become more uncomfortable.

Important modifications for the Second Trimester

  • Now is the time to reduce the load as our core and pelvic floor can't generate the same amount of force and tension as it could even in the first trimester. Decreasing the weight and increasing the reps is the best way to ensure we're still getting enough volume into our training. Alternatively keep the weight the same but perform fewer reps. At this stage we want to keep even more reps 'in the tank' e.g. when performing 6-12 reps we want to have 3-4 additional reps that could've been performed.

  • Barbell training needs to be adapted. We now need to lose any movements that require the barbell to cross the mid-section e.g. cleans and snatches. Additionally, it's important to monitor how back and front loaded barbell exercises feel. Some people might be more comfortable in a front squat whereas other's might feel better in a back squat. Furthermore, other individuals might find that they need to drop the barbell loading altogether if there is excessive downward pressure felt in the pelvic floor region.

  • Adapt supine exercises if they don't feel right. Raising the upper back and shoulders a couple of inches might be necessary if there's any feeling of nausea, light headedness or pins and needles in the legs.

  • Although there's no significant evidence that bulging/doming poses any risk to baby or mother, it's safest to modify any exercises that cause it to occur. Front loaded exercises like planks and push ups may cause this to happen and so modifying this exercises by elevating hands, decreasing time in position or just using some simple cues can prevent doming/bulging from occurring.

Third Trimester

As we move into the final stages of pregnancy, people often assume that now is the time to stop training. For many, this isn't the case. As per the first and second trimester, the best thing to do is to listen to your body. If you still feel up to heading for the gym then go for it, but if a short daily walk suits you best then do that instead. Nevertheless, if you want to continue training you can do so with some minor additional tweaks to training.

Continue to include as much movement variability as possible.

Maintaining the strength and fitness - in many different positions - gained in the first two trimesters will be essential for the best post-natal recovery possible as well as minimising discomfort. However, this might be the time to reduce the number of sessions you do a week if that feels right for you.

Incorporate movements to reduce discomfort.

Gentle exercises and stretches include:

  • Hip circles.

  • Knee rolling.

  • Hip flexor stretches.

  • Cat/cow.

  • Wide child's pose.

  • Thread the needle.

  • Bound angle.

  • Pelvic tilts and circles sitting on a swiss ball.

Birth prep exercises

Practice "letting go" of your pelvic floor muscles using a combination of "Connection Breath" and visualisation techniques. Adding these on to the end of your training will help them to become part of your routine.

Increase rest and recovery time

This is both during training - between sets - and at home. Reducing the amount of training you're doing and swapping it for active recovery like walking and stretching is a good idea during the third trimester.

How to further modify exercises for the Third Trimester:

  • Remove supine exercises if causing discomfort.

  • Avoid holding your breath whilst lifting.

  • Minimise position changes. Although we still want to include movement variability throughout training, pairing up exercises in one position is more suitable. For example, grouping all seated exercises and all standing exercises together respectively.

  • Reduce load further as our overall load has already increased significantly by the third trimester. This will reduce the strain on our pelvic floor and prevent doming/bulging given that many women experience diastasis recti by this point in the pregnancy.

  • Swap crunches for carries and other core exercises to prevent doming/bulging. Good core exercises to include are farmer's/suitcase/overhead carries, incline planks, side planks, and pallof press.


Ultimately, training during pregnancy is down to the preference of the individual. There are some occasions where it might not be safe, for example if you have any contraindications. Yet, for most of us, exercise during pregnancy is absolutely ok and can have some great benefits for our body both during and post-pregnancy.

If you're pregnant and would like some support or 1:1 training throughout your pregnancy then please email

*This guide is for individuals who have received the go ahead from a doctor. We emphasise that this is not the 'go ahead' for anyone to participate in exercise during pregnancy.

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