The first trimester: What type of exercise should you be doing?

Posted on November 23, 2011

(Last Updated On: November 17, 2017)

Since we now know you should be exercising while pregnant, what type of exercise should you be doing?

I’m going to break this into two categories to start. They are the two most common “types” of exercise people talk about so I figure presenting things in this manner will help resonate with people. These are cardio and resistance training (lifting weights). After that I’ll get a bit more specific with some of the most common types of exercise.

If you didn’t read Should you be exercising?, take a look at that to found out all the benefits of exercising while pregnant in the first place.



The cardio umbrella includes riding the bike, elliptical, treadmill, walking around the block, spin class, aerobics class, etc. These are all different ways of moving the majority of your body in unison. And all of these are fine to do during your pregnancy.

Even aerobics class, which can involve a fair amount of jumping, is ok while pregnant. Of course, if you haven’t exercised in so long you consider taking a big step over a puddle a jump, you may not want to introduce any regular jumping into your exercise routine when you’re just beginning.

I suppose the biggest question for most women who are already exercising regularly will be, “Can I keep running?” Yes you can! This probably isn’t the time to try to break your personal record for a mile (more on intensity in another post) but there is nothing to suggest running is a potential detriment to your pregnancy.

From the Guidelines of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists for exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period:

“[…] for example, activities such as walking, hiking, jogging/running, aerobic dance, swimming, cycling, rowing, cross country skiing, skating, dancing, and rope skipping. Because control of exercise intensity (see below) within rather precise limits is often desirable at the beginning of an exercise programme, the most easily quantified activities, such as walking or stationary cycling, are particularly useful. There are no data to support the restriction of pregnant women from participating in these activities[…]”


Lifting weights

 Anybody who tells you you shouldn’t lift weights while pregnant is either woefully misinformed or just speaking out of their ass. The argument to not lift weights makes no sense. Carrying your laptop around, pushing a grocery cart through the aisles, picking up the dog’s crap with the pooper scooper = all forms of lifting “weights.”

Just because you are doing a formal resistance training program doesn’t change the fact that, regardless of what the weight is, it’s still weight that is being lifted. A laptop is just a different shape of a 5lb dumbbell.

Hell, pregnant women are automatically on a progressive resistance training program whether they like it or not. Don’t think so? Put on a 30lb weighted vest and walk around all freakin’ day with it on. Tell me that’s not work. Tell me you don’t feel like you’re lifting weight around. Because that’s about what you’ll be -progressively- lifting over the next 9 months.

There are no studies reporting adverse effects of weight training while pregnant. Even in studies where women lifted pretty heavy weights nothing was noted. This study: Heavy lifting during pregnancy – A harm to the fetus? looked at women who lifted at least 25 pounds at least 50 times a week in their manual labor jobs and found nothing noteworthy. I’ll bet that’s more weight than the majority of pregnant women regularly, if ever, lift. Especially not over 50 times per week.

This is important because a lot of what you’ll read on this topic advocates the same old common advice of, if you’re a woman and you’re going to lift weights, go light and go with higher reps. There are issues with this recommendation which will be covered in the intensity post.

Much like cardio, there is really nothing to worry about. Just get started!


Corrective exercise

Corrective exercise covers exercise designed to improve postural issues, muscle imbalances, etc. It’s getting and keeping you healthy. Resistance training can (and should) fall under this umbrella. In terms of specifics, that will be covered extensively in another post. Just know for now that since it is a form of resistance training it is ok to do while pregnant. And in my opinion, highly advisable to help avoid issues like lower back and shoulder pain. This is a massively under talked about area for pregnant women.


Pool / Swimming

Not surprisingly, swimming and pool work is highly recommended by many for pregnant women.

I’m not really the biggest fan of the pool though. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with swimming or those aqua fit classes; I just feel people’s time could be better spent elsewhere. It reminds me of people with arthritis. Because most don’t know how to get a training effect with someone prone to joint pain, they take the easy way out and throw them in the pool because that always feels alright.

After a month or so though the pool gets too easy. It’s very hard to progress the resistance. (Those hand paddles aren’t making it that much harder.) Most pregnant women are pretty young so it’s are going to be even easier for them. You’re also not improving how people move since how they move in their normal environment i.e. on land, is much different than how they move in a pool.

If you want to use the pool as an adjunct to a solid resistance training program, like a form a cardio, then have at it. Just don’t use it as a substitute for lifting weights and think you’re actually going to get stronger in the water. Beyond a complete beginner not much is going to happen.



When I say flexibility I mean your generic stretching program. This is because corrective exercise can have flexibility work too. However, when most people say stretching they typically mean the old movements akin to bend over and touch your toes, pull your arms in various directions, etc.

General flexibility stretching isn’t really necessary for pregnant women. Of course, this depends on the individual. However, if we’re speaking in generalities, most pregnant women are fairly young. Young people, women especially, are pretty flexible to begin with. Furthermore, pregnant women already have greater flexibility than non-pregnant women. This is due to various changes in hormones causing pregnant women’s joints to become a bit more lax. So on top of the fact you are a woman, probably a young woman, and you have hormone levels conducive to flexibility, this isn’t an area you need to worry much about.

This brings us to…


For a lot of the population yoga is beneficial. While I still prefer an individualized approach to flexibility (yoga tends to stretch the hell out of everything), if something gets you moving then it’s hard for me to say to not do it.

A few points regarding yoga for pregnant women:

1) Again, you’re likely already plenty flexible. Therefore, view yoga as something that gets you up and moving. Or perhaps a stress reliever. Don’t worry about trying to become a contortionist during your classes. Being able to throw your foot behind your head isn’t necessary.

2) Yoga does quite a bit of poses where there is emphasis on arching the lower back. DO NOT FOCUS ON THIS. You may want to just can these stretches to begin with. Pregnant women, especially in the second and third trimesters, have pllllenty of a lower back arch. This is why their backs bother them. The last thing you need to do are a bunch of poses or exercises emphasizing that arch.

3) Don’t do the heated version. Exercising while feeling excessively hot is unadvisable for pregnant women. This applies to other exercise as well, but there is obviously a greater potential for this to happen if you’re hitting up the cobra pose in 110 degree heat.

4) I’ll talk about this more later but after the first trimester you should not be doing any exercises on your back. I haven’t been in many yoga classes, and I don’t think there are many poses that do this, but keep this in mind.

And lastly…


Recreation activities

This is pretty self-explanatory at this point. Other than activities that directly put you at physical risk, there really isn’t much to worry about. You can run, jump, lift, etc. Just don’t go play ice hockey or anything that puts you, specifically your stomach, at risk.


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Posted in: Pregnancy