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Modifying Your Exercise Routine for a Healthy Pregnancy

During pregnancy, you need to modify your exercise routine whenever something isn't quite right. Modifying means fine-tuning your exercise program to keep it safe and effective. Your baby's health is your most important priority right now, and if modifying your exercise regimen ensures a safe, healthy baby, that's the only healthy course of action to take.

You may need to modify your routine monthly, weekly, or even daily according to your body's response to both your pregnancy and your exercise routine. Whatever modifications you need to make are unique to you, your chosen form(s) of exercise, and how you're faring in your pregnancy.

Exercising during your first trimester of pregnancy (weeks 1–13)

During the first trimester, you want to continue whatever physical activities you've been doing. If you're new to exercise, get into exercise very gently. Either way, consider the following potential modifications and tips during this trimester:

  • If your breasts are sore, you experience morning sickness (or nausea/vomiting any time of day), or if you're experiencing extreme fatigue, cut back on your routine or forgo exercise until you feel better.
  • The first trimester is a good time to start abdominal and pelvic floor exercises. After 12 weeks, you want to avoid any curl-up exercises that you do while lying on the floor, although pelvic floor exercises can continue throughout your pregnancy.
  • If you were exercising before you got pregnant, you can probably wear your sports bras throughout much of the first trimester. You may find, however, that at the end of this trimester, you need a larger size. If you haven't yet invested in a good sports bra, go to a sporting goods store, running store, or fitness store and try on several until you find one that's comfortable. Don't buy too many: You'll quickly outgrow them, and because sports bras are made of fast-drying material, you can quickly wash one or two out, as needed, and wear them over and over.

Your second trimester exercise routine (weeks 14–26)

During the second trimester, you may feel better than at any other time during your pregnancy. (If you don't, that's okay, too.) Continue to monitor your body's reaction to exercise, and if you feel good enough to do so, consider increasing the duration or intensity of your workouts. Also keep the following potential modifications and other tips in mind:

  • Sometime during this trimester, you want to shop for a new sports bra, because your existing one is probably getting too tight.
  • If you feel unbalanced during these weeks, consider discontinuing any activity that can throw you off balance, like gymnastics, tennis, downhill skiing, skating, horseback riding, trail biking, and hiking in the woods over rutty trails. Replace with swimming, water aerobics, or a stationary bike, which don't require excellent balance.
  • Because your baby is growing and becoming more vulnerable if you fall or are hit in the abdomen, during this trimester, your healthcare provider may ask you to stop ball sports (soccer, basketball, racquetball, and so on), contact sports, and outdoor biking. (Note that because of your expanding abdomen, you may find a recumbent bike more comfortable than a traditional stationary bike).
    Outdoor cycling while you're pregnant exposes you and your baby to unwanted exhaust and other fumes as you ride the roads, so if you and your healthcare provider decide that you're able to cycle outdoors, choose low-traffic areas.
  • If you're doing step aerobics, make sure that your step is no higher than four inches off the ground, unless you feel absolutely stable and balanced with a higher step.
  • If you're rowing, you may find that this super-intense sport is too fatiguing for the rest of your pregnancy. Pay careful attention to how you're feeling and how well you and your baby are gaining weight.
  • If you're weightlifting, don't overwork your thigh muscles, because machines that work the thighs also tend to place stress on the ligaments around the pelvis and cause discomfort.
  • After the fourth month, avoid lying on your back for long periods, or you run the risk of feeling faint from the pressure your uterus puts on the vena cava (the large vein that sends blood from your lower body to your heart). If you feel faint while on your back, roll over on your side to reestablish blood flow.
  • If you're doing yoga, now's the time to stop doing back bends, any moves that have you lying on your stomach or back, jumps, and inverted poses.
  • Many healthcare providers also recommend that you stop competing in sports events during the second trimester, although this depends on your sport and how you're feeling. If you're in your second trimester and want to continue participating in a competitive sport, ask your healthcare provider for advice.
  • Be careful during this trimester (and the next and for about five months after you deliver) not to overstretch or make sudden moves. While you're pregnant, a hormone called relaxin gets you ready for childbirth by relaxing all your ligaments and joints. This means that you may be at risk of injuring yourself, because your joints and ligaments won't stop you from overextending yourself as well as they did when you weren't pregnant.

Low impact activities for third trimester exercise (weeks 14–26)

In the third trimester, depending on how you feel, you may need to switch to low-impact activities, such as walking, swimming, and indoor cycling. In fact, some women are so fatigued and have so much difficulty moving around that they aren't able to exercise at all during the third trimester, but if you can, keep it up: Studies show that women who exercise during the third trimester achieve the greatest benefits from that exercise: reduced fat gain, shorter and less complicated labor and delivery, and shorter recovery after delivery from exercise.

As you go through your third trimester, keep the following potential modifications and tips in mind:

  • Keep doing your pelvic floor exercises, even if you're not able to do anything else. As you're getting up from the floor, move slowly and carefully to avoid injury.
  • As with the second trimester, avoid overstretching. And if you haven't already discontinued outdoor cycling, now is definitely the time to begin cycling indoors.
  • In addition to needing a new sports bra, you may need a support belt or belly brace. If you've been running, you may decide to stop that activity and walk, instead. If you've been doing aerobics, avoid jumps in the last trimester. If you've been cycling indoors on a traditional indoor bike and didn't switch to a recumbent bike in the second trimester, you may need to do so now.
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