Are you looking for a simple first-trimester pregnancy workout?
You’re in the right place.
In this post, we will cover
- different types of workouts you can do in early pregnancy
- a first-trimester strength workout, and
- a first-trimester cardio workout
It’s also a part of our overall series on Getting in Shape During Pregnancy which you should read prior to this post.
Let’s get started.
Although I am a doctor, I am not your doctor. This information is for informational purposes only and should not substitute the advice from your healthcare professional. Please read my full Disclaimer for more information. Also, this post may contain affiliate links: meaning I may receive a commission if you use them.
Ok, moving on.
Different types of workouts You Can Do In Early Pregnancy
So what kind of workouts can you do in the first trimester of pregnancy?
In the early first trimester, you can pretty much do most types of exercise activities. (Assuming you are healthy with no significant medical issues).
These include low impact workouts such as
- and swimming
But you can also do more intense workouts such as running and weightlifting. This is especially true if you already did these activities before becoming pregnant.
The workouts in this post will cover lifting weights and cardio.
How often should you exercise In The First Trimester?
According to the American Heart Association, adults should get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week.
They also recommend at least 2 strength training sessions per week, using resistance.
So is that what you should do in pregnancy?
Yes, and no.
If you have never exercised before, you should not begin with this regimen. However, you can definitely work your way up to these recommendations.
I recommend that you start with two strength sessions per week, and two cardio sessions per week. This will help you maintain and/or achieve an appropriate level of fitness during your pregnancy.
They can be of short duration at first, lasting just 10-15 minutes each.
I’ll show you how.
First Trimester Exercise Guidelines
Alright, so you want to get started?
First and foremost, you have to make sure you are evaluated by your doctor first.
*Only do this workout if you have been cleared by your doctor to exercise.*
As with all things in life, start low and go slow.
- Don’t overexert yourself,
- Avoid exhaustion,
- Avoid heart rates >140 beats per minute
- Avoid pain or uncomfortable exercises
When starting this workout, I only want you to do one set of each exercise.
This should only take you about 15 minutes to complete.
After a week, increase it to two sets of each exercise with 90-second breaks in between.
Again, if at any point you feel dizzy or that something feels wrong – stop immediately.
Otherwise, you will be able to do a lot of exercises that non-pregnant women can do.
Let’s get started.
Easy First Trimester Pregnancy Workout Plan
To start this workout, you will need to warm-up.
Warm-ups are important because they increase your body temperature, which improves your total body circulation, increases mobility, and primes your muscles and joints for exercise.
Don’t skip this important step.
Here are a few warm-up exercises you can do.
- Quad Stretches
- Hip Flexions
- Bodyweight Squats
- Shoulder Circles
- Shoulder Flexion
- Shoulder Abduction
- Bird Dogs
- Glute Bridges
In each workout, we are going to do three-four different exercises.
Here is the basic template for the exercise categories.
- KNEE FLEXION EXERCISE
- PUSH EXERCISE
- PULL EXERCISE
- ISOLATION EXERCISE
- HIP EXTENSION EXERCISE
- PRESS EXERCISE
- CORE EXERCISE
- ISOLATION EXERCISE
- PELVIC FLOOR EXERCISE
- SPINE MOBILITY EXERCISE
- BACK STABILITY EXERCISE
And now here are the actual workouts.
|Uneven Squats||8-12 repetitions|
|Modified Push-up Shoulder Taps||8-12 repetitions|
|Bent Over Rows||12-15 repetitions|
|Bicep Curls||12-15 repetitions|
|Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift||8-12 repetitions|
|Shoulder Press||8-12 repetitions|
|Side Plank||15-30 seconds|
|The Kegel Hold Exercise||15-20 repetitions|
|Bird Dog||10-15 reps per side|
|Rear Delt Flys||10-15 repetitions|
Now let’s go over them in more detail.
The first exercise is a Knee Flexion Dominant Exercise: We will use the Uneven Squat. This exercise will strengthen your hips, quads, glutes, abductors, and core.
By performing this exercise with an uneven weight, you get the added bonus of training your oblique muscles as your body has to resist bending laterally because of the dumbbell.
To do it:
- Pick up a dumbbell or a weight and hold it at one side.
- It is important that you use a dumbbell that is moderately heavy.
- I love the bowflex 552 which can be purchased on Amazon. Each dumbbell can be adjusted from 5 to 52.5lbs.
- Stand shoulder-width apart with your feet facing forward or turned out no more than 30 degrees.
- Stand tall, brace your core and begin squatting down by bending at the hips and knees simultaneously.
- Keep your back straight and your knees tracking in the same direction as your toes.
- Make sure that your heels stay completely flat at all times.
- Go as low as you can while maintaining proper form using a 3-second tempo.
- To increase the difficulty of this exercise, feel free to use one of the Postpartum Trainer’s Glute Resistance Bands.
Do 8-12 repetitions, then switch hands and do another 8-12 repetitions.
Modified Push-Up Shoulder Taps:
Next up is the Push Exercise: We will use the Modified Push-Up Shoulder Tap. This exercise will strengthen your shoulders, triceps, anterior torso, and activate your core.
To do it:
- Assume a quadruped (on your hands and knees) position and cross your legs behind you.
- Place your hands on the floor at about shoulder-width distance.
- Next, retract your shoulder blades and start bending at the elbows to bring your chest to the floor.
- Keep your back straight and do not shrug at the shoulders.
- Also, do not let your elbows flare out to your sides at 90 degrees.
- Instead, keep them tucked by your side at about 45 degrees from your body.
- Lower yourself slowly, using a 3-second tempo to reach the bottom.
- Once you reach the bottom position, press back up until your elbows are locked out.
- At the top, pick up one hand and tap your opposite shoulder.
- Make sure to keep your core engaged.
- Repeat on the other side.
Do 8-12 total repetitions.
The Bent-Over Row:
The third exercise is the Pull Exercise: We will use the bent-over row. This exercise will strengthen the muscles of the upper back, the posterior shoulder, and even the lat muscles.
To do it:
- Grab a pair of dumbbells and hold them in your outstretched arms.
- Begin leaning forward by bending at the waist, not your back.
- Focus on pushing your butt back behind you as if you wanted to press an elevator button with your buttocks, while keeping your back straight.
- Bend your knees slightly.
- Next, begin pulling both dumbbells up to your upper abdomen by driving your elbows up toward the ceiling.
- At the top, focus on squeezing your scapula together and hold for a 1 count.
- Slowly lower the weight using a 3-second tempo.
Do 12-15 repetitions.
The final exercise in workout #1 is the Isolation exercise: In this workout, we will focus on the bicep muscle.
The simplest variation is the dumbbell bicep curl.
You can do this exercise with dumbbells or a resistance band.
To do it:
- Hold the dumbbells or bands at your side with your palms facing forward.
- Keeping your elbows stationary at your side, bring the dumbbells up bending at the elbow.
- Try to keep the rest of your arm motionless.
- After reaching the top, slowly lower the band back down using a 3-second tempo.
Do 12-15 repetitions.
Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift:
Workout two starts with the Hip Extension exercise: The single-leg Romanian deadlift is one of the best exercises for this purpose. It will strengthen your hamstrings, glutes, low back, and core.
To do it:
- Grab two dumbbells and hold them at your side.
- Stand with your feet together.
- From here, balance on one leg and slowly begin to bend at the hip and not the back.
- The leg that is off the ground should naturally extend behind you.
- Keep a very slight bend at the knee of the working leg.
- Make sure that your back is straight and your pelvis is not rotating.
- Only go as low as you can while maintaining good form, and do it in a very slow controlled manner – using a 3-second tempo.
- Reverse the movement and squeeze your butt muscles at the top.
Repeat for 8-12 repetitions per side.
The second exercise is the Press: The exercise you will use is the shoulder press. This movement will strengthen the shoulder muscles, the triceps, and the core.
You will need dumbbells or a resistance band.
To do it:
- Start by positioning the dumbbells up on your shoulders with your palms facing forward or in towards your head (neutral grip).
- Set a shoulder-width stance and brace your core.
- If it feels more comfortable, you can also get into a staggered split stance.
- From here, all you have to do is press the dumbbells straight up overhead until your elbows are locked out.
- As you are lowering the dumbbells back to the starting position, I want you to do slow and controlled for a 3-second tempo.
Next up is the Core Stabilization exercise: We will continue to focus on the obliques since they are often undertrained, and strengthening them can decrease your risk of diastasis recti.
The side plank is an isometric exercise where you hold your body in a fixed position for time.
To do it:
- Lie on your side and prop yourself up on your forearm.
- From here, straighten out your body and stack your feet on top of each other.
- Brace your core, and make sure that your body is perfectly straight when looking from the front and from the side.
Hold this position for 15-30 seconds per side.
For more information on safe abdominal exercises in pregnancy check out: 21 Core Exercises to Perform in Pregnancy
The fourth exercise is the Isolation exercise: This time, we will be focusing on the tricep extension. Using a resistance band or dumbbell is probably the best way to do this exercise.
To do it (with resistance bands, not pictured):
- Stand on one loop of the resistance band and bring the band up behind your body.
- Grab the other loop behind your head with your palms facing up and elbow bent.
- From here, extend your elbows up toward the ceiling until they are locked out.
Slowly lower the band back down behind your head using a 3-second tempo.
Do 12-15 repetitions
To do it (with dumbbell):
- Stand shoulder-width apart
- Grab a dumbbell behind your head with your palms facing up and elbow bent.
- Extend your elbows up toward the ceiling until they are locked out.
Slowly lower the dumbbell back down behind your head using a 3-second tempo.
Do 12-15 repetitions.
We will start the third workout with a Pelvic Floor strengthening exercise: It’s a good idea to start doing Kegel’s even in early pregnancy to strengthen and prepare the muscles of your pelvis for labor. The best exercise is the Kegel.
To do it:
- Squeeze all of the muscles of your pelvis as if you are trying to prevent yourself from peeing or pooping.
- Hold this contraction for 3-5 seconds and release.
Do this for 15-20 repetitions.
The second exercise in this workout is a Spinal mobility exercise: the Cat-cow is a great way to promote movement and flexibility of your spine. This is important as your posture will begin to change throughout your pregnancy, leading to back pain. Exercises like the cat-cow can help treat and prevent back pain in pregnancy.
To do it:
- Get in a quadruped position (on hands and knees) and keep your back as straight as possible.
- From here, inhale and arch your back.
- Hold this position for 2-3 seconds, then exhale and completely round your back.
- Hold this position for 2-3 seconds as well.
Go through this sequence 15 times, slowly transitioning between the two positions.
The third exercise is another core exercise that focuses on Back stability: It is known as the bird dog and activates your core, upper back, and glutes at the same time.
To do it:
- Get in a quadruped position with your back straight.
- From here, inhale and then begin lifting one arm, and the opposite leg of the floor.
- Begin extending your arm straight out in front of you and your leg straight out behind you as you exhale.
- Hold this position for 3-5 seconds.
- Slowly return back to the starting position.
Do 10-15 repetitions then repeat on the other side.
The final exercise is the Isolation exercise: This time, we will focus on the posterior shoulder with the reverse flys.
You will need two light dumbbells to do this exercise.
To do it:
- Get into a bent-over position as you did with the bent-over row.
- Make sure that your bend at the hips and not the spine.
- Hold the dumbbells in your outstretched arm with your palms facing each other.
- Start the movement by raising the dumbbells out directly to your sides while maintaining straight elbows.
- Avoid using momentum.
- Go through the movement in a slow and controlled manner.
- You should feel this exercise in the back of your shoulders.
Do 10-15 repetitions per side.
Alright, so those are the three strength workout you are going to do. In the beginning, try to do 2 per week, alternating between workout 1, 2, then 3.
Ultimately, you can do all three workouts in 1 week, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
At first, start by doing just 1 set of each exercise. As you get stronger increase it to 2 sets, and ultimately 3.
The final piece of your first-trimester workout is cardio.
I want you to do this cardio workout twice per week, and modify it as you see fit. If you’d like, you can do these in between the strength sessions on Tuesday and Thursday.
Here’s how I do it.
10-minute cardio spurts:
This workout is best done on a treadmill. Warm-up appropriately and grab a timer. I want you to begin running at a 6/10 intensity for 1 minute. Once that minute is up, lower the speed of the treadmill and walk for 2 minutes.
As you get better, feel free to decrease the walking interval to just 1 minute. Repeat these cycles until you complete 10 minutes of work.
- Run at 6/10 intensity for 1 minute
- Walk for 1-2 minutes
- Repeat this cycle as many times as possible in 10 minutes.
If you don’t like running, you can switch this with a brisk hill walk on an incline.
Benefits of exercise during Early pregnancy
So why would you want to exercise in the first trimester?
The American College of OBGYN (ACOG) Released a committee opinion in 2020 reviewing the literature on exercise in pregnancy. Data shows that exercise can
- Reduced risk of gestational diabetes
- Decreased risk of C-section
- Increased postpartum recovery time
That doesn’t even include the other benefits of exercise which include
- Stress Relief
- Improved sleep, and
- Reduced fatigue
Does exercise cause miscarriage in early pregnancy?
There is no evidence that exercise cause a miscarriage.
With that said, it is important to use proper judgment. Any high impact exercise that can cause direct trauma to your belly can definitely increase your risk.
We go over exercises to avoid below.
Can I do squats in the first trimester?
Yes! You can definitely squat in the first trimester.
There are many different squat variations you could perform in the first trimester. For more information, check out my post on squatting while pregnant.
The squat is one of the most important exercises you can do to help maintain lower body strength.
First Trimester Do’s and Dont’s
To wrap things up, let’s go over some quick do’s and don’ts in the first 13 weeks of pregnancy.
What exercises should I avoid in the first trimester?
So in general, you want to avoid any kind of activity where there is a chance of trauma, falling or excessive demands. These include
- Contact sports like basketball, volleyball, soccer
- High-intensity interval training with really high heart rates
- Hot yoga
- Scuba diving
What to look out for when exercising in the first trimester
The most common symptoms you should look out for when exercising in pregnancy include
- Vaginal Bleeding
If you experience any of these symptoms while exercising, stop and seek the help of a healthcare professional.
Other Important Considerations For What To Do
First and foremost, the most important thing for you to do in all of pregnancy is to Stay Hydrated.
How do you know if you’re hydrated?
Make sure that your urine is a very pale yellow color.
Lastly, you want to Focus on Nutrition. Make sure that you are eating foods that contain all of the important nutrients needed to help your body recover from exercise as well as keep your pregnancy healthy.
I’ll have an entire post on pregnancy nutrition in the future so stay tuned!
Final Thoughts On First Trimester Exercise
Exercising in the first trimester has so many benefits, it’s a shame that OBGYN’s don’t prescribe it more often.
If you are cleared by your physician, give this first-trimester workout a try and let me know how it goes for you.
Other Articles on Staying Fit During Your Pregnancy
- Getting in Shape While Pregnant
- 2nd trimester Strength Workout, and
- A Safe Workout You Could Perform in the 3rd trimester
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Brittany N Robles, MD, MPH, CPT
Brittany N Robles is a full-time OBGYN, a NASM certified personal trainer, and health & fitness expert. She holds a Masters of Public Health degree in maternal health with a special interest in exercise and nutrition. She is also the co-author of The White Coat Trainer. Learn more about her here.
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