Are you looking for a safe and effective first trimester workout?
You’re in the right place.
In this post, you will learn:
- how to design a safe first trimester workout plan,
- what exercises to include in your strength routine, and
- the health benefits of working out in pregnancy.
Alright, 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. All kinds of exercise and dietary changes are potentially dangerous, and those who do not seek counsel from the appropriate health care authority assume the liability of any injury which may occur. 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.
Is it OK to work out in the first trimester?
In general, it is safe and recommended that you exercise throughout your entire pregnancy, (assuming you are healthy and don’t have any medical contraindication to exercise).
During pregnancy, you can do low-impact exercises such as:
But you can also do high-impact activities such as running and strength training. This is especially true if you already did these activities before becoming pregnant.
The workouts in this post will cover lifting weights and cardio.
The PPT’s First Trimester Exercise Guidelines
Before doing any exercise activity in the first trimester of pregnancy, make sure you are evaluated by your doctor first.
*Only do this workout program if you have been cleared by your healthcare provider to exercise in pregnancy.*
As with all things in life, start low and go slow.
- Don’t overexert yourself,
- Avoid exhaustion,
- Avoid heart rates >140 beats per minute (use the talk test – if you cant have a basic conversation during your workout, you’re doing too much)
- Avoid pain or uncomfortable exercises
When starting this first trimester strength 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.
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.
The PPT’s first trimester workout
Before starting any workout in this program, you will need to warm up.
Warm-ups are important because they increase your body temperature, which improves your blood flow, 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.
- Banded Shoulder Dislocations
- Bodyweight Squats
- Standing Hip Flexor Stretch
- Standing Hamstring and Calf Stretch
- Standing Quad Stretch
- Standing Forward Arm Raises
- Standing Shoulder Circles
The Strength Workout:
The PPT’s first-trimester strength plan is composed of 3 workouts, each with three to four different exercises.
The good news is, you can do all of these early pregnancy exercises at home!
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
While these are all safe exercises for most women, always start slow and listen to your body!
And now here are the actual workouts.
|Modified Push-up Shoulder Taps|
|Bent Over Rows|
|Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift|
|The Kegel Hold Exercise|
|Rear Delt Flys|
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 great 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 which you can place around your knees.
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.
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.
The final exercise in workout #1 is the Isolation exercise: In this workout, we will focus on the bicep muscle.
The simplest variation is dumbbell bicep curls.
You can do this exercise with dumbbells or a resistance band, both of which are good options.
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.
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.
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.
For more variations 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.
To do it (with a 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.
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.
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.
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 or slightly rounded
- 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.
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.
Alright, so those are the three strength workouts you are going to do. If you are new to exercising, try to do 2 workouts per week, alternating between workouts 1, 2, then 3.
Ultimately, you can do all three workouts in 1 week, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
The final piece of your first-trimester workout is cardio.
You can 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.
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.
Repeat these cycles until you complete 10 minutes of work.
- Run at 6/10 intensity for 1 minute
- Walk for 2 minutes
- Repeat this cycle as many times as possible in 10 minutes.
As you get better, feel free to decrease the walking interval to just 1 minute.
Walking workouts in the first trimester:
If you don’t like running, you can switch the above workout with brisk walking on a treadmill.
- Walk at a brisk pace on an incline for 1 minute
- Walk at a normal pace on flatter ground for 2 minutes
- Repeat this cycle as many times as possible in 10 minutes.
For more information on running while pregnancy check out Pregnancy Cardio [What You Need to Know]
Other Related Questions
What are the benefits of exercise in early pregnancy?
So why would you want to exercise in the first trimester?
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) released a committee opinion in 2020 reviewing the literature on exercise in pregnancy.
It concluded that exercise is an essential part of maintaining a healthy pregnancy and it can:
- Reduce your risk of gestational diabetes
- Decrease your risk of C-section, and
- Decrease your postpartum recovery time
That doesn’t even include the other health benefits exercise has to offer.
Can you lift heavy weights in your first trimester?
It is generally safe to lift weights in the first trimester as long as you have been cleared by your healthcare provider, but you should always use good judgment.
Pregnancy is not the time to try and set personal bests and achieve high levels of strength.
Stick to 6/10 or 7/10 in intensity.
Does exercise cause miscarriage in early pregnancy?
There is no evidence that exercise increases the risk of miscarriage in early pregnancy. Otherwise, ACOG wouldn’t recommend that most women exercise on a consistent basis.
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.
What exercises should I avoid in early pregnancy?
- Contact sports like basketball, volleyball, soccer at competitive levels
- High-intensity interval training with a really high heart rate
- Hot yoga
- Horseback riding
- Scuba diving
- Downhill skiing etc
Can I do squats in the first trimester?
Yes, you can perform squats in the first trimester. The squat is one of the most important exercises you can do to maintain lower body strength and strengthen the pelvic floor muscles.
There are many different squat variations you could perform in the first trimester. For more information, check out my post on squatting while pregnant.
Can I do planks while pregnant?
Planks are safe to do in pregnancy as long as you have the core strength to maintain a neutral spine. As you get further along in the pregnancy, you can modify this movement to accommodate your growing belly.
Check out my post on Planking While Pregnant to learn more.
Which month can I start to exercise in pregnancy?
You can start to exercise in your first month of pregnancy as long as you don’t have any contraindications and have been cleared by your health care provider.
If you have never exercised before, you should always start slow and listen to your body!
However, if you are having difficulty working out in the first trimester due to symptoms like morning sickness, don’t feel bad! Take the time to rest and recover. Your symptoms will likely improve by the second trimester!
When to stop exercising in pregnancy
The most common symptoms you should look out for when exercising in pregnancy include
- Chest pain
- Abdominal or pelvic pain
- Vaginal Bleeding
If you experience any of these symptoms while exercising, stop and seek the help of a healthcare professional.
Other Important Considerations
First and foremost, the most important thing for you to do in all of pregnancy is to drink plenty of water!
How do you know if you’re drinking enough?
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.
Check out my Fit Pregnancy Diet to learn more!
Do You Have A First Trimester Workout On Youtube?
Yes, – check out my quick at-home full body pregnancy workout that includes a complete follow-along youtube video!
Also, if you are looking for a complete 1st-trimester core workout check out this 10-minute follow-along video.
Final Thoughts On First Trimester Exercise
Participating in a regular exercise routine 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
- The Second Trimester Strength Workout, and
- The Third Trimester Strength Workout
Get Four Free Workouts To Help Strengthen Your Pelvic Floor & Heal Your Mommy Tummy!
Brittany N Robles, MD, MPH, CPT
Brittany 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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