Trying to stay fit and active has always been something I knew would be a priority for me during pregnancy, but I also knew from the beginning it would be challenging. I thought I would share my experiences so far in this series of posts about exercise in pregnancy, in the hope that it might be helpful to some people.
I want to start this post with a massive disclaimer. I am not a fitness expert, both in general terms and also in particular not in relation to pregnancy and post natal fitness. I haven’t worked with a professional trainer during my pregnancy either, so basically the below is just my experience and what’s seemed to work ok for me.
The second slightly less but still large disclaimer is that I haven’t yet given birth. It’s hard to say what’s really worked from me when I am only just over two thirds of the way through this journey. I might look back and wish I had done more of some things, less of others, and put more emphasis on certain types of exercise. But for now, all I can give you is my current perspective.
Right, now those boring (but important) details are done and dusted, what have I been doing and how has it worked? I thought I would break this down into a few separate posts for you, covering my first and second trimesters for you, and then my hopes for the final trimester.
So this post will focus on the first trimester, the one that everyone tells you is horrendous. I know everyone has different experiences, but in reality at the time I didn’t feel that bad. It was only around week 10 when I started to feel more human that I realised just how tired and nauseous I had actually been feeling!
The first 13 weeks are almost universally acknowledged as the time in pregnancy when women feel least energetic, most nauseous, and also have the added stress of keeping their news a secret for the most part. Personally, I found that keeping my pregnancy a secret really helped me in keeping up appearances and going to the gym. Some days I definitely did not feel like working out, but every time without fail working out made me feel better not worse.
One thing to mention is that I felt the difference in my body almost instantly. Two examples of this – first, before I even knew I was pregnant, I found a bodypump class really, really hard. As in much harder than I normally would do. I just felt like someone had taken allll of my energy. I made it through, but was not at all surprised when my pregnancy test was positive that weekend.
Second example – I hadn’t really been running on the treadmill for quite some time, just walking at tempo on various inclines (just search ‘treadmill walking incline workout’ on pinterest and you will find some awesome low impact workouts) but almost immediately after I found out I was pregnant my heart rate increased and I found walking at my usual pace more challenging. This isn’t unusual as your blood volume increases during pregnancy and this happens from quite early on. But somehow I wasn’t expecting it to be quite so noticeable.
Both of these examples show how important it is to listen to your body whilst pregnant. It’s not the time for hitting PBs (unless you’re Serena Williams, then I’ll let you off…) or pushing yourself. If anything, it’s the time for aiming to maintain what you were doing before, with adjustments where necessary.
On the treadmill, for instance, I was conscious of not pushing my heart rate too high. Advice about this really differs, but in general I do the talking test – if I can’t hold a conversation then I am too out of breath and need to take the intensity down a notch. Lots of people will be comfortable pushing themselves harder than this, but I am just not.
I continued to bodypump 1-2 times a week during the first trimester, keeping my weights broadly similar to before I was pregnant. I also did one ballet barre class per week. I walked to work and back every day, which is 40 minutes (20 downhill, 20 very much uphill), and also tried to get out for at least one longer walk every weekend.
In Bodypump I didn’t need to make any adaptations at first, though after nine weeks I stopped doing any crunching ab work and moved only to doing normal and side planks, I also felt fine doing things like hip bridges but not reverse curls. Towards the end I also inclined my bench for the chest part, primarily because that felt better for me.
I also looked up ab exercises online, and although I definitely could have been more dedicated with these, it’s good to know that there are ab exercises which are safe to do throughout the first and second trimesters.
Another thing I did every now and then which I would absolutely recommend is using resistance bands. I have a bodyism resistance band and a longer one from Decathlon. They are great for using in home workouts, and you can do some really good glute activation exercises with them as well which are perfect for if you want to do a little bit of exercise but nothing too sweat-inducing or high impact.
This regime may not sound very intense, but when the first trimester tiredness was hitting in earnest it felt like the hardest thing in the world. What spurred me on was knowing how much longer I still had to go, and that if I stopped now it would be hard to get back into the same level of exercise, and I might not have the chance to properly get back into it until a while after the baby was born.
Overall, the first trimester was tiring, but I felt happy and proud by the end of it that I had continued to stay active. It’s hard, trying to take pregnancy a day and a week at a time whilst also having one eye on the long game, trying to make sure you’re taking care of yourself whilst not just being lazy for the sake of it. I think I found a pretty good balance, and headed into my second trimester feeling ready to try and continue as much of my routine as possible.
I will give you my second trimester fitness update at the same time next week, so do pop back for a read if you’re interested. As ever if you have any questions do let me know in the comments!