The difference between the first trimester in a pregnancy and the second and third is, to say the least, dramatic. As I detailed in my "Guide to a Fit First Trimester," you experience a lot of mysterious and powerful feelings for those initial 12 weeks—thirst, sleepiness, nausea, and bizarre cravings in my case—but you don't necessarily feel like you've got a living, wriggling person growing inside you. But then, at some point, that baby announces his or her presence with authority!
This is when you start to feel really pregnant—especially in a physical sense. How women respond to this change varies incredibly from person to person. A number of people were shocked to see I was still lifting weights halfway through my pregnancy. I had to remind them that every woman is unique, just like every pregnancy is unique.
My hope is that I can help you get the most benefit out of whatever training you can manage during the second and third trimesters of your pregnancy. To be clear, not all women feel like they can work out during this time, and in some cases, it's medically necessary for them not to. So check in frequently with your health care provider.
But if you're up for it, join me as I show the modifications that allowed me to keep training all the way through my pregnancy!
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- Keep moving, keep active, and don't overdo it.
- Focus on opening up posture with arm exercises.
- Be confident, but reasonable. Every woman comes into pregnancy from a different place, and has different challenges to overcome and choices to make.
- Rest! A huge part of taking care of yourself and your child isn't working out—it's resting.
How to Hold On to Fitness
During the second trimester, making customizations and listening to my body became far more important than it had seemed during the first trimester. If I felt the muscles in my abdomen stretching, I immediately switched to a seated exercise, decreased the weight, or stopped the exercise altogether. If something didn't feel good, I changed it up or didn't do it.
You must take care, because reckless movements can lead to bleeding or tightening of the uterus or stomach, among other complications. If you are not a veteran lifter, hire a professional to teach you training adjustments. I accepted that many of my former "normal" activities would need modification, and I would probably experience greater muscle soreness.
Here are some of the major adjustments I made:
- I kept teaching cardio-kickboxing classes, but I took needed breaks and kept the class moving even when I wasn't.
- I made the switch to push-ups from the knees. Before, I repped single-arm push-ups!
- I took Friday, Saturday, and Sunday off from the gym. I eventually worked down to two workouts per week, and that was plenty!
- I cut my cardio way back. Trust me, once you get past Week 30, just getting around is enough of a battle!
- No more crunches. I did a modified plank for a while, but eventually, core work ceased to really be feasible or advisable.
As a special reward for all of this work—and because it just felt great—I got deep-tissue pregnancy massages once a week, with special focus on my TFL [tensor fasciae latae], IT, sartorius, and glutes. I highly recommend this, but make sure your practitioner is trained in pregnancy massage specifically! I would always feel great after my massage, but the next day I was usually tight again from sleeping on my side.
Keep on Squatting
Squatting isn't just the best lift in weight training; it is also one of 12 natural positions for birth. I wasn't sure if I was going to give birth squatting, but I definitely kept doing squats throughout my pregnancy. This is one of my major messages to pregnant women: Just because you can't do what you used to doesn't mean you can't do anything! We can all benefit from using our muscles in some way.
In the second half of my pregnancy, I was doing sets of 12 of unweighted Smith machine squats.
It's the reverse of normal lifting, where you exercise, get progressively stronger, and increase the challenge. I lowered the weight, did more reps, and once I couldn't do a lift anymore, I just let it go.
Even with just a few weeks to go, squats felt so good to do. I did multiple variations: sumo, hip-width, and sometimes narrow to strengthen all the muscles around my hips. I also did a lot of lunges. I knew I'd benefit from having a strong and flexible lower body, both during my birth and in those crucial post-partum recovery weeks.
In the third trimester I felt the weight pulling as I carried dumbbells, so I carried them by my shoulders. For this reason, I also began relying on the Smith machine. It was safer with the weight, giving me stability and balance so there was little chance of me falling. If you are at home, squat into a chair, sit up, and stand up. Dial things back however you need.
Some Numbers Go Down, Others Go Up
Yeah, about the weight: I allowed myself to gain 20 pounds through 30 weeks without freaking out the slightest bit. Moms need to have a healthy weight to have a healthy baby weight, and the amount that women gain can be widely variable. If you were underweight to begin with, you actually might gain more. It's not unheard of for women to gain 40 or even 50 pounds over the course of a pregnancy, and that's OK.
With those crazy first-trimester cravings out of the way, I put my focus on eating quality food and didn't worry about counting calories precisely. I ate lots of protein, vegetables, and healthy fats—sound familiar?
Supplement-wise, I kept taking my whole food-based prenatal, and since I avoid store-bought dairy, I got extra calcium from leafy greens and supplements. I also started drinking Rejuvalec, a fermented wheatberry drink high in vitamin B, which I felt helped with nausea, my energy levels, and clear skin.
Sleep Get it When and How You Can
Sure, working out when you're pregnant is hard. But it's not nearly as hard as sleeping. Getting quality rest was the ultimate challenge!
Unfortunately, sleeping doesn't get any less important as your pregnancy progresses. In fact, it becomes more precious, especially because you know some seriously sleepless nights are right around the corner once that baby is born.
It got to the point where I sometimes needed a hand getting up and getting out of bed. In time, even the simple act of lying on my side became difficult because of all that weight. I slept on my back a lot, but propped upright with pillows. Sitting up helped me sleep slightly better. If I slept on either hip, my muscles would tighten up.
My recommendation: Get pillows and a Snoogle. A Snoogle is a pregnancy pillow that helps prop up your legs so you can sleep in the fetal position. I hated sleeping on my side until I got one. If this doesn't work for you, well, keep looking until you find what does!
Finding the Perfect Lineup
The day I became pregnant, I became part of a club—the mommy club. I heard all the stories—the good and the bad, the danger and the joy. I saw that labor and delivery, while scary and overwhelming in many ways, could also be wonderful!
I knew I wanted a healthy, natural delivery. I wanted to avoid medical intervention. I wanted a midwife, rather than a doctor. I had a vision and a plan, but also recognized that anything could happen the day of the birth. Still, I planned ahead to have the right team with me: my midwife, my doula, my partner, and my mom's best friend—she was there in my late mother's absence. I know other women who only wanted their partner there with them. That's their team, and it's fine, too. What's important is that you make full use of yours.
It's like what do we do at Bodybuilding.com. We surround ourselves with like-minded people who share our goals, people who have overcome challenges and can help us do the same. I took that mentality with my pregnancy and birthing: teamwork, community, support. As the day got closer, I took great comfort in knowing who would be at my side.
Fitness can teach you a lot about pregnancy, and vice versa. Set your own goals, then open yourself to others' remarkable stories and use that to keep your mindset positive. Then fearlessly transform your life!