Though exercise and strength training are highly encouraged during pregnancy as long as you or your client have been cleared by your doctor, it is important to have an understanding of exercises and modifications you can make to manage the demands of movement on the body during pregnancy and the postpartum period.
We should not fear exercise while pregnant or postpartum, there are no GOOD or BAD movements but how we move and the strategies employed can make a difference for recovery postpartum. Remember, another way to modify movement is to adjust the intensity, weight, range of motion and speed of what you are doing.
When should you start modifying/scaling movements and workouts?
Everyone is different, but typically, if you are feeling good you can keep doing everything pretty much as normal during the first trimester, however, if you have contraindications such as pain, pulling, pressure, bulging, bleeding etc., then you should consult your doctor and modify the intensity of your movements.
During the second and third trimester it is a good idea to start scaling weights and modifying movements that place a high demand on the core and pelvic floor such as overhead movements, kipping, pull-ups, rope climbs, jumping, running, burpees, your typical “core” work and some barbell lifts. We recommend modifying the snatch early in pregnancy because of where the bar makes contact on the way up. For the clean we suggest modifying once you have to change your bar path to get around your belly, the risk of hitting your belly and the potential of re-learning your bar path postpartum is not worth it.
*Note: We gotta say it – This blog is a list of SUGGESTIONS which should be taken that way, this is NOT an exercise prescription written specifically for you and your pregnancy/postpartum recovery, body or circumstances. You are assuming responsibility for yourself every time you exercise. We created our resources as a place you can refer to if you need suggestions or ideas for how to modify. Please remember that if you feel any pain, pulling, pressure, bulging etc., then the movement is not right for you at this time with the strategy you are employing.
Do not begin these exercises unless you have been cleared by your doctor to begin exercising. Pay attention to your breathing, positioning, alignment and pressure strategies while performing these movements, you can always consult with us if you have questions by messaging us through Instagram @themintprjct
Compound Lifts (Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press)
You can continue most compound lifts like the squat, deadlift, and bench press while pregnant, but may want to make a few adjustments to modify intensity and make the lift more comfortable as your belly grows:
- Decrease the weight
- If the barbell becomes too much or uncomfortable, switch to dumbbells or kettlebells
- keep the ribs/chest stacked over the hips in the starting and ending positions
- widen your stance to accommodate your belly (in the deadlift, you can switch to a sumo stance)
- incline the bench if you feel dizzy laying on your back
We recommend modifying the snatch early in pregnancy because of where the bar makes contact on the way up. For the clean we suggest modifying once you have to change your bar path to get around your belly, the risk of hitting your belly and the potential of re-learning your bar path postpartum is not worth it.
- decrease the weight/range of motion
- switch from a barbell to a dumbbell/KB, especially as belly grows
- widen your stance to accommodate your belly
- plate ground to overhead
- pull from blocks or plates to increase comfort of starting position
Core Work (Sit-ups, crunches, hollow holds, planks, etc)
We do not recommend “doing abs” or core specific work during pregnancy or early postpartum as these movements can create extra pressure on the linea alba which is already stretching and dealing with the pressure of a growing baby. To work or rehab the core during these times we suggest focusing on breathing correctly and doing bird-dogs and variations of a bird-dog. You can also continue to do movements like farmer’s carries, and pallof presses – these along with your day-to-day lifts will still work your core without the excessive pressure. Just make sure to breathe!
- keep back neutral
- exhale on extension
- if lifting your arm and leg together is too much lift one arm or one leg at a time
- farmer’s carries
- pallof press
Overhead pressing movements includes barbell, dumbbell and kettlebell options with the latter two options allowing for single or both arms to be working. Pay attention to positioning and have someone watch (or you can record yourself) to see if you are managing pressures. If you are coning or presenting an overextended back it is a good indication to modify the movement/weight.
- Decrease the weight
- Use a hinge bar and do a landmine press allowing for more of a hip hinge which can help decrease overextension of the lower back and ribs
Push-ups & burpees
Both of these movements put a lot of added pressure on the core, and so we want to modify them.
- perform from your knees
- elevate your hands on a box or bar and continue increasing the height of the box/bar as needed
- maintain a slight hip hinge
- For burpees, elevate the pushup position and step up from the plank
Movements such as running, jump rope, jumping jacks and jumping in general can place an increased demand on the pelvic floor which is already being compromised by the weight of a growing baby. We recommend avoiding high impact movements like this during pregnancy.
- lift light weights faster to get some cardio in
- stair master
- incline walking on a treadmill or outside
- assault bike/row/ski erg
- sled push
- box step ups instead of box jumps
This is not an exhaustive list – We have a FREE Movement Modification PDF that you can download and follow through pregnancy and early postpartum which includes all the movements we’d modify.
You CAN train safely and effectively through pregnancy with the right strategies and guidance.
If you’d like more guidance without the guesswork or going back and forth between modifying, check out our full Pregnancy and Postpartum Programs that can progress you through each trimester safely and effectively, while still having a blast in the gym! You also get access to our expert coaches in our app the entire time to ask questions!
Our Pregnancy and Postpartum Fitness Programs were designed by Mom of 3 and Pregnancy & Postpartum Fitness expert, Cara Forrester.
Head to our Programs page or the links above to check out our programs!
Follow us on Instagram for the latest in Pregnancy & Postpartum Movement, Mindset, & Nutrition @themintprjct