Prenatal strength and flexibility exercises lay the groundwork for a fit pregnancy with less back pain and a potentially easier delivery. Strength training during the first trimester will help you manage exertion levels later in the pregnancy and prevent injury when the pressure on your joints increases and makes weight-bearing exercise harder. If you can stay flexible in your first trimester, you’ll see the rewards later on your pregnancy.
It’s a good idea to maintain musculoskeletal fitness with both resistance training and flexibility exercises by using low weights (less than 5 pounds) or resistance bands and going for multiple repetitions (14 to 20).
Benefits of Strength and Flexibility Training in Pregnancy
- Less back pain
- Muscle and joint strength to prevent athletic injury or pregnancy strains from relaxed ligaments
- Builds deep ab and back muscles
- Helps reduce postpartum pain
- Boosts your mood
Because your pelvis is shielding your uterus when it sits lower during the first trimester and your blood flow is being channeled to your fetus, you are free to lift weights on your back for the first 12 weeks. The same is true for any stretches or strength work you do while lying on your back.
Resistance bands are great for pregnancy strength building and appropriate for every level of fitness without risk of strain. They’re also an inexpensive way to build muscle and train at home instead of going to a gym. The elasticity of the bands varies (differentiated by color), so as your strength improves, you can upgrade to a higher level of tautness.
Keep the reps slow to elongate your muscles and build strength, as opposed to reps with a quick or short, jerky motion. Exhale as you perform the exerting step of each exercise (as opposed to the recovery motion).
The following series of exercises will help build all-around muscle strength and flexibility and help you stay flexible during your first trimester.
Strength Training Guidelines
- Competitive athletes (racers and high-volume endurance athletes): 2 to 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps, 2 to 3 times per week
- Recreational athletes (social athletes, noncompetitive midpack exercisers): 2 sets of 10 to 15 reps, 2 times per week
- Newbie athletes: 1 to 2 sets of 8 to 10 reps, 1 to 2 times per week
Plié Lateral Shuffle
With feet parallel and knees bent, step sideways. Open and close your steps while keeping the resistance band taut. Complete a set of reps to the right before returning to the left to finish the set.
With legs in front of you and the band pulled tight around your feet, cross, wrap, and grip the ends of the band. Pull the band back with bent, raised elbows and straight back.
Wrap the band around a stable point in front of you and grip the ends. Hold the band taut while lifting upper back and head, but without using the band to pull yourself up. Keep arms still and strong.
Seated Back Twist
While sitting with knees bent, twist gently to one side, hold for 30 seconds, and repeat on the other side.
Lying Leg Stretch
Quads, Hip Flexors
While lying on side with legs bent, reach around take hold of ankle of top leg. Very gently pull leg back until you feel a modest stretch in the quads. Hold for 30 seconds, and repeat on the other side.
Standing Forward Fold
Stand with legs hip width apart and one foot planted about 12 inches in front of the other. With straight spine, slowly bend forward and rest hands on shins, feet, or floor. Hold for 30 seconds before returning slowly to an upright position. Repeat on the other side.
Adapted from Fit & Healthy Pregnancy by Dr. Kristina Pinto and Rachel Kramer MD with permission of VeloPress.