How to train during a pregnancy

Whether you are currently pregnant, a mother of five or single as a pringle, the pressures of social media to conform to a particular body standard prevail. Resident journo Angelique Tagaroulias asked the experts what realistic training looks like while pregnant.



Growing a mini human inside your belly is an experience that’s unique to every woman, but one commonality is the inevitable body transformation: skin stretches, sags and marks, belly’s grow, there’s fat gain and sometimes even fat loss, and many a hormonal shift or mood swing. And with the rise of social media, so often these once private changes are carefully curated for the world to see – and critique.

Thirty-nine weeks into her pregnancy, US fitness model Sarah Stage posted a photo revealing her belly on Instagram. Blessed with a super-fit physique and a seemingly petite tum for someone a week from birth, Stage copped a torrent of comments from passionate Instagram followers (‘How crazy is that?’ and ‘39 f%#@-ing – where?’). And then there’s Aussie fashion blogger Rebecca Judd, whose naturally slender frame receives criticism at all stages of motherhood, from pre-pregnancy right through to post-partum.

On the flip side, recent research has revealed the effect such social media posts are having on the general public. Viewing images of celebrities’ super-toned and lean bodies post-baby is having a negative impact on body image for nearly 50 per cent of women, according to research published in the journal Health Communication. Fifty women who were at least 20 weeks pregnant or nine months post-partum were interviewed as part of the study, revealing that ‘unrealistic’ depictions of women ‘bouncing back’ quickly post-birth instantly caused negative feelings of self-consciousness, depression, frustration and hopelessness among female media consumers.

Despite these perceptions, the reality is that the majority of mums don’t drop the ‘baby weight’ or regain their original shape in a flash, says coach and owner of Living Beauty Fitness Amelia Ricci (

“Pregnancy and childbirth have a major impact on a woman’s body, affecting every system including respiratory, cardiac/circulatory, hormonal and musculoskeletal. The greatest changes experienced are usually postural, with an increased arch in the lower back and a rounding of the shoulders, lower back pain, separation of the abdominal muscles (also known as diastasis recti) and shortness of breath,” she says.

“The first trimester is particularly challenging and when most of the cardiovascular changes occur – cardiac output is increased by 30–50 per cent and heart rate by 15 per cent. Personally, I found myself puffing during a light warm-up with my clients!

“If you have never exercised before, the guidelines are generally to stick to pregnancy Pilates, yoga or walking. If you have never lifted weights or trained at a high intensity, I definitely wouldn’t start something different as it may shock your body – the last thing you need while trying to grow a healthy baby.”


F1rst trimester training

Pregnancy is often a scary experience, particularly for new mums, so getting educated on the process and gaining an understanding of what is to come is vital. While most mums continue to exercise during the first trimester with no issues, ensure you have clearance from your GP before you jump in. Prioritising sleep, listening to your body, taking breaks during exercise when needed and keeping well hydrated are positive steps, says Ricci. As the baby can not yet regulate its own body temperature, staying cool is also a must, so find a gym with air-con.

In terms of training, abdominal workouts are usually recommended to cease before the second trimester, due to an increased risk of diastasis recti (the separation of the outermost abdominal muscles). Inner thigh exercises should also be forgone, as the abductors (inner thigh muscles attached to the pubic bone) start to loosen during pregnancy to accommodate a growing bub.

There’s a lot of pressure on your pelvic floor during pregnancy, and childbirth can stretch and damage these muscles, so movements designed to strengthen the area are important. Ricci suggests gently lifting and activating the muscle when you squat; along with optimising glute strength, squats will also help your pelvic stability.

High intensity exercise increases your heart rate to its max and is generally not recommended at any stage of pregnancy.

“In the first trimester, overheating may cause miscarriage and in the second and third trimesters, this high level of exertion is difficult due to the size of the uterus, amniotic fluid and the size of the baby,” says Ricci.

“An expectant mother can still do cardio but at a lower work output than you would with HIIT, aiming for max heart rate and post exercise afterburn. I still ride a stationary bike but I don’t push for that max heart rate; I go about 50 per cent intensity of what I normally would. I recommend modifying with low impact activities and to either use a heart rate monitor or go via perceived exertion.”


Second trimester

From the second trimester, hormonal changes cause joints to soften, so impact work such as jumping and plyometric training should eventually cease in order to reduce your risk of injury.

And don’t think that you have to train every day while pregnant.

“Even three to four days a week is plenty, focusing on the back for posture and legs – specifically glutes – as they are the key stabilisers for your pelvis and spine. It’s important to also train your arms to maintain strength for lifting the baby and pram in and out of the car,” says Ricci.



Master trainer Claire Bastow ( warns that abdominal muscle separation is very common among women who have given birth, affecting 33 per cent of women who have had one baby, 66 per cent who have had two, and alarmingly, 100 per cent who have had three or more babies or twins. What’s more, many women don’t even know they have it: signs of diastasis recti include a stomach that sticks out months after childbirth, bloating and pelvic floor issues, often considered by new mums as ‘normal’. If left untreated, long-term consequences include incontinence due to the weakening of pelvic floor muscles, lower back pain and digestive issues, says Bastow.

“To help prevent diastasis, avoid movements where the force of your organs pushes down on the stretched connective tissue, such as planks, cat cows or any exercise on all fours where your stomach is facing the ground,” she says.

“You should not do anything that stretches the connective tissue sideways by flaring the ribs, meaning no yoga backbends or side bends.”

Every birth and experience is different, so when it comes to getting back to full capacity training, it’s best to seek professional advice.

“To get back to HIIT training I started with the stationary bike, then progressed to weight training and Pilates and was able to get to my full schedule of training by six months post baby,” says Ricci.

Some experts recommend waiting a minimum of six weeks before getting back into training – gentle walking and pelvic floor exercises are a good starting point. But again, recovery time for each individual varies and if you experience aches and pains while exercising, go straight to your post-natal physio or doctor, says Ricci.


Pregnancy weights split

Day 1: Back, chest and legs

Day 2: Arms, legs and light cardio (i.e. stationary bike at a moderate pace)

Day 3: Back, balance work such as unweighted walking lunges, glute work with a booty band and stretching

Day 4: Full body

Image via Emily Skye.