Second Trimester Exercises

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Week 13 to 24

Why are the second trimester exercises the most important exercises during all pregnancy? Well, most pregnant women get their energy back during the second trimester. The morning sickness is gone and the belly isn’t yet too big or too heavy which make this trimester optimal for exercise. Now is the time to collect those lovely benefits from staying active during pregnancy!

Pregnant women, like everyone else, benefit from exercising at least 30 minutes a day, preferably every day of the week. Your exercise routine should be at a reasonable level and make you warm and sweaty but at the same time you should be able to keep up with a conversation. This applies to all healthy women with an uncomplicated pregnancy.

Second trimester exercises can prevent and treat these pregnancy related problems

  • Back pain and pelvic pain
  • Obesity and obesity
  • Stress
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Insomnia
  • Tiredness
  • Swelling and varicose veins
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Stretched and thinned muscles of the abdomen, rectus diastasis
  • Prolapse
  • Urinary leakage and stool incontinence
  • Preeclampsia

Exercise is good for the baby too! 

Some pregnant women are worried about how exercise affects the baby in the stomach. All pregnancies are different, but in general the baby benefits a lot from an exercising mother. In addition to the placenta growing faster and providing more nutrition to the fetus, endorphins are also released into the mother’s bloodstream, which reaches the baby too. Research also shows that an active pregnant mother is more likely to give birth without serious complications. 

Second Trimester Exercises

What happens in the body?

Already during the first weeks of pregnancy the resting heart rate starts to rise. An increase of 15-20 beats per minute in the third trimester is perfectly normal. Blood volume increases by 40-50% until the middle of the third trimester and blood pressure rises. This, along with many other hormonal factors might make you feel a physical fatigue during your second trimester exercises and give you a heavy breathing. The increased amount of blood also causes an increase in blood flow to the skin, which is why many pregnant women feel very warm and sweaty.

Hormonal changes

A hormone called Relaxin relaxes the ligaments in the pelvis and soften and widen the cervix. This hormone will also affect other joints in the body making the pregnant body a bit more unstable. Therefore it might be good to avoid exercises that include a lot of jumping and fast and uncontrolled movements.

All pregnant women experience this hormonal increase and its purpose is primarily to widen the pelvis and facilitate the baby’s passage through the pelvis. 

As the uterus and baby grows, the pelvis is tipped forward which might create a sway-back in the lower back. This may cause a fatigued feeling in the lower back and/or a sharp pain when doing certain movements. The latter type of pain often comes from stretched ligaments. 

For both pelvic pain and lower back pain, physiotherapy has been shown to have a good effect. Treatment or prehab, is often made up of exercises that the pregnant woman needs to do at home daily.

Recommendations for weightlifting or strength training

  • Make sure to warm up properly.
  • Focus on rear delts, lats, lower traps, lower back, glutes, hamstrings and inner abdominals.
  • Exercise for about 30 minutes to 1 hour, as the blood glucose level tends to be very low when engaging in longer workouts.
  • Be careful to use proper technique when doing your second trimester exercises.
  • Activate your pelvic floor muscles when doing complex movements or inner abdominal exercises.
  • As a beginner you should gradually increase your workout load, starting with about 15 minutes long workout 3 times/week supplemented with regular daily exercise of 30 minutes, for example walking.
  • Remember not to engage in contact and fall sports and no deep water diving. If you are going to engage in competitive sports, you should consult with a specialist doctor

Recommendations for cardio training

  • Make sure to warm up properly.
  • Don’t go above 70% of your max intensity (pulse around 140 beats per minute).
  • Intervals allow you to rest between your working sets. That’s good since it gives you time to catch your breath and lower your temperature.  
  • Be mindful of your relaxed joints and make sure you exercise with good form.
  • Avoid fast jumps or movements sideways.

5 benefits you’ll get from your second trimester exercises 

Pregnancy is a period in your life where your health and well-being affects not only you, but also your growing child. How you live your life also reflects your child’s well-being and development. There are many benefits from eating healthy, being mindful and exercising during your pregnancy.

Your body will get stronger and your stamina will improve

The body naturally changes when the belly gets bigger and heavier. The center of gravity shifts and it affects your posture which in turn affects how you walk, sit and move your body. Exercising your rear delts, lats, lower traps, lower back, glutes, hamstrings and inner abdominals will make you well prepared for these changes and you may prevent common injuries and complications. 

Prevent complications and injuries

Exercise can also prevent complications that can occur during pregnancy, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. A combination of strength training, mobility training and cardio is recommended.

Increase your mental wellbeing

It’s not unknown that pregnancy might wear on the woman’s body and mental wellbeing. That’s why being active is extra important during pregnancy. Exercise produces a lot of endorphins and gives you energy, increased self-esteem and well-being and reduces the risk of depression and anxiety. 

Prepare the body for childbirth

There is no evidence that exercise during pregnancy would harm the baby, lead to premature birth or create complications. Rather, it provides a lot of positive effects for both the mother and the child. Exercise can help you to manage the delivery better by making you feel stronger both physically and mentally while entering the delivery phase. 

There is also a clear reduction in childbirth-injuries and complications and a reduced need for pain relief if the mother has been exercising regularly during her pregnancy. A delivery may last for a long time making it advantageous to have good stamina and strength. 

Faster recovery

Another very important benefit is that you’ll recover faster after childbirth. Exercise makes your body accustomed to stress and sore muscles hence the body knows what to do after the delivery. 

Current research

A 2010 study examined 50 regular pregnant women and their exercise habits and found that the more intensely a pregnant woman exercised, the lower the baby’s heart rate was during the exercise session and the better the baby’s ability to recover. In adults, we know that low heart rate and good recovery ability equals good fitness. This means some protection against cardiovascular disease. The mother’s age, resting heart rate, BMI and pregnancy weight gain did not affect, but only the mother’s physical activity that produced these effects.

What to aim for with your second trimester exercises

The goal with your second trimester exercises should be, if possible, to maintain fitness and strength. Not to max out or set any new personal record. You have to be able to adapt and adjust the exercise routine as your pregnancy goes on. If you have to prioritize, then do squat exercises and deadlifts (without intra-abdominal pressure, breathe through the whole movement instead), they are perhaps most important of all. If you pelvis is unstable, go for leg presses instead! 

If you are hurting from pelvic girdle pain (pain in your pelvis and/or lower back)  and no exercise seam to work, I would suggest you try swimming. 

I have no exercise experience, but want to exercise during my pregnancy. What do I do?

You should seek help from a physiotherapist to find a reasonable active-level for you.

Sometimes deliveries are likened to a marathon and you can’t know if your vaginal delivery will end with a caesarean. For these two reasons – the marathon race and the possible abdominal surgery – I would recommend that you exercise during your pregnancy. The better fitness you have, the better the condition for both of these scenarios. In addition, there are now studies that show that the child’s “fitness” will be better if you exercise. See pregnancy as a pre-hab period!

To avoid while doing your second trimester exercises:

  • Any type of exercise that causes back or pelvic pain should be avoided. Often this is training that involves some kind of one-sided/unilateral strain, walking with too fast and too long steps, exercises where the legs are kept wide apart or heavy lower back exercises.
  • It is wise for a pregnant women to avoid exercises while lying their back after week 16 due to the risk of vein cava syndrome, a decrease in blood pressure due to the uterus pressing blood vessels.
  • Avoid jumping and fast and uncontrolled movements since your body’s joints and ligaments are relaxed.
  • Avoid increasing the pressure on the pelvis. Hence you should avoid holding your breath, increasing the intra-abdominal pressure, while you squat or deadlift. Instead you should breathe through the whole movement.  
  • Avoid doing sit-ups or planks. During pregnancy your abdominal muscles separate to give space to the growing baby. Planks and sit-ups increase the intra-abdominal pressure which may cause your abdominal muscles to separate even more.
  • No personal bests. Choose lighter weights to minimize the risk of injury. No matter what level you normally exercise on, this shouldn’t be a time for setting new personal bests.
  • It is not dangerous to get a little breathy and warm when exercising, but avoid too heavy breathing. If you can exercise and talk at the same time, you know your heart rate is good. For a normally fit person, that level is usually around 70% of max.

What signs to look for that tells you to slow down:

If you experience any of these symptoms, rest! 

  • Excessive fatigue. A good workout will probably leave you feeling a bit tired but you shouldn’t feel fatigue in your everyday life long after exercising. 
  • Irritability. If your workouts are leaving you feeling more short-tempered than usual, it might be a sign that it’s time to slow down.
  • Joint or muscle pain. Muscle soreness is common after exercising, especially if you are doing new movements. However, if you would feel acute pain in the joints and muscles every time you work out, you might need to take a step back. 
  • Trouble sleeping. Normally exercise makes you sleep better. But if you are exercising too hard you might get trouble sleeping. If you experience this, please rest and/or exercise with a lower intensity.

If you experience any of these symptoms, stop exercising right away and give your practitioner a call:

  • Very rapid heartbeat
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Unusual pain anywhere (hips, back, pelvis, chest, head and so on)
  • Severe breathlessness
  • Regular, painful uterine contractions
  • A cramp or stitch that doesn’t go away when you stop exercising
  • Chest pain
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Calf pain or swelling
  • Difficulty walking
  • Loss of muscle control
  • Increased swelling
  • Amniotic fluid leakage
  • Sudden headache

When you shouldn’t exercise at all during pregnancy

Exercise during pregnancy increases the wellbeing for almost all pregnant mothers and their babies. However certain conditions can make exercise during pregnancy risky. Talk to your doctor about whether you should avoid exercise if you have:

  • Preeclampsia or pregnancy-induced high blood pressure
  • Chronic lung or heart conditions
  • Placenta previa after 26 weeks of pregnancy
  • Severe anemia during pregnancy
  • Cervical insufficiency or cerclage
  • Risk factors for premature labor and are pregnant with multiples
  • Preterm rupture of placenta membranes during this pregnancy

Always get an all clear from your doctor before beginning any workout routine during pregnancy.

Summary

If the pregnancy is uncomplicated and the woman is otherwise healthy, the pregnant body can withstand the physiological demands that exercise at moderate intensity sets without worry.

Exercise of moderate intensity is not a risk factor for the child or the mother’s health. If you are a person who usually exercises, then continue to practice what still works from your regular routine. (NOTE, except if you usually practice sports with physical contact and the risk of blows, kicks; diving etc which can actually be dangerous). As the pregnancy progresses and you become heavier, the difficulties will arise, and then you will have to solve them along the way. Trust your judgement <3

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