Top Tips to Stay in Shape During the First Trimester of Pregnancy

Some of you may have seen my recent announcement on Instagram and Strava about me expecting a baby in November. Woop-woop!

Hold on…How did this happen?!

Those of you who know me personally, may not describe me as very motherly. Unlike many of my friends, I never babysat, talked about wanting any children, and they would never catch me coo over their babies. When Simon and I got married, we did talk about having children ‘one day’, but this was something that always stayed in the back of my mind for a long time; ‘one day’ always seemed too far in the future to give much thought to. I guess there comes a time when you just realise that having a child is something that you either do, or you don’t; and you have a very limited window of time to catch the boat before it sails. You may also realise that if you are always waiting to ‘be ready’ to have a child, it will never happen, because this is not something you can ever be a 100% ready for (or even 30%). I can almost guarantee you that circumstances will NEVER be perfect or even close to ideal to get started, if that’s what you are waiting for. So, with this in mind, we took a very relaxed attitude towards starting a family and started to ‘try’ very casually a few months ago, to ‘see what happens’.

To our greatest surprise, it happened almost straight away. Boom! I can’t say it was easy to take this in at first, because we had been going through some challenging times in our marriage just before we found out about the baby on the way. However, thankfully, we received lots of support and we both committed ourselves to working through our problems. As a result of that, we finally feel that our relationship is heading in the right direction again and we can look excitedly towards the future.

I felt I really wanted to write a series of articles on my blog to share my journey throughout the 3 trimesters and the early post-partum stage, whilst keeping in line with the ethos of my blog. Over the next few months, you can expect to see some more personal posts from me in which I share how I am trying to look after my wellbeing and trying to keep fit(ish) during each stage. These articles are meant to be an account of my own experience, my own highs and lows, rather than suggest that everybody else should expect to go through the same or should be doing the same things that I did. I am sure you will enjoy reading these articles if you are also into fitness/running and have been wondering how things will change whilst expecting a baby or straight after having the baby; or if you are a fitness professional and wanted to learn more about the challenges a pregnant or post-partum client might be facing. Which, in turn will hopefully help you adapt your approach and design a safe and effective training programme for this population of women.

What challenges might you face during the first trimester?

Pregnancy can be such an emotional rollercoaster ride – now I know this from my own experience, not only hearing it from other people. Your body is flooded with all kinds of hormones, then it gradually starts to visibly change. One moment I find myself feeling super excited, the next moment I start to doubt myself. One moment I am certain I really want this, the other moment I question myself what the heck we have got ourselves into. In a way, maybe it is a blessing in disguise that we have 9 months to prepare ourselves for this new chapter in our lives!

However, it is not only your emotions that are impacted when you’re pregnant, you will almost certainly experience some physical challenges, too. I had to learn to cope with the following unpleasant symptoms during my first trimester:-

  • Really sore breasts
  • Tiredness often lasting all day
  • General lack of energy, with everything feeling like an effort
  • Severe bloating
  • Feeling sick for about 4 weeks

How can you stay fit(ish) during the first trimester?

Despite these challenges, I did not feel that ‘fit’ and ‘pregnant’ should be an oxymoron. I felt quite motivated despite the hardships and  I received lots of encouragement from my Hubby and other people to carry on being active. It seems to me that there has been a shift over attitudes towards exercising in pregnancy – thankfully, people generally don’t molly cuddle me but agree with me that keeping fit within reason is not only good for the mother, but also for the baby! I have been living a fit and active lifestyle since my early twenties, and I am having a straightforward and healthy pregnancy so far (thank God!). So I made a pact with myself that I would carry on exercising as long as it felt ‘good’ and ‘right’, and I would modify things as necessary, being guided by my body.

Without further ado, here are my top 5 tips for keeping fit(ish) during the first trimester which can be a very ‘bumpy’ start for many of us…

  1. Stop calorie counting and don’t fret over food too much

About 4 weeks into my pregnancy, ‘morning’ sickness hit me hard. Although at the start, I very much hoped that I was feeling ill because I had overindulged at my father in law’s birthday lunch, however, when the sickness would not subside, I realised I had just entered a new stage in my pregnancy…

I had no choice but to ‘tough it out’ during the 4 weeks that followed – there were days I was feeling sick all day or most of the time; other times, I just wasn’t feeling myself. There were times when even lying down in bed for sleep made me feel queasy.

During those weeks, I had to eat every other hour because as soon as I started to feel the edge of hunger, I started to feel even more sick. In addition to that, no matter what I ate for a main meal, it gave me really bad bloating. It was funny when on one occasion my husband excitedly pointed to my protruding belly, but I had to disappoint him that it was just gas and not the baby yet! But the irony in all of this was that it was my very favourite foods that I could barely even look at: nut butters, any kind of nuts, coffee, tea, quinoa, herbal teas and plain water churned my stomach. I could only stomach very specific things such as citrus fruits, cantaloupe melon, crumpets with marmite, and berry flavoured tea and water.

What worked for me during these times was tuning into my body and eating what I desired (within healthy limits of course) – even if I ended up eating more carbs than usual! Needless to say, stressing about the amount of calories I was consuming seemed a minor issue when I was just happy to find momentary respite from feeling ill through regular snacking.

  1. Play it by ear with your workouts and races

Quite unsurprisingly, whilst I was feeling so ropey for a few weeks, I could not even bear the thought of any strenuous exercise; even the sheer thought of running or HIIT bootcamps made me feel exhausted. The only form of exercise I could still enjoy was walking. After all, the unfortunate combination of my regular eating habits going out of the window, and not being able to burn as many calories as usual through regular exercise, I ended up putting on some weight and losing a lot of muscle tone and my 6 pack abs during the early stages of my pregnancy.

However, I did manage to fit in a few quality workout sessions. I went to the gym when I was feeling fine – which was often a last minute decision rather than anything I could plan much ahead. I saw no point in pre-booking any exercise classes or signing up for races if I did not have any guarantees that I would be feeling well enough to turn up. So I resorted to signing up to races on the day of the event. (This usually costs a few more quid than online registrations, but it was still the better option than losing all my online entry fee because I was unwell to do the race).

Doing my own workouts on the gym floor put me in full control of the type of exercises I wanted to do, the intensity and the volume, plus that saved me the task of having to explain to the instructor in front of the full class for the hundredth time that I was pregnant and might be needing some modifications.

Thankfully, I am a certified personal trainer, so designing a safe and effective exercise programme for myself was not a big deal; in fact, I grew to enjoy the challenge of being my own person trainer – which brings me to my next point.

  1. Get creative

My body did not change significantly during the first trimester, so until about week 9/10 I did not modify anything. During the final couple of weeks I stopped doing very high impact moves such as box jumps – to avoid accidentally tripping over and landing on my tummy, rather than being afraid that the baby would ‘fall out’ (which is highly unlikely as they are very deeply embedded and still very small at this stage). I also waved temporary goodbye to crunches and exercises lying on my belly, for obvious reasons! They say you should take it easy with running and not torture yourself going too fast, however, I found that my pace slowed down naturally as if I had an in-built mechanism to hold me back from over-exerting myself. Rather than doing structured running workouts, I went for Fartlek-style runs if I felt energetic, to add some speedier segments but without my watch dictating me when and how long I had to up my pace for. This really helped me avoid getting frustrated and to stay in tune with my body, whilst still enjoying some variety and varying intensity on my runs.

My typical gym session would consist of a full body cardio warmup using one or two of the machines (elliptical trainer/rowing machine etc.) for about 15- 20 minutes in total, then a 30 minute strength circuit. I would normally use kettlebells and other free weights, or the cable machine. I drew inspiration from my favourite online fitness pro’s such as Steve Hoyles Fitness (check out my review of his HIIT booklet which gives you one workout for every week of the year); Marianne Kane of MyOMyTV (check out my interview with her) and KB Fit Britt who has scooped up various prizes in kettlebell sport. (All of them are qualified fitness professionals and offer plenty of free workouts on their websites.) I would then finish my workout with 10 minutes of stretching and foam rolling on the mat.

  1. Re-set your fitness goals

During the first trimester, you are likely to feel ropey and often tired like me, so my next piece of advice would be not expect yourself to have amazing, high energy workouts or reach new highs in your runs. I used the first trimester to focus on just enjoying moving my body and most importantly, the social element of exercising. For example, I still did parkruns, and a few 10k races – not because I was gunning for the top position, but because still feeling part of the running community and being able to do what I love doing the most were key for fostering my mental health and wellbeing.

A lot of people tend to define themselves by what they ‘do’ and base their self-worth on their ‘performance’. This mindset can be really dangerous in pregnancy for a number of reasons. Your body is going through an awful lot growing a human, and as a friend of mine put it, you are often left with only the ‘crumbs’ whilst your body’s resources are directed towards nurturing the new passenger on board! I do not believe that pregnancy is the best time to beast yourself – you really have nothing to prove to yourself and you will have plenty of time and opportunities after delivery to fulfil your big fitness and running goals. Focus on what you can do, and not on what you cannot do (temporarily).

I also believe that it is always good to have goals to work towards, so instead of giving up my running and fitness goals altogether, I simply re-set them during my pregnancy. My primary goal above all is to have a healthy and fit pregnancy for my own and the baby’s sake, and to prepare my body for a seamless delivery. (Apparently, squats are good as a squatting position is one of the most natural and efficient forms of delivering your baby!)

Remember that no matter what form of exercise you do and how much you do it, you already are a super star!

  1. Always listen to your body

My final point very much sounds like a commonplace, but with so much conflicting information, pseudo-science and differing advice coming from well-meaning people, your pregnancy can easily turn into an anxiety-filled time.

Some of my early dilemmas included: Should I do planks and wood chopping/twisting moves or will they cause diastasis recti or make it worse (the separation of the abdominal wall during pregnancy to make room for the growing baby)? Are these exercises OK to do if modified? Should I carry on running like many people do, or will it put me at the risk of pelvic organ pro-lapse (when one or more organs in the pelvis slip down from their normal position and bulge into the vagina)? How heavy is too heavy to lift? There are too many questions, too many grey areas, and too many different views out there!

The truth is that every pregnancy is different (even for the same person), and there are many variables that come into play. It goes without saying that first of all, you should always consult with your midwife and/or doctor to make sure exercising is safe for you during all stages of pregnancy, and if there is anything they think you should avoid. However, at the end of the day, it is your body, and only you can know for sure what feels good and right, and what doesn’t. My philosophy is simple: 1) If you are in doubt about an exercise, don’t do it.2) If something feels uncomfortable or weird, modify or stop doing it altogether. 3) Seek advice from reliable resources (does the person have the necessary qualifications to speak with authority, or are they only sharing their own experience?) and check the authenticity of claims (is there any good quality research to back it up?). Sometimes a bit of common sense is all you need!

If you liked this article, keep an eye out for the next one in the series in which I will share what challenges I am facing as I am growing bigger during the second trimester, and how I worked around them to stay fit(ish).

Have you been or are you pregnant? I would love to hear about how you coped during your first trimester!

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