Exercise during Pregnancy Series: Second Trimester

The second trimester is full of physical changes. This is a time where you may have more energy and feel more motivated to exercise during this trimester, but this trimester also comes with some pretty huge physical changes. There’s often a HUGE difference in how your body looks and functions from the beginning of the second trimester to the end. So how do we manage exercise during this trimester? How do you know how and when to adjust your routine and exercises? Well, stick around and I’ll tell you!

It’s also important to note that someone in their first pregnancy may tolerate exercises during the second trimester completely differently than someone on, say, their third pregnancy. Your body tends to change faster in subsequent pregnancies and may require modification earlier in the game. This has very much been my experience this time around.

So without further ado, let’s chat all about exercise in the second trimester! Strap in, folks, because this is a BIG topic!

Core exercises during the second trimester

This is a big question I get from a lot of moms. When do you stop doing core exercises during pregnancy? Is it safe to continue them if they feel fine? At some point during your second trimester core exercises will become more challenging. Again, this may be different for someone during their first pregnancy than it will be for the second or third, but generally things like crunches, sit-ups, russian twists, and other things of that nature may not be the best option. Could they still work using different strategies or ranges of motion? Sure, but that’s a different blog for a different day.

My role in your exercise journey isn’t to tell you what to do. It is to guide you and help you make informed decisions on what feels good and right for your body. In this section, I want to give you signs of what to look for so you can decide for yourself if core work, or any other exercise, is right for your body right now. So here are two things to look out for when doing core work in the second trimester.

● Coning, doming, or “bread-loafing”- Coning, doming, and what I now call “bread-loafing” (because it makes me giggle a bit and paints a clear picture of what is going on) is a sign that your core may not be handling that movement or exercise well, from a pressure management standpoint. The core is basically one big pressure system. When we increase the pressure in the system, it has a few ways it can go. It can go up, which causes you to breathe funny, or more likely- down (pelvic pressure) or out (coning, doming, etc.). When that pressure goes OUT it can cause the abdomen to be a funny shape. Kinda like in late pregnancy when you try to sit up and notice that weird alien ridge down the midline of your belly. That’s what I’m talking about. During a crunch or a sit-up, it can be challenging to manage this pressure when there’s already plenty of pressure out on the abdomen.
● Pelvic floor pressure- So just like I mentioned above, the other way for pressure to go is down. This may cause leaking or pressure in the vagina, which is another sign that what you’re doing may not be jiving with your body right now. Core work obviously can place pressure OUT, but an often missing piece is the pressure that it can exert DOWN. This can feel like a tampon falling out or a bulging in the vagina or anus.

Here’s the thing about exercise, it is so very adaptable and there are plenty of ways to do it! If a plank is causing coning or doming, let’s try on an incline or against a wall. If a crunch isn’t possible right now, let’s practice rolling. Or let’s scrap the idea that core work has to even be planks and crunches and do some loaded carries and weighted squats instead. That’s what I LOVE about exercise and coaching moms through these chapters of life.

So let’s continue to expand on how to know when to dial back, or that it’s time to reduce load or intensity.

How to know when to modify or dial back

If you’ve been reading my blogs or following my pages for any length of time, you are probably familiar with what I’m about to say. The women I normally work with aren’t usually the heavy load and intensity types, but I do talk with lots of moms who are that way. And with the #fitpregnancy photos and videos floating around on social media and the athlete brain mentality that many classes and trainers promote, one can really feel pressured to keep up with certain weights and intensities for longer than they really should.

This section is really for both types, because it’s important to watch for the subtle signs, the whispers if you will, that your body needs you to modify. But how? Let’s expand on the two points above and add:

● Peeing- Any leaking of gas or urine- from a drop to full on peeing your pants.
● Pain- Any pain during or after bouts of exercise- this includes hip, back, belly, and pelvic pain

These are signs that we need to modify the exercise, load, or intensity. This can change workout to workout, set to set, or even rep to rep. Which brings me to my next point…

Every rep is an assessment
Just because you start out a workout doing one exercise at a certain weight or intensity doesn’t mean it has to stay the same. Consider every rep and every set an assessment. If you notice any of these signs during your workout- change it up!

For example- I noticed during a workout that my lower belly was starting to hurt and I felt some pelvic pressure during, so after a few reps I switched to another variation of that exercise. Boom, problem solved. Then I noted that for my next workout. Just because you start one way doesn’t mean you can’t end in another. The journey and the goal is all the same.

Aren’t doing anything currently? Start here.

Another question would be “what if I’m not currently doing anything? Is it safe to start?”

Absolutely. Yes.

Of course you aren’t going to start running marathons right out of the gate in your second trimester, but you probably don’t want to do that anyway. Start off gradually and keep all the P’s in mind. I would highly suggest starting with a prenatal specific strength training program similar to what I provide in my coaching club. Not only will this set you up for success, but you’ll also get the guidance you need from a qualified coach who is trained in working with prenatal bodies. And, trust me, this isn’t knowledge that just any trainer has. It is barely even covered in any general personal trainer certification and was not covered at all in any of my group fitness certifications.

To sum it all up “listen to your body” isn’t the best advice, exercise in pregnancy deserves a bit more nuance. You’ll either start overthinking everything or think “I feel fine so I can totally continue lifting heavy loads, running, and doing burpees at 36 weeks without a care in the world.” We choose exercises during this time wisely not because you’re getting weaker or you’re a fragile flower, but so you can play the long game. Exercise during the second trimester can be tricky because bodies are changing so rapidly and it is often really hard to generalize advice because every body handles the demands of pregnancy completely differently.

This advice may be completely different if I were speaking to a person who experiences pelvic pain during their second trimester or went into pregnancy with prolapse or has SI joint or back pain. And you will definitely see blogs on those things here in the future, just so you know what’s coming. I know for sure these guidelines and tips will give you way more to go off of than “listen to your body” and will set you up for success when navigating exercise in your third trimester and into your return to fitness post-baby.

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