Exercise during Pregnancy Series: Third Trimester

Here we are, the final stage. The big finale. The third trimester.

The physical changes don’t stop, they definitely continue and can become more uncomfortable during this trimester. Not only that, but you may be dealing with things like pelvic pain, back pain, hip pain, and SI joint pain on top of it. This could seriously put a wrench in your fitness plans or render what you’ve known just too much. So, let’s chat about exercise during this trimester because it is definitely one where honoring the changes happening to your body is important and where choosing what exercises you do wisely can actually make you MORE comfortable leading up to birth.

This is the time where things can start to get REALLY uncomfortable and many people start having questions about what exercises are safe.

Many women want to stay moving until the end- “train for birth”, if you will. What’s more important during this phase is to exercise in a way that makes you feel comfortable, that manages any pain or symptoms you may be having, and that prepares you for the demands of motherhood.

This means less “squat the baby out” and more “let’s practice getting off the floor or picking up the car seat without hurting your back” kind of exercises. I also 100% recommend you start preparing the pelvic floor for birth and postpartum recovery. Yes, even if you plan to have a C-section.

In this blog, I’ll discuss how to listen to your body (which goes hand in hand with a discussion about “safe” and “unsafe” exercises), how to manage common aches and pains- and why exercise plays a part in that, and why it is important to shift the focus to preparing for birth, recovery, and motherhood.

What Exercises are Safe in the Third Trimester?

This is a question I have to leave to my good ol’ friend “it depends”, because it really depends a lot. What Have you been doing during your pregnancy already? What are your goals? What do you ENJOY doing? Are there any contraindications you may have- like if you’re higher risk for pre-term labor, etc.?

Basically anything that doesn’t increase your risk of injury, falling, or severely overheating is safe during your third trimester. Check out this chart below on safe vs. unsafe exercise, you’ll see that the things you should avoid are no-brainers.

But, often, people ask about if squatting is safe during your third trimester. What about weight lifting? Single leg exercises? What about exercises that require you to lie on your back?

For all of these things I’m generally in the “yes, it’s safe” category. Most any exercise, especially when it comes to strength training, can be adjusted to where you currently are, what you’re feeling, and any pain or symptoms you may be experiencing. I LOVE squats for late pregnancy because they are functional and great for the pelvic floor. If you know me, you know strength training is my jam and I LOVE it for pregnancy because it is super adaptable and helps you prepare for load bearing tasks you have to do as a mom. I’m also a HUGE fan of single-leg exercises. Listen, walking requires single-leg loading. So I think it’s an important thing to work on. And as far as the old “don’t lie on your back” thing- well, the research has come back that it isn’t all to be feared. Your body will let you know pretty quickly if it isn’t tolerating that position with back pain, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, etc. so never fear!

Running, Jumping, High Impact

This is a sticky one. For many people who have been running or doing high-intensity exercise throughout pregnancy, it may feel fine to keep doing so. However, as the baby grows it puts a lot of pressure on the pelvic floor. Activities like running, jumping, and high-impact activities place more pressure on the pelvic floor. And increased pressure on an already pressurized system isn’t necessarily what you want during this time.

Adjusting your strategy and intensity during the third trimester is an important part of the process. This may mean switching running to hill walking, or short bursts of running with longer bouts of walking in between to let the pelvic floor recover. It could mean adjusting your breathing strategies during jumping so that the pelvic floor has more support, or even dialing back on jumping completely.

This means different things for different individuals, meaning there is no one size fits all for this section of the blog. I will say, however, that continuing these activities at an all out, high demand level is probably not your best option.

Just because you CAN doesn’t mean you SHOULD. Dialing back now will set you up for a quicker return to these activities postpartum.

One last thing I’ll add here- if you’re dealing with pelvic or SI joint pain, a high demand activity like running can actually exacerbate that pain. So dialing back on some of these high demand activities can help you stay more comfortable as well!

Listening to Your Body

Many practitioners will just tell you to “listen to your body” when it comes to activity during pregnancy. This can be really confusing when they’re also saying that pelvic pain and leaking is “common” and “just part of pregnancy”. So in this section I’m going to give you some solid ways to listen to your body that means it’s time to dial back on load, intensity, or change the exercise/WAY you’re doing that exercise- AKA the 4 P’s.

● Pain- ANY pain during or after exercise. This also includes round ligament and braxton hicks contractions, since these are a sign that you may be slightly overdoing it.
● Peeing- Any leaking or urine, gas, or fecal matter (yeah, I know, but it happens) during or after exercise. This is a sign that your pelvic floor isn’t handling what you’re doing or the way you’re doing it very well.
● Peeking- Coning or doming at the midline during exercise. This is a sign that your core isn’t handling the pressure being placed upon it very well. This is a sign that you need to adjust the exercise or the strategy.
● Prolapse- Any feelings of heaviness, bulgins, dragging, or tampon falling out in the vagina during or after exercise. Again, this is a sign that the pressure system isn’t handling what you’re doing or how you’re doing it very well and the exercise, intensity, or strategy needs to be adjusted.

Every single rep and every single minute of exercise is an assessment. If you have to adjust the exercise or strategy mid-workout, know that it’s totally fine to do so. This is where having a coach trained to work with women in pregnancy and postpartum, especially if you’re experiencing any of the symptoms above, is SUPER helpful because we can guide you on HOW to adjust and when often before your body even gives you any of these signs.

Managing Common Pregnancy Aches and Pains

I said it above, the third trimester is FULL of fun little aches and pains that get brushed off as normal. A lot of them are somewhat normal, however that doesn’t mean that you can’t find ways to make your body more comfortable and exercise plays a big part in that.

Many apps and websites will suggest swimming, yoga, and walking as great forms of exercise and they certainly can be great ways to stay active and manage these aches and pains… but they certainly aren’t the ONLY way.

Strength training is often a big missing piece from advice you’ll find on websites and pregnancy apps. And because it’s what I do, it’s always the first thing I recommend and work with them in doing. Here are a few reasons I love strength training during pregnancy (and all the time):

● It is SUPER adaptable. There are a million and one ways to adjust a strength training routine to suit your body, your needs, your pain or symptoms, your life, your stage of pregnancy or postpartum, etc. It really is one of the most adaptable forms of exercise out there for sure.
● It prepares you for the demands of motherhood (or your current parenting reality). Need to pick up a carseat without throwing out your back? We can practice that. Need to lift a toddler while 9 months pregnant? There’s an exercise that can help you with that. Life requires you to get off the floor without using your hands all the time? You guessed it, there’s a way we can practice that too.
● It can help you manage aches and pains. Because it is so adaptable and helps you with daily life activities, strength training can actually help you manage common aches and pains you might equate to just doing daily life. Getting the muscles in the glutes and hips stronger can help with back, SI joint, and pelvic pain. Practicing bending and lifting strategies can help when you fear throwing your back out while picking up your kids. Learning rotation strategies can help you load kids and things into the car with ease. It’s really cool.

I could go on and on in this section because, as you can see, I’m a HUGE fan of strength training for moms. If it isn’t your thing, that’s cool too. The best part of exercise is that there are plenty of ways to go about it. You do you. But if these reasons have you like HELL YES, know that I’m here to support you in your journey to strength.

The Real Deal about Exercise in the Third Trimester

Alright. Now that we’ve gone through the nitty gritty, I’m gonna briefly give you the real deal about exercise during the third trimester. Ready for it? Here it is.

Exercise in the third trimester is LESS about controlling HOW easily you birth and bounce back and MORE about preparing your body for postpartum demands.

Yep, I said it. There are so many people out there asking if exercise will help them have an easier labor and I hate to break it to you, but nothing will guarantee you an easy labor or birth. Nothing will promise you a certain outcome. Some people may say that staying active did, but there’s really no way of knowing.

I know that being active during my second pregnancy made a huge difference in how I felt, physically and emotionally. Sure my labor and birth was way easier and my recovery was so quick compared to my first, but we’re also not comparing apples to apples. My first labor and birth was 26+ hours, 3+ hours of pushing, and an episiotomy. My second was 6 hours, 19 minutes of pushing, and no tearing at all. It was leaps and bounds different and I can’t say for sure that exercise had anything to do with that.

But it did help me feel stronger, more capable in my body, it helped regulate my moods during pregnancy and gave me energy when I needed it most, and it definitely helped me deal with an active toddler with ease during pregnancy and into the postpartum period.

That, my friends, is the point of exercise in the third trimester.

And because I believe so strongly in this, I created an amazing program to help you feel stronger in your body, more capable during daily activity, manage common third trimester aches and pains, AND prepare your mind for labor and birth.

My self-paced exercise and birth prep program, Third Trimester Comfort and Calm, was designed to help you feel comfortable and capable in your body while also prepping your mind and body for birth, learn more about the program here.

The third trimester is often full of really big challenges for your body and mind, but with the right support it can be a lot less challenging.