While the title to this post is quite a claim, I couldn’t help it— after my 10th conversation this month with someone asking me if I was slowing down now that I’m in my third trimester, I realized we have some popular culture educating to do.

Note that when I talk about exercise intensity, I’m talking about a few things—how often a pregnant woman is exercising, how long she’s exercising for, and finally how hard she’s exercising. Most specifically this post is referring to frequency and duration.

Here’s what most people think exercise intensity looks like during pregnancy:

Screen Shot 2013-09-30 at 4.56.20 PM


Popular opinion hold that as a woman progresses through her pregnancy, she slows down. She starts off active, but as she approaches the third trimester, she will exercise  less and less.

But here’s the secret—we’ve found among our clients and other active pregnant women, the  INVERSE is actually true. Take a look at what it actually looks like:

Screen Shot 2013-09-30 at 4.56.40 PM

The most inactive time during pregnancy is often the FIRST trimester, and the third trimester  is often the most active—it’s the OPPOSITE of what most people think.

This is true for a few reasons:

1- The first trimester is when many pregnant women often feel most tired and physically ill (morning sickness).

2- Active women discover it’s during exercise when they often feel their BEST—so as they go through their pregnancy they want to exercise more and more to alleviate pregnancy complaints (swelling, lower back pain, sleeplessness).

3- There’s nothing like knowing labor is on the horizon to motivate a woman to workout! As women approach the third trimester they often want to prepare for the extreme sport of childbirth.

4- Realizing  their alone time is dwindling can be a supreme motivator for third trimester moms to exercise. We watch women up their class attendance to 3 to 5 times a week in the last trimester. You’d think they’d be too busy with pediatrician interviews, childbirth classes and baby showers, but it’s not true. Women in their third trimester who have been exercising throughout their pregnancy actually exercise more and make time for it in their last weeks!

I’ve certainly found that my experience matches the second graph chart—I’m significantly more active than I was 4 or 5 months ago. And I don’t see myself “slowing down” anytime soon—exercise has become my number one tool to deal with the pain and discomfort of pregnancy (and I’ve still got a few months of those left!).

Did you stop or slow your exercise in the third trimester? What would your graph of exercise intensity during pregnancy look like?

Kathleen Donahoe is co-owner and Senior Instructor at ohbabyfitness.com

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2 thoughts on “Why everything most people think about exercise intensity during pregnancy is wrong.

  • October 20, 2013 at 6:03 am

    I’m now 3 weeks post partum and just starting to increase the intensity of my activity after an unplanned c section. At times, working out was the ONLY thing that made me feel better especially in the first trimester. Most days I literally dragged myself into the gym early on but I always felt better within a few minutes of starting. It provided not only a relief of the physical discomfort of pregnancy but I also experienced the tremendous benefit of knowing I was passing on good habits to my child in utero.

    I began to get plenty of stares and remarks like ‘is running going to make your water break’ and ‘when are you going to stop working out’ as my pregnancy progressed. It was almost funny that the prevailing notion is that one should stop having any sort of physical movement at the end of pregnancy which I found to be pretty counter intuitive.

    I agree with your assertion that we need some sort of cultural re education into this topic. In the meantime, I just soldiered on, huge belly and all! I am so greatful I continued to run and spend time in the gym throughout my pregnancy. The benefits to both me and my baby are so worth it! Thanks for a great blog post

    • October 21, 2013 at 4:47 pm

      I think you are so right— it’s weird how even in the first trimester exercise is one of the only times I feel good and “normal”! I think doing what you did- just being an example of someone exercising their whole pregnancy- is the very best thing, and will go a long way in cultural re-education. Good luck in your postpartum recovery!!


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