When you’re expecting a baby, it’s common to make certain adjustments to protect your health and the health of your little one. These include getting enough sleep, eating healthily, eliminating alcohol, watching your caffeine intake, and staying physically fit. But determining which workouts are best for your changing body and babe-to-be can feel complicated, especially when it comes to the safety of exercise such as high-intensity interval training (HIIT). The truth is, HIIT for pregnancy can actually be an effective, efficient way to maintain strength and get your heart rate up, as long as you make the right modifications.
While you’ll want to check with your doctor before beginning or continuing any prenatal fitness program, here’s a quick-hit Q&A with AFAA Perinatal Certified Aaptiv Trainer and mom Amanda Butler. She explains how to modify HIIT for each trimester.
What are the benefits of HIIT training?
Overall, HIIT training helps pregnant mothers maintain healthy weight. It can reduce pregnancy-specific issues such as back pain, constipation, and fatigue, as well as depression or stress. “Benefits include burning fat and calories in a short period of time, which is great when you don’t have much time to workout,” Butler says. “HIIT can produce faster results, and it helps build endurance. [This] is key when it comes to labor and delivery since those experiences vary in length and intensity.”
How should you modify HIIT during the first trimester of pregnancy?
You can practice HIIT as you normally would during the first three months of pregnancy. This is especially true if you’re already accustomed to working out at a higher intensity prior to getting pregnant. Still, it’s important to listen to your body, Butler says. The first trimester can look (and feel!) different for each woman. “There’s a lot happening in your body. So, be easy on yourself, talk to your doctor, and try to stay as active as you can,” she advises.
How should you modify HIIT during the second trimester of pregnancy?
“After 20 weeks, no more lying flat on your back,” Butler says. “Keep your heart elevated above your uterus to keep blood flowing.” Your second trimester is also a great opportunity to introduce key swaps for HIIT movements. Butler suggests the following modifications:
- Burpees: Put your hands down on the floor or a large medicine ball, step back to plank, walk your feet in toward your hands, and stand up.
- Push-ups: Instead of doing push-ups on your feet, do them from your knees for as long as feels comfortable in your body.
- Jumping jacks: Take out the jump, and do alternating step-outs with your arms still lifting overhead.
- High knees: Alternate bringing each knee toward your chest (and slightly out to the side to make room for your belly), with arms at your sides or lifted in the air.
How should you modify HIIT during the third trimester of pregnancy?
In your third trimester, modifications will vary depending on your level of comfort, Butler says. However, she recommends taking out any jumping or plyometric moves. “In the third trimester, your belly is at its biggest,” she notes. “Your center of gravity will be off, and balancing will be harder. Relaxin (the hormone that releases during pregnancy) has loosened up the ligaments in your pelvis to prepare you for birthing. So, you’re at higher risk for a pulled muscle or an injury.”
Is there anything to avoid completely when doing HIIT workouts while pregnant?
Many HIIT workouts vary in terms of the types of exercises performed. But on the whole, Butler says to avoid crunches, sit-ups, and any twisting motions in the torso. These will promote diastasis recti. If you experience pain, exhaustion, shortness of breath, bleeding, or contractions during a workout, stop what you’re doing.
“Pay attention to your heart rate,” Butler says. “Now is not the time to push it to the max. Getting your heart rate up is safe as long as you are still able to have a conversation. Remember to hydrate before, during, and after exercise because both you and your baby need to cool down post-workout.”