It’s the best of the times. It’s the worst of times.
The third trimester, welcome to it.
Shit is getting real real.
The end is in sight, but your body is experiencing a TON of rapid change, specifically, the weight of your growing baby, which can cause a lot of discomforts. The minutes can feel like hours, and the days can feel like weeks, and the weeks can feel like MONTHS. I gave birth at 41 weeks (to the day) and the time it took to get from my due date to Luke’s birthday was abysmally slow.
My daily greeting to bébé in utero.
Similarly to my first trimester, I found that I needed to modify my workouts to make the most of my fleeting energy, prevent injury, accommodate my fully developed belly, and prioritize my postpartum health.
I’m so proud to say that I worked out throughout my pregnancy up until two days before giving birth.
Does anyone know of any creative awards I can submit this photo too?
I think judges would be impressed by the composition of the photo,
as well as the artful placement of my face mask washcloth…
Key Considerations for Modifications
The third trimester is a time of rapid fetal growth. Your baby is done developing (save for brain development), but your little one will add one half of his or her weight in this final period. Therefore your energy may be at an all-time low as your body focuses on supporting that little life.
For most of February, my belly felt super round, super heavy, super large, and in charge. I gained the most weight in my third trimester and as a result, needed to account for the load in my workouts. I was carrying 25 pounds of extra weight and therefore the 25-30lb dumbbells I usually grabbed for a workout stayed on the rack.
I was lifting 30-40% lighter and had removed running from the equation (more on that below).
My growing belly was also the culprit of a significant loss of balance. I stayed away from unilateral lower body movements and avoided any step-up, or vertical plane. With little stability throughout my core my hips and ankles were left to do most of the work, and towards the end of my pregnancy, it just wasn’t happening.
That’s the best part about fitness though; there are 1,000’s of substitutions. If something doesn’t work, find something that does. That’s true for everyone and anyone, regardless of your phase of life.
Low Energy and Fatigue
Your body is going through A LOT, not only are you carrying your little one, but your body is also preparing to give birth. You may find that you’re sleeping more than usual, or that sleep is more comfortable, which is a nice break from your insomnia. Going up a flight of stairs seems like a monumental task, and somedays your only goal may be to get through the day.
Your workouts will compete with your pregnancy for whatever energy your body has left to give, so you have to be mindful. Even if you were running, lifting, and moving with ease previously in your pregnancy, you might find that your ability level significantly changes once you enter your third trimester. Every day is different because YOU are different.
As mentioned above, in my third trimester, my lifts were at about 60% of what I would typically lift, and that’s a-okay.
Remember, pregnancy isn’t the time for a PR. Moving your bump in any way, shape, or form should be considered a win.
Shortness of Breath
Before your belly “drops” your bump and baby may be sitting high, and taking up real estate that was once occupied by your organs, mainly, your lungs. As your heart rate skyrockets from exercise, it may be harder and harder to catch you breath making your recoveries less efficient. I would find myself getting dizzy from lack of oxygen even walking at a brisk pace on an incline, so I had to make sure my recoveries compensated appropriately.
I found that a 1:1 or even up to a 1:3 work to rest ratio was my sweet spot to recover without losing my momentum.
During this time I realized, taking the time to rest may take more mental strength than physical.
Your baby is bigger than ever and putting more pressure on your bladder than ever. And yet your body needs most fluids than ever.
Is that a fahking joke?
No, it’s not.
Your trainer will throw out words like, “jump,” “jack,” or God forbid, “burpee.”
It is in those moments you need to remember that YOU are empowered to modify your workout as you see fit to avoid injury, strain, and PISSING YOURSELF. Sexual.
Go to the bathroom whenever you feel the urge. That may mean leaving your group exercise class more than once and dodging eye contact with the front desk as you scurry to the Lady’s. Check your ego at the door – there is no dignity in childbirth. I feel like you should know that now…
Lower Back Pain
The ligaments in your lower back and pelvis are getting loose to prepare you for birth. There is so much downward pressure from the baby and your growing belly that pain can manifest anywhere from a dull ache to a shooting pain to feeling numbness in your legs.
These pains usually resolve themselves after the baby is born, but when they present themselves during pregnancy make sure to rest accordingly and decrease your lifts to avoid further inflammation and irritation.
Hip and Pelvic Pain
After the baby “drops” he or she will settle deeper into your pelvis. When the drop occurs, you may feel new or additional pressure in your pelvis which can translate to hip and joint pain. Additionally, your pelvis is connected by a joint that is normally very stiff. The same “loosening” described above affects this joint which can result in pain or irritation from increased movement.
There isn’t a ton you can do for this discomfort, but I found that staying off my feet on the days it was really bad, and warm showers helped ease the situation.
What I Prioritized…
Note: Notice that headline, “What I Prioritized…” Every pregnancy and every woman is different. The below is what worked for me as I rounded out the homestretch.
Keep All Activity Low Impact
To avoid hip, pelvic, and lower back pain I kept all my activity low impact. For me, running became super uncomfortable around week 30. I felt a ton of pressure on my pelvis and my form was all sorts of terrible. I don’t enjoy running enough to have powered through it. Therefore it wasn’t worth continuing. Instead, I swam, walked on an incline and used the Stepmill. Again, there are SO MANY WAYS to elevate your heart rate, running isn’t the only option. I avoided all plyometrics except for squat jumps which I performed super carefully.
Running alternatives to elevate heart rate:
- Power walking on flat road or incline
- Spinning (careful of that bump tho)
- Rowing machine
Lifting alternatives to plyometrics to elevate heart rate:
- Squat to overhead press (careful of coning tho)
- Hip Swings
- Tabata of any stationary strength building drill
- Isolations of any stationary strength building drill
It’s essential to practice proper breathing that engages your core and pelvic floor. Not only would I focus on this breathing pattern while I was working out, but I would do 10 minutes of concentrated breath work before bed.
A quick breathing guide for reference:
While you workout…
- Inhale during the eccentric movement. Let your belly expand and relax.
- Exhale during the concentric movement. DO NOT SUCK YOUR BELLY IN, but lift, cinch and contract your abs AND pelvic floor (think kegel with core engagement). Completely drain your lunges and think about bringing your ribcage inward.
Concentrated breath work…
- Take a deep inhale without letting your shoulders creep up to your ears. You should feel an expansion in your belly, back, and rib cage
- Exhale but DO NOT SUCK YOUR BELLY IN, lift, cinch and contract your abs AND pelvic floor (think kegel with core engagement). Thoroughly drain your lunges and think about bringing your ribcage inward.
- You should see your belly and your abs completely fire up as you finish your exhale.
It’s v important to focus on your diet in the third trimester to ensure you’re delivering critical nutrients to your babe as he/she gets ready to make their way into the world. On the days I was too tired to workout I made sure to keep my eating as clean as I could delaying any cravings before giving in. As always, hydration was A HUGE priority.
When in Doubt
When in doubt modify any drill with a squat or glute bridge variation. Your lower body holds some of the largest muscles in your body; you can’t go wrong with lower body strength building drills. Targeting your glutes throughout pregnancy will help you while in labor (PUSH, BISH), as well as help you recover after giving birth.
- Front squat
- Back squat
- Sumo squat
- Narrow squat
- Lateral squat
- Glute bridge
- Marching (or alternating) glute bridges
- Hip thrust (with dumbbells or band NOT A BARBELL, I REPEAT NO BARBELL)
- Butterfly glute bridge
- Squat with an alternating reverse lunge
If you don’t know how to perform the drills above, click here to find out how to do them.