• 8 Exercises to Avoid as a Pregnant Athlete

    It’s time to debunk the fact from the fiction about what REALLY are the high-intensity functional exercises you shouldn’t do during pregnancy, and WHY.


    This is no longer a race. Don’t be tempted to ever choose intensity over the integrity of movement. You’re now working out with different principles in mind. My feeling is as most of us haven’t got a lot of experience exercising whilst pregnant, most of us can’t be absolutely certain we aren’t straining or overdoing it.

    So mama, I’d say intensity should be the first thing to go. Your goals for exercise should now be about feeling good, maintaining your fitness levels and muscle mass, maintaining good posture, developing superhero pelvic floor control, and keeping gestational diabetes at bay.

    You should also steer clear of DOMs inducing volume. DOMs (delayed onset muscle soreness) means you’ve been lifting or exercising to the point of breaking and building new fibers and is largely present after a very high volume of reps or after some very heavy lifting. You aren’t building muscle mass anymore and this should really be the last thing on your mind.


    You’re something like 3x more likely to have a fall when you’re pregnant. That just goes to show how ‘off’ your spatial awareness and balance is when you have a bun in the oven. Add weights or highly skilled movements into the mix and you do enter a high-risk category for injury, more high-risk than your normal gym-bunny.

    Careful to all those ‘butt-winkers’ at the bottom of a squat – keep it high enough that you retain pelvic control. Turn it into a box-squat if you can’t be sure. Also, are you a bum-clencher? Diane Lee – the women’s pelvic health guru – has a lot to say about these and it’s very common in athletes.

    When you’re standing still, or rising from a squat or a deadlift, do you find you overly squeeze your butt? Many athletic folks have this tendency and it leads to hyperextension at the front of the hip which puts extra strain on the low back.

    Get someone to check for you. This will only get worse in pregnancy so nip that in the bud now.   Common pregnancy injury areas to be mindful of if your posture isn’t spot-on are back and neck injuries, exacerbation of pelvic girdle issues, and compromise to that sacred pelvic floor.

    Common movements where it all goes wrong: deadlift, back squat (perhaps sub it out for a front squat in the third trimester or do box-squats), kipping (which can force you into a backbend and can stretch the abdominal wall unnecessarily), and Olympic lifts (your center of gravity and your bar path will change – is it worth having to completely relearn how to lift again postpartum?)


    Coning is your body’s way of telling you that the linea alba – the connective tissue that connects your abdominals – is under undue pressure. It literally looks like your belly is cone-shaped, or there may be a little bulge from the middle section of your tummy. 

    Don’t panic if you see it, just take that as your body’s way of telling you to stop that exercise for now. The linea alba does an awful lot of stretching whilst you’re preggers and the last thing you want is to over-do it by putting extra force through the midline. 

    Coning is an indication that a) you’re not maintaining good pressure control within your abdomen and therefore could be compromising your pelvic floor, and b) exposing your linea alba to too much force. 

    Common movements which add undue pressure to the midline in pregnancy are:

    a) Prone loaded positions (planks, push up positions, burpee, mountain climber, etc) – scale it to incline versions or stop them altogether if need be

    b) Abdominal loading exercises (sit-ups, v-ups, hollow holds, candlesticks, etc)

    c) Athletes take note: Coning can also be common in overhead hanging exercises such as pull-ups, toes to bar, rope climbs, ski erg, and also with some women (like me towards the third trimester) in horizontal pulling positions like rowing.  

    Everyone is different. Keep watching your belly and be mindful to stop certain movements if need be. Keep a little list of exercises you should personally avoid so you can learn about your body and how it’s responding to your pregnancy.   


    Big loud noise coming from your mouth as you rise from a squat? Breath-holding before completing a heavy lift? STOP. Now that you’re pregnant and hopefully still lifting (great!) you need to learn to breathe differently. 

    Valsalva breathing is a strategy reserved for maximal or submaximal loads, so mark my words in point 1. You really don’t need to be aiming for a 1RM right now, so reduce the load a little and increase your reps. 

    Introduce a tempo if you like, but don’t Valsalva breathe and don’t lift anything that demands it. It will compromise your pelvic floor.

    This advice was seriously lacking when I was pregnant: Learn to breathe for your pelvic floor on all resistance work.

    Breathe in and relax your pelvic floor on the eccentric part of the lift (i.e. downward part of a squat), breathe out, and squeeze your pelvic floor on the concentric part (i.e upward part of the squat). 

    Use this breathing pattern for ALL resistance work. Breathe out and squeeze your pelvic floor to pull a deadlift, and in to lower the weight to the floor. Breathe in and release your pelvic floor on the downward kettlebell swing, breathe out and squeeze for the upswing.

    This includes moving equipment around the gym and getting on and off the floor. In and out of bed. And on and off the sofa in week 40!

    I’d also go so far as saying it’s more important to learn to release your pelvic floor than it is to squeeze, as many of us will be used to be squeezing our pelvic floors like crazy! 

    Timing is key, especially with functional movements that happen quickly. Do make sure your squeeze is timed with the effort phase.   


    Impact will put added pressure on that precious pelvic floor. As you start to grow bigger, swap box jumps for step-ups, running and double-unders for air-bike, and be wary of explosive movements in some lifts i.e. jerks and snatches.

    Yes, some mums-to-be will be running until their waters break, but my advice is to stop it now. An athlete’s pelvic floor control may not be as iron-clad as expected. Especially if you’re very low body-fat. 

    If you have ever had amenorrhoea (stalled or irregular periods) your lower estrogen levels may actually mean your pelvic floor control is weaker than average.   


    Ah pelvic girdle pain (PGP) can be the pits. You may find you have to reign in much of the single-leg loaded exercises like lunges, split squats, and larger step-ups if you have pubic symphysis pain or pelvic girdle pain. 

    This will be on a case by case basis, change it up if it aggravates. Sometimes flare-ups can take 24hrs to show themselves so try to identify what exercises you did the day before that may have exacerbated things. 

    The good news is PGP nearly always resolves after delivery, so get yourself a silly calendar and start striking off those days.  


    The jury is out these days. Research in 2015 in the US suggests it’s absolutely fine for women doing exercise to spend shorter periods on their backs.

    I think the basic no-go guidelines are there for sleeping or spending a prolonged period of time there, which can potentially compromise the blood flow in the major arteries and veins that run through the abdominal cavity.

    Having read around and also talked to a few medical professional friends the current opinion is if it’s for exercise alone and you don’t have any symptoms of dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath, or pain then you’re fine to keep on going (e.g bridging which can be fab for the pelvic floor, low back, and core).


    You’re all educated individuals so I won’t patronize you but I gotta say it from a safety perspective. Don’t take any unnecessary risks ladies. It’s never worth it.


    Check out Hatch Athletic for more resources and training programs geared specifically for Strong Mama’s or Strong expecting Mamas.

  • 4 Things I Wish I Knew When I Got Pregnant

    You’re a fit mama, or mama-to-be. You know your dumbbell from your kettlebell and the idea of running a 5km has never scared you, a 10km even.

    Perhaps you’ve tried a triathlon, or perhaps you love thrashing it out in CrossFit and enjoy this kind of intensity regularly. The fact of the matter is – when you fell pregnant, you were athletic, fit, and strong.

    Let me take a guess that you’re quite competitive and driven too. You’re used to pushing through discomfort and you’re used to juggling – to switching areas of your brain into auto-pilot whilst you train through discomfort… going into the ‘zone.’

    And now you’re pregnant. The advice out there says ‘listen to your body,’ ‘keep moving as you’ve always done,’ it’s safe to do ‘moderate exercise’ in your first and second trimesters. But what is moderate exercise anyway?

    This advice isn’t tailored to the highly athletic population. In fact, this advice is based on a population that has never lifted more than 20kg from the floor. That’s our warm-up weights! The fact of the matter is, there’s NO real medical advice on training strong pregnant women.

    It’s time you fit and athletically capable mums-to-be had some solid, straight-talking advice on how to look after your body throughout pregnancy. I’d love to share with you a few insights, as an athlete, that I wish I knew when I found out I was pregnant.

    Now, you may be past the point of just finding out you’re pregnant. That’s ok. It’s still great to reflect on the things we tell ourselves in these early weeks and months.

    1. Expect Less

    When I became pregnant I had been a competitive CrossFit athlete and coach for going on 5 years. I was used to having control. I was used to manipulating my environment, my body, my diet and my rest and seeing results.

    I had been bossing it in the gym. In fact, I was probably the fittest I’d ever been, and now I couldn’t straddle the assault bike without wanting to gag or keel over in a corner.

    What was worse is that all of the medical advice out there said I could work out as ‘normal.’ The problem was, my ‘normal’ was deadlifting double bodyweight and doing burpees to red-line… and I was seriously struggling.

    My perfectionist tendencies meant I already felt inferior. Was I ‘failing’ at being able to follow even the generic advice?

    I think the best thing to say here is: you’re not ‘the normal.’ CrossFit athletes, functional fitness athletes, and weightlifting women don’t really fall into a ‘normal’ category of fitness, competitive or not.

    Because we tend to circulate in social and fitness groups where we’re all quite fit, it’s sometimes hard to get a frame of reference, but you only need to look at where your fitness was when you first set foot in the gym and compare it to where you’re at now to get some perspective on what ‘normal fitness’ is.

    Even if you’re not a competitive athlete, if pre-pregnancy squatting under a 50, 60, 70kg barbell was your idea of ‘normal’ you’re actually very much an athlete.

    Do NOT beat yourself up like I did. It’s ok if you feel like a sack of potatoes, you’re breathing out your arse, and your barbell suddenly feels a lot heavier… Your body is doing incredible things and needs your energy elsewhere right now.

    Just getting to the gym is achievement enough – let it energize you, or let it help you zone out, and feel more normal. Now is not the time to be making gains.

    Let me say this now – in the first trimester – it’s quite unlikely that you’ll be unable to perform physically in the way you are used to, despite the plethora of advice telling you that you can carry on with what you’ve been doing.

    This is pregnancy safety advice but what it neglects is the mental battle a fit female will go through when learning she simply can’t perform at the intensity that she is used to.

    Frankly, she’s knackered and can’t choose if she’d prefer to throw up or smash a bag of salty chips.

    What you can, or are allowed to do safely, and what you should give yourself permission to do are two different things. Adjust your own expectations of yourself. Expect that you will achieve less in your first trimester.

    2. Park the Ego

    Ever heard the term, “go hard, or go home?” Yeh, that’s not really ideal terminology for a pregnant athlete to hear. ”

    Hmm, what? No ego here… Said no one ever.

    I’m afraid if you’re sporty, the two kind of come hand in hand to an extent. It means you’re competitive and you get a kick out of doing better each time than the time before. Even if that’s competitive with yourself and not with others.

    If you’re not managing to work out at all, that’s ok too. Don’t beat yourself up and fret over all the ‘lost fitness’ – you are in SUCH good shape for pregnancy, and that’s your number 1 priority right now.

    If you are one of the lucky ones who feel energetic and is working out like normal in your first trimester – that’s great, but park the ego. It’s good to practice now as the second and third trimester will come and you’ll need to make friends with scaling.

    Sure, there are women out there who will clean and jerk their body weight at 30 weeks pregnant and who will compete up until their first contraction. But my feeling is unless Nike has you on a retainer, it’s time to put the competing on hold for now.

    The work you put in by being humble in your approach to pregnancy exercise will hold you in good stead for life.

    3. There are no ‘banned’ exercises in the first trimester…but, there are things to be mindful of.

    I groan when I hear the phrase, ‘listen to your body’ because as a fit woman you are used to ignoring pain during exercise. So let’s rephrase it to ‘don’t be tempted to push beyond discomfort.’

    This is quite a new skill to tune yourself into. Be that heart rate, overheating (a common problem!), an achy joint, or a twingy muscle.

    Be mindful when you’re working out and start connecting with your body in a new way. Does it feel uncomfortable in your body or your mind? Reign it in a little.

    We only really have safety guidelines with regards to exertion because a pregnant woman’s heart rate is naturally higher than if she weren’t pregnant.

    It does not really have anything to do with depriving your bub of vital O2. Bub will get her Os way before you. A pregnant woman’s basal temperature is also a little warmer.

    With regards to new aches and pains, your body now has relaxin swimming around your circulation, a hormone that relaxes the ligaments around your joints.

    This makes you more susceptible to sprains, strains, and tweaks than you used to be.

    4. Invest in a wearable device that has a decent heart rate monitor

    Yep – the good old 1960’s advice of monitoring one’s heart rate in pregnancy is golden in my books. But not for their reasons.


    Discomfort has become quite the norm in modern exercise and oftentimes pushing through discomfort is seen as an achievement. Pregnant modern athletic women need the monitor to objectively tell them how hard they’re pushing.


    The modern-day generic advice suggests that fitness fans use the Talk Test or Borg Rate of Perceived Exertion.


    However, the athletic population finds it more difficult to accurately estimate their own exertion objectively using this test because they’re used to pushing so hard it can feel quite ‘normal.’

    On top of this, when you’re pregnant, you pump more blood around your body so your natural resting heart rate becomes higher.  As a fit pregnant woman then, with an already elevated resting heart-rate, you run the risk of perceiving your exertion as way less than it is in reality.

    So get shopping and keep under 80-85% max heart rate. Garmin, MyZone, Polar, and now even FitBit and Apple Watch have all been clinically validated as accurate HR monitors.

    Subjectivity isn’t good enough for the pregnant modern athletic female population – you need technology to help you know how hard you’re pushing.

    Hope some of that has been a help for you newly pregnant fitness fiends.

    Keep an eye out for another pregnancy-related post with great exercises that you can be doing in your second trimester.

    If you’re looking for more resources to help you navigate your pregnancy journey while maintaining your fitness, check us out Hatch Athletic.

    You’ve got this mama,

    Kat x

    P.S. If you’re not already following Hatch on Instagram check out our account @hatch_athletic or give our Facebook Group a Like. There’s loads more pregnancy and postpartum advice happening on there all the time!