How to work out in your third trimester – like Meghan Markle

Jessica Salter
Right: Jessica Salter in the gym during her pregnancy. Left: The Duchess of Sussex is believed to be doing early morning yoga sessions

Pregnancy is a time when you’re told there’s lots you can’t do – but when it comes to exercise, you’re advised to keep it up

If you’re someone who does regular exercise, then a little thing like being in the third trimester of your pregnancy, as the Duchess of Sussex is, isn’t going to stop you. Not only can it be essential for your own mental and physical health, but studies show that it’s good for the baby, too.

We know that the Duchess previously had a punishing exercise regime including weekly six-mile runs, “Megaformer” Pilates sessions (a terrifying-looking machine that the former Ms Markle credited with “transforming” her body), vinyasa yoga and personal training sessions.

Now she’s in the Firm it's likely that she'll talk less about her workouts – but it’s a fair guess that she hasn’t given up exercise entirely now she’s pregnant. In fact, she told a well-wisher in Australia that she had been up at 4.30am doing yoga.

Like her, I continued to work out while I was pregnant with my daughter just over two years ago. I was even in the gym on my due date – well, what else was I going to do?

Jessica Salter gets a workout in... on her due date

Although science supported my decision to keep up exercising – the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (ACOG) actually recommends that pregnant women aim for 20-30 minutes of “moderate intensity exercise, including running and weight training, most days of the week – I found finding classes that would let me exercise more of a challenge.

Now, two years on, there’s a myriad of pre-natal classes available, both in gyms and online. The message is clear: while pregnant women are often told what they can’t do, actually, when it comes to exercise, there’s a lot they can.

Resistance training can help ease pregnancy discomforts, including fatigue, nausea and insomnia, according to researchers at the University of Gothenburg; a separate study found that women who exercised were less likely to develop gestational diabetes; while pregnant women who exercise at a moderate intensity three times a week halved the risk of their babies being born with a high birth weight, according to scientists at the University of Granada.

The old adage of resting for nine months is no longer the best option for most women. In fact, the ACOG say that even pregnant women who don’t normally exercise would benefit from starting slowly on a gentle regime. But for those – like the Duchess – who are used to an endorphin-fuelled, sweat drenched work-out, what can you keep doing in your third trimester and how far can you push it?

We ask four pre-natal personal trainers – three of whom are pregnant themselves – for advice.

Weights

“Pregnancy is not easy on the body and it is important that you stay strong to adapt to all the changes coming your way,” Charlie Launder, founder of the pre and post natal PT specialists, Bumps & Burpees, says. “Not only will your bump grow, your centre of balance will change, your ligaments will soften and you will be carrying some extra pounds.

"Using weights is a very effective way to increase your strength and make sure that your body is able to cope with all these changes and prevent the aches and pains that so often accompany pregnancy.”

She says that there are some things pregnant women – especially those in their third trimester – need to be aware of. “Always make sure to lift a weight that you can do 8-10 reps with comfortably, and check that you are performing each exercise with the correct form. There are adaptations that you will need to make as your bump grows to take the pressure off the abdominals and to make way for your growing bump so seek advice from a professional if you are unsure of these. Give yourself plenty of water breaks, and make sure you can keep up a conversation to check you are at the correct intensity.”

Launder’s e-book has exercises that are safe for pre and post-natal women to follow (£14.99; bumpsandburpees.com)

Yoga

“Yoga in pregnancy strengthens parts of the body that you use to give birth as well as relieving common aches and pains,” says Libby Stevenson, a MY:METHOD yoga teacher with a pre-natal specialism. She recommends Warrior I, II and malasana to open the hips, the mountain pose to maintain proper posture, and cat/cow or child’s pose to help relieve lower back pain. Pregnant women should avoid inversions, including downward dog, she says.

In addition, Stevenson says that yogic breathing and meditation can help women. “For many pregnant women, pregnancy can be a time of confusion and anxiety. The breathing practices in pregnancy yoga slow down and extend the exhalation, which switches off the autonomic nervous system – the fight flight freeze response – and switch on the parasympathetic nervous system – the rest and digest response.

"These breathing techniques can be used while giving birth to reduce pain or at any time when you feel overwhelmed or stressed.”

Pilates

Pilates is a great exercise to take up or continue while pregnant as it’s low impact and safe for all trimesters. “Pilates focuses on posture, strength and flexibility, all areas that suffer, or adapt, during pregnancy,” says Hollie Grant, founder of Pilates PT Method and 29 weeks pregnant herself. “As a pregnant woman’s bump grows, her centre of gravity shifts massively, which can cause changes to the spine which can lead to back pain.”

Pilates works to stablise joints – for example hips – that have been affected by the hormone relaxin, released during pregnancy. It’s also an option for those who suffer from Pelvic Girdle Pain.

“Personally, I have found Pilates during pregnancy a lifesaver,” she says. “It has meant I have stayed in touch with how my body feels, how it is changing, any aches or pains I have noticed and helped to make sure that my posture does not change excessively despite having a very big bump. The skills you learn in Pilates can be used during labour (such as the awareness and use of breath) and is perfectly safe if taught by a qualified pre/post-natal Pilates instructor.”

HIIT

High Intensity fitness is still trending in the fitness world, thanks to its fat-burning properties. Personal trainer Kelly Bedford, founder of Fitness Fox London, and 24 weeks pregnant herself, says that pregnant women can keep up their HIIT sessions during your third trimester, but cautions, “it may look a lot different from your pre-pregnancy interval sessions.”

She advises against high impact exercises, like jumps or burpees, and instead, using “compound strength moves using big muscle groups to increase the heart rate and get the blood pumping.” Some exercises will need modification to allow for a large bump. “Press ups performed on an incline are more comfortable and put less downward pressure on the belly,” she says.

Bedford recommends supersets that alternate different body parts, for instance squats then incline press ups. She also says that you need to pay attention to your body and allow more rest, but, “I’ve loved keeping moving throughout though and plan to without albeit modifying as a go until the day I give birth.”