pregnancy pilates

Pregnancy Pilates: The Best Exercises You Can Do Each Trimester

Joseph Pilates created Pilates in 1920 as a form of rehabilitation. Early on, Pilates was used to treat soldiers returning home from war and professional dancers.  

Today, it remains a versatile exercise regime for people who want to strengthen and tone their bodies while improving movement. 

Pregnancy Pilates uses many traditional Pilates exercises. Read on to learn what exercises are best for each trimester so you can have a fit pregnancy and a smooth delivery.  

Is Pilates During Pregnancy Safe?

Yes! Pilates during all three trimesters of your pregnancy is safe, unless you are in a high-risk pregnancy and your doctor advises you not to exercise. 

The best thing about pilates is that the controlled movements can be modified to suit your range of motion. After 16 weeks, you should avoid exercises where you lie down on your back as the weight of your growing uterus could restrict circulation to you and your baby.

We will cover the best exercises for each trimester below. 

What Are The Benefits Of Pregnancy Pilates?

Pilates is a conditioning exercise regime that targets how well the muscles function.

During pregnancy, many women suffer from loss of muscle tone and endurance. Pregnancy can also lead to poor balance and bad posture. Pilates works to keep all stabilizing muscles in tiptop shape.

Practicing pregnancy Pilates leads to many benefits

For starters, Pilates relieves back pain by strengthening the back. The controlled breathing in Pilates is very useful during labor. 

Many women feel clumsy or off-balance while they are pregnant, which makes sense since they are carrying many extra pounds at the front of your body. Not to mention the extra weight from more fluid in your body. 

Pilates provides improved balance and stability. 

Pilates pelvic floor exercises allow you to keep a strong pelvic floor to avoid incontinence as baby moves downward. 

Many Pilates exercises are done on your hands and knees. This helps take the pressure off your pelvis and lower back. And it helps baby get into the right birthing position. 

Any type of exercise during pregnancy will help prevent you from gaining excess weight during your pregnancy. 

You are likely to develop leg and foot pain, fluid retention, and varicose veins during pregnancy. Pilates helps minimize these pregnancy side effects with the many leg strengthening and conditioning exercises available. 

Last but certainly not least, Pilates provides mental health benefits. Pregnancy can be a difficult time for many women. Pilates offers a safe way to relieve stress and harness calm.

Now that you understand how good Pilates is for you during pregnancy, read on for the best exercises you can do during each trimester. 

Pilates for Your First Trimester

During your first trimester of pregnancy, you can continue any type of workout routine you previously had going. If you are in the habit of being active, you can continue to participate in those activities during this trimester but the intensity needs to be reduced to avoid body temperature and heart rate elevating too high as this initial stage of pregnancy is where there is most risk of miscarriage. On a side note, pelvic floor muscle activation exercise is highly recommended. 

If you are new to exercise, Pilates is a great way to strengthen your body during pregnancy.  

If you feel good with these Pilates moves, you can continue them throughout your pregnancy. These are safe for all trimesters.

Bent Knee Fallout

This exercise is great to train your core engagement and pelvic floor muscles activation.

Start by lying down on your back with both knees bend and parallel with each other at hip-distance apart.

Start by inhale and slowly exhale.

As you inhale, open your right hip and knee to the side without moving your feet.

As you exhale, return the knee back to the starting position.

Repeat this movement for 5 times before change sides.  

While doing this exercise, you want to make sure you feel the core is engaged and firm to avoid any compensatory movement in the pelvis such as rotated to one side.

Leg Lifts

This exercise further challenges your core and pelvis stability with the weight of your own legs.

Begin by lying down on your back with both knees bend and parallel with each other at hip distance part.

Inhale to prepare the exercise.

As you exhale, zip your abs and core and lift one foot off the mat, maintaining your core engagement.

Inhale to return the foot to the mat without losing your core engagement. Repeat with another leg.

The legs are heavy and thus, while performing this exercise you have to be careful not to feel your back straining or overarching. This can be avoided by engaging your core muscles correctly. 

Half Plank

Come to on all 4 positions with your hand align with your shoulder, and knees far behind your hips.

Keep a neutral spinal alignment, make sure your spine is not hunched and shoulders are not rounded. Keep your chest away from the floor. 

Inhale to prepare, and exhale think about hugging your baby with your abs. You should feel the abs are getting engaged and the baby is lifted slightly away from the floor.

Inhale, to slowly release the baby away. Repeat this exercise, there won’t be any dramatic movement in your spine, but a gentle firmness in your abdominal muscles.

Hip Roll

Lie down on your back with knees bent, parallel to hip-distance apart, arms long by the sides, and palms down. 

Inhale to prepare the exercise and as you exhale, roll your tailbone up towards your belly button and continue to peel your spine one by one away from the floor until the weight bearing is at the back of your shoulder.

In this position you would feel your glutes and hamstrings working to lift the pelvis off of mat. You should now feel your back is over arching.

Take a deep breath in to maintain your position. As your exhale,roll the spine down to the mat again, articulating from the upper back, mid back, lower back and your tailbone is the last one. 

Repeat this exercise about 5-8 times, focusing on articulating and mobilizing your spine.

This exercise is also good to be aware of your spinal mobility and avoid stiffness. It also helps to activate all your stabilizer muscles around your torso and hips.

Pilates for Your Second Trimester

For a fit pregnancy, continue your prenatal exercises during your second trimester. You may continue the pilates workout exercises from the first trimester if they feel comfortable for your body except for abdominal work. This is because we don’t want the rectus abdominus to be tighter while your belly is growing in size, as this can increase the potential of diastasis recti to occur.  

Here are a few pilates exercises that are wonderful as you experience some growing pain as your belly and baby accelerate their growth. 

Modified Swimming Prep

It’s important for pregnant women to strengthen their back sling muscles too. You can do this exercise to strengthen back muscles by practicing it every day.

Kneeling on all fours with your wrists align with shoulders, knees align with hips.

Avoid overarching or over rounding your back. Gently visualize that you are hugging the baby to have slight engagement in your abdominal muscles.

Begin with inhale and slightly bend the right knee.

On exhale, maintain the weight bearing on your hands and left knee, slowly lift the right knee towards the ceiling without straightening the knee; imagine you are holding a tennis ball in between your knee joints. Inhale to slowly lower the right knee back to the ground.

Repeat with the same side for 5-8 times before changing side.

Spine Twist

Spine twist is a great mobility exercise to keep your spine healthy as during pregnancy, it is common for women to feel stiffness in spine. 

Start by sitting on the floor with your legs rested in front of you and knees slightly bent to the side. If you can’t sit comfortably on the floor, you can opt to sit on a stool/chair.

Bring your arms straight to the front with palms facing down.

Inhale to prepare. On exhale, turn your ribcage and chest facing to the right, at the same time, bend your right elbow to gently rotate your spine. Once you reach your maximum rotation to the right, gently reach your right hand towards the back of the room to feel more stretch.

Inhale to again bend the elbow and rotate your chest facing to the front again. 

Repeat the movements on the left side.

Squatting Side Bends

Squats and side bends both provide excellent benefits during pregnancy. Do them together for a wonderful combination.

Try to do 10 repetitions for a total of 3 sets. 

Stand with your feet wider than your hips. Place your hands together at the back of your head. Squat down and gently crunch from one side to the other. That is one rep.

As you crunch to the side, keep your chest facing to the front and feel the stretch on the opposing side muscles.

Squatting side bends are a safe way to work your core during pregnancy. It’s an excellent way to get the blood flowing so you can reduce leg cramps.

Make sure to only squat and bend as far as is comfortable. Always listen to your body when doing any form of exercise.  

Side Plank

A side plank is one of the most popular Pilates exercises. Start by lying sideways on the ground. Extend your legs out with the bottom foot planted firmly on the mat. The bottom elbow is propped up under your shoulder.

Push your hips up off the ground up until your bottom arm is extended. Reach your top arm towards the sky. Hold for 30 seconds. Then switch sides.

If you need to modify this move, simply bend your lower leg down so that your knee is resting on the mat. 

This move is a safe way to strengthen your obliques in preparation for pushing during labor. It’s also a great way to strengthen your back to offset back pain during the final months of pregnancy. 

Third Trimester

During the third trimester, many women feel heavy, uncomfortable, and more than ready to birth their babies. Apart from all that, the mother’s posture dramatically changes due to the baby’s increased growth.

Remember, it is safe to exercise right up until the day you give birth. Just make sure to listen to your body and only do what feels comfortable according to the exercise guidelines. 

In this trimester, you want to avoid ALL abdominal and inner thighs work, as well as supine lying position.

Pilates Breathing Principle

Breathing technique 

As your baby gets bigger, your organ is being pushed upwards and that leaves not much space in your lungs. By practicing these breathing principles, you can be aware of expanding your lungs effectively. 

Start by choosing a comfortable sitting position. You can choose to sit either on floor, on a stool, on a pregnancy ball, or on sofa/chair. 

Put both hands on your knees so that your shoulder can relax completely. Feel that your spine are nice and tall as if you are reaching your crown towards the ceiling. Close your eyes and feel comfortable in your position. 

Inhale through the nose. And exhale through pursed lips. As you inhale, think about opening up the ribcage to the side. Take gentle deep breath in and bring the air into the lungs. And as you exhale, feel the ribcage is closing in and down. Repeat this exercise for 5 times or as much as your feel comfortable.  

Pelvic Floor Muscles Engagement

It is great that you have been practicing on pelvic floor muscles engagement. But in the third trimester, you would want make sure that you know how to strengthen them as well as know how to completely relax the pelvic floor muscles too.

Begin with sitting in a cross-.legged position. If you are not comfortable sitting in a crossed-leg position on the floor, you can try elevating your bum on a stool.

Now, imagine there is a line from your belly button to your tailbone. Inhale to prepare and slowly exhale. As you exhale, gently engage and elevate your anus, vagina and urethra towards the belly button through the imaginary line from your belly button to your tailbone. Then, inhale while releasing them completely to relax.

Repeat for a few times. Make sure you are not contracting your gluteus muscles nor doing a pelvic tilt while doing this exercise.

Cat/Cow with Band

For this move, you will continue to repeat the movement as many times as you can in one minute. You can use an exercise band for an extra stretch. Cat and cow can also be done without the band if you don’t have a band.

Wrap the band around your shoulders, and then get down onto all fours. Place the ends of the bands under the heels of your hands.

Do the cat by pulling your abdomen in and rounding your back. You should be looking down towards your belly button. Hold for a second.

Then slowly arch your back and look up to the sky for cow pose. Repeat continuously for one minute.

In pregnancy, sacroiliac joint pain is common. Cat and cow is a safe way to gently stretch out those abdominal muscles and lower back muscles. 

Many women experience round ligament pain during pregnancy. This move stretches the round ligament to promote more blood flow in that area of the body.


Choose your comfortable sitting position. 

Reach both arms out to the side. Let the left arm down by your side.

Now inhale and reach your right arm towards the ceiling.

Exhale to stretch up and gently bend towards the left side.

Use your right hand to reach further and feel nice stretch on your right side muscles. Inhale to come back up. 

Repeat the movement on the other side.


Squats are the perfect lower body exercise to get your body ready for labor. You will work your quads, glutes, and hamstrings all at once.

Plus, squatting helps bring the baby down into the right position, so go ahead and work on your squats every day during this third trimester.

Start with your feet hip-width apart. Inhale through your nose. Exhale through your mouth as you lower yourself into a squat position.

Push through your feet to stand up. Repeat 7 more times. Try to do 3 sets of 8 reps. 

To make it more challenging, hold your squat at the bottom for 30 seconds (or 8 breaths). This will help you practice controlled breathing through a contraction.

Final Words on Pregnancy Pilates

Thanks for reading all about pregnancy Pilates.

Now you know that Pilates is a safe and effective way to get your body primed for labor. Pilates will also help to keep your body limber and your weight gain under control during pregnancy.

Plus, you’ll enjoy all the many benefits of exercise like better sleep, more energy and reduced risk for various diseases.

Are you looking for some Pilates guidance to get you started? We offer private and duet Pilates sessions to help newbies get started. Contact us for your free trial today.