Lunge Modifications for Pregnancy

by: Gina Conley, Head Coach of MamasteFit, (CD)DONA, B.S. Exercise Science

Lunges are beneficial throughout pregnancy as they challenge balance and stabilization. You function unilaterally throughout the day whether you realize it or not; walking as you step from one leg to the other. If you were to substitute walking with hopping on two feet as your primary means to move around, then I would say maybe you don’t need lunges or unilateral movement.

All trimester recommendations are general guidelines that we have found to work well for our prenatal clients.  As a disclaimer these guidelines should not be considered concrete as every pregnancy is unique.  Our recommendation is to adjust variations of the lunge based on how you feel each day.  Feel free to explore various loading options as well, such as barbell, dumbbells, kettlebells, or even sandbags. 

1st Trimester

During the 1st trimester the belly is usually not a factor, allowing lunges to be performed as a typically unrestricted movement.  During this trimester we recommend decreasing the loading to 70% rate of perceived effort, with repetitions of 6-10 per leg in the muscular endurance range.  We also suggest pairing lunges with one of the following: A) band work, such as the lateral band walk; B) our glute 2 series; or C) assisted squats, focusing on depth.

We suggest that you focus on lunges in a variety of directions: side lunges, reverse, forward, walking, and single leg taps.

2nd Trimester

During the second trimester, the belly may start to limit hip flexion with a narrow stance.  We recommend widening your stance to allow for hip flexion. This will help accommodate for the growth of your belly. 

If a pregnant woman experiences any pelvic pain, typically the second trimester is when it begins. However, other factors can impact the onset or occurance of this pain, such as number of pregnancy, previous cesarean section, and if she is carrying multiples.  If pelvic pain is experienced with unilateral movement, we recommend first seeing a Webster certified chiropractor and a pelvic floor physical therapist to address the source of the pain.  If a mother has a pre-existing condition, it tends to flair up during pregnancy. Common examples are SI joint pain or pubic symphysis issues.

If you begin to experience pelvic pain during unilateral movement, modifications include additional support or a staggered stance.  Continue to train single leg movements since life is filled with them, but don’t train in pain.  Pregnancy is not the time to force a movement that is not working for you.

One way to incorporate additional support during the lunge is to try the assisted reverse lunge.  The assistance allows you to determine how much help you need in the lunge to avoid pain. 

For SI joint or pubic symphysis dysfunction, the cause of the pain is typically instability. The solution may be to strengthen the hip musculature rather than seek more mobility in the hips.  This is the point where a physical therapist is recommended, as you could also be experiencing a muscular imbalance that is contributing towards a torque within the pelvis. Ultimately, a trained physical therapist would be able to diagnose more effectively than a fitness trainer.

3rd Trimester

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During the third trimester, some mothers might be able to continue the lunge movement in a widen stance with no issues. However, many require the use of additional support support. The assisted reverse lunge is also recommended during this trimester as a great way to continue to strengthen unilaterally while being mindful of your prenatal body’s needs.

In the third trimester, we incorporate labor preparation-focused lunges in our programming.  During labor, diagonal movements help the baby descent through the pelvic floor or the mid pelvis. Our primary goal is training for birth, and focusing movements on diagonal or side lunges are a great means to prepare for labor.

The assisted side lunge variation will extend your ability to train unilaterally in multiple planes of motion. We recommend using a means of support in front of the body while holding onto the ring with one hand as you lunge sideways. Remember to always move in a range of motion that feels good to you. Again, we do not want to train in pain, so stay mindful throughout movement!

The modifications per trimester are not set in stone, and can fluctuate between mothers and pregnancies. After all, pregnancy is a state of growth and an opportunity to explore movement that best suits your body each day.

We can’t stress enough that you pay attention to how each movement feels for your body. Don’t get caught up in focusing on how hard the movement is to complete. Do you feel pulling or strain in your abdomen or back? Is the position comfortable to be in? Do you feel confident in the lift? Use this opportunity to really sync up with your body and actually listen to what it is telling you.


Interested in prenatal programming that offers variations based on trimester? Check out our prenatal programs. We offer a strength specific program and a strength endurance program for prenatal women that we have tested and refined at our training facility. If you are local to our training facility, come check us out! You do not need to have a lifting background to enjoy our intentional programming.

Gina Conley