Practicing Pilates During Pregnancy

Keeping active and fit during pregnancy is important, however, if you haven't been exercising before you became pregnant then now probably isn't the best time to begin a new workout. Pilates offers a great workout for pregnant women for several reasons:

  • Pilates is an exercise that can be modified to accommodate anyone at any fitness level therefore the exercises can also be adjusted to accommodate the changes of the pregnancy body.  It also allows you to work out as hard as you want to accommodate those days when you don't feel like pushing yourself too hard.
  • Pilates targets the muscles that are required during pregnancy - abdominals, pelvic muscles and back.  By working the postural muscles, Pilates helps to improve body alignment. 
  • During pregnancy, the abdominal muscles will strengthen by over 50% of their original length.  Strengthening these muscles will help support the growing uterus and reduce lumbar compression and pelvic pressure. Pilates strengthens the core muscles which help to reduce lower back ache - a common complaint as the pregnancy progresses and the tummy and breasts becomes bigger and heavier.
  • Pilates helps build muscular endurance, flexibility, and good balance, which are useful to have during pregnancy and labour.

Which are the best Pilates exercises to do during pregnancy?

Although Pilates is a great exercise for pregnant women, it is important to be aware of how to modify the exercises so that they are appropriate for pregnancy.  For instance, many traditionalPilates exercises are performed either lying on your back or stomach which are obviously not advisable when you are pregnant.  As with all otherPilates exercises, it is important that the workout be practiced with the six Pilates principles in mind to ensure that maximum benefits are attained.

It is recommended that you seek professional instruction before engaging in a Pilates workout when pregnant, however following are some excellent Pilates exercises to perform during pregnancy.

Abdominals

Safe abdominal exercises during pregnancy should focus on working the deeper muscles - the internal obliques and the transverses abdominus. These help to support the uterus and keep the two halves of the rectus abdominis from separating too much during pregnancy. Training the transverses abdominus also helps to prepare for delivery as this muscle is engaged to assist forceful expiration during the "push" stage.

1. Seated Transversus

Begin seated with the body weight centered over the pelvis. Shoulders should also be aligned over the pelvis. Practice pulling the belly button to the spine without allowing the ribcage to move forward.

  • 30 Second Hold - start with a belly breath and expand the body. Exhale and move the belly button toward the spine and hold it there for 30 seconds. End with a belly breath.
  • Contracting Transverse - inhale and expand the body, then exhale all the way to the spine. Hold for one second and repeat 50-100 times.


2. Supine Transversus Contraction

Begin lying on the back with knees bent and feet on the floor hip-width apart. Take a belly breath and exhale the belly to the spine without tilting the pelvis. There are two modifications to this exercise which are done according to ability and stage of pregnancy:

  • Hold for 30 seconds
  • Fold the knees while keeping the trunk stabilised

Mat Exercises

1. The Saw

Sit on the floor with your legs extended (feet flexed) and spread slightly wider than your hips. Stretch your arms to the sides (parallel to the floor) and twist your torso to the right bringing your left fingers towards your right toes. Exhale and lift your chest, then inhale and pull yourabdominals in. Repeat on the other side. Repeat the entire exercise 3-4 times.

2. Spine Twist

Sit on an exercise ball or a chair with your arms extended out to the side at shoulder height. Exhale and gently turn the torso to the left while drawing your ribcage to the opposite hip to look at your left hand. Inhale and repeat on the other side. Repeat the entire exercise 3-4 times.

3. Modified Roll-Up/Roll-Down

If this exercise makes you feel dizzy at any point - stop.

Begin standing 6-8 inches away from a wall with your knees slightly bent, feet hip-width apart and toes pointing forwards. Lean back against the wall standing as tall as you can with relaxed shoulders. Draw the belly button to the spine. Inhale, then as you exhale, drop your chin to your chest and begin to roll your spine forwards one vertebra at a time down until only your bottom is touching the wall. Your arms should be hanging loosely by your sides. Inhale and exhale a few times, then, on exhale, begin unrolling your body one vertebra at a time until you are standing again. Repeat the whole exercise 3 times.

4. Modified Leg Front Pull

Begin on your hands and knees with your hands shoulder-width apart and your hips over your knees. Inhale and contract the abs as you extend your left leg out, lifting it until it is level with your hips. Exhale and return to the starting position. Repeat with the right leg. Repeat the whole exercise 3-4 times.

5. Side Kick

Begin lying on your side with your head resting on your arm and your bottom leg slightly bent. Keep your abs tight to hold your torso steady. Exhale and extend the top leg forward until your knee and foot are in line with your hip (or as far as comfortable). Return to the starting position and repeat the entire movement 3-4 times before switching to the other side. Make sure you maintain neutral posture as the leg moves forward.

6. Back Strength

Begin on your hands and knees with your abs tight. Lift and straighten your left leg and right arm simultaneously, keeping both limbs in line with the body. Switch sides so that your right leg and left arm are now straightened. Make the movements smooth and keep the body stable.

7. Forward Bend

This exercise is great for stretching out and releasing the spine.

Begin standing while facing a chair that is about an arm's length away. Plant your feet firmly onto the floor, hip-width apart and draw your belly button toward the spine and pull up the pelvic floor. Raise your arms over your head but keep your shoulders relaxed.

Inhale and as your exhale, slow bend forwards at the hips without letting the spine curve or arch until your fingers are resting on the back of the chair. Hold the position for a minute while breathe naturally.

Continue bending forwards, dropping your head towards the floor as far as is comfortable. You can bend your knees a little if you feel a strain. Inhale and as your exhale, roll back up slowly one vertebra at a time until you are standing tall. Repeat the entire exercise up to 5 times.

8. Pillow Squeeze

This exercise works the pelvic floor muscles and inner thighs. It also helps increase posture awareness and to relax the lower back. This is generally performed with a smallPilates ball which you can substitute with a pillow or cushion.

Begin lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the floor. Place the cushion or ball between your knees. Your arms should be by your sides with your palms facing down. Inhale and pull up the pelvic floor muscles. Exhale, draw the belly button to the spine and squeeze the ball/pillow between with your knees. Inhale and relax your knees. Repeat up to 10 times.

9. Curl-ups

This exercise is good for working the pelvic floor muscles. It also helps to relax the back, while increasing mobility of the spine and strengthening the pelvic and abdominal muscles.

Begin lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet slightly apart and flat on the floor. Place a rolled-up towel between your knees. Relax your spine against the floor with your chin tucked in a little and arms by your sides.

Inhale slowly and as your exhale, draw the belly button towards the spine. Squeeze your bottom and pelvic floor muscles and allow the lower back to slowly peel away from floor. Keep your shoulder blades in contact with the floor and don't lift too high as it strains your back. Your neck and shoulders should be relaxed.

Inhale and as you exhale, lower the back down slowly, one vertebra at a time. Repeat the entire exercise 5-10 times.

10. Cat Stretch

This exercise helps to take weight off the pelvic floor and increase circulation around the perineum (the area between the anus and the opening of the vagina). It stretches and releases the back and is a nice relaxing exercise to perform as your pregnancy progresses.

Begin one your hands and knees with your knees hip-width apart. Hands should be below your shoulders and knees below the hips. Keep your back flat, your neck relaxed and your head in line with your spine.

Inhale and as you exhale, draw the bellow button back toward the spine so that your back arches upwards (like a cat, hence the name of this exercise) and your head drops down between your arms. Inhale and return to your starting position.

Exhale and allow your belly button to sag towards the floor so that your head and your bottom are the highest points of your body. Inhale and return to your starting position. Repeat the entire exercise 5-10 times.

There are plenty of other Pilates exercises that are great during pregnancy. You can find more information by consulting books, qualified instructors and Pilates DVDs for pregnant women. Pilates offers a great workout for pregnant women, but it is important to make sure you perform the exercises correctly and according to your stage of pregnancy. Additionally,Pilates focuses on core strength and because of the stretching of the abdominal muscles during pregnancy, it is possible to overstress the abdominal muscles leading to excessive separation of therectus abdominis.  Always seek your doctor's advice before engaging in any exercise routine.

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