Although pregnancy can be an exciting time — it doesn’t get more magical than a tiny human growing inside of you, after all — it also can be a confusing time. While pregnant with my older son, I arrived at my first ultrasound with a gazillion questions. The first zillion were about my latte habit alone, namely, could I still have another one at 3 p.m.?! So imagine my questions on one of the most confounding pregnancy topics of all...prenatal exercise.
But my worries quickly evaporated when I found out that my ob-gyn was a big fan of moderate movement during pregnancy (#relieved).
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, regular exercise during pregnancy has no shortage of benefits, including decreasing back pain and promoting healthy weight gain. An exercise routine may even reduce your chances of developing gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and having a C-section.
At the top of my gynecologist’s list of must-do activities? Prenatal Pilates.
Experts agree that, as long as you get the green light from your doctor to work out while expecting, prenatal Pilates is one of the best forms of exercise you can do—and you should start as early in your pregnancy as possible. According to a 2017 study, Pilates is especially beneficial for mama’s mental health, and for helping to decrease pregnancy-related aches and pains. (Hi, restless legs.)
Pilates Anytime teacher Courtney Miller, the San Diego–based owner of Pilates Republic and mommy to two-year-old Maverick, agrees. “Not only is Pilates completely safe during pregnancy for most women, it’s an intelligent, whole-body approach to conditioning. Pilates is one of the only exercise methods out there that will give you the muscle strengthening, the stretching and the breathwork you need.”
"As the body changes throughout pregnancy, there are certain things that become a little challenging, namely balance, endurance and coordination. In your Pilates practice, you’re working these elements in addition to whole-body strengthening and conditioning," Courtney says.
Plus, Pilates is all about creating a balanced body, something that’s especially important when navigating a growing bump. One of Courtney’s favorite things to work on to promote symmetry and balance? The glutes.
“As your uterus expands and your pelvis starts to compensate by moving anteriorly [at the front of the body], the hamstrings and glutes lengthen and can weaken," explains Courtney. "By strengthening the glutes, we create more support in the posterior chain [back body].”
“Pilates embodies the holistic approach to wellness, and prenatal clients need to be strong both physically and emotionally.” That’s where the Pilates breathing—and a focus on connecting the movement to the breath—comes in. “We know that there’s a connection between breath and our emotional state,” Courtney explains. “The breath we teach in Pilates translates to daily life, to better coping with the emotional ups and downs, and the anxiety prenatal clients might experience.”
And as Courtney points out, the connection between the physical work of Pilates and breathing helps later on, too, with labor and delivery.
“Pilates teachers go through rigorous training so they’re prepared to work with prenatal clients," says Courtney. "In addition to the anatomy and understanding how the body moves, we know the why behind the exercises.”
“Pilates can support the prenatal client all the way through pregnancy—and not a lot of other exercise modalities can do that," says Courtney.
For example, if you’re experiencing fatigue in your first trimester, you can reduce your pace but still get the benefits of core strength and stability. Or maybe you’re in your second trimester and are feeling super energetic, then the workout could be made more challenging while keeping safety at the forefront.
“The Pilates approach is that we can modify for everyone. We can adapt the programming for how you’re feeling day today. If a client comes in and says, my back feels a little sore, we can make modifications for that. If they feel tight through the chest, we have a whole different approach.”
“The spring tension used with Pilates equipment can support your body against gravity, and works the muscles [when the muscle is lengthening under load]. So it’s really supportive for the body,” says Courtney.
The elevated surface of the Reformer—and other apparatus, such as the Cadillac—is also helpful for pregnant clients who might find it difficult to lie down on the floor on a Mat, she adds.
“My approach is that the prenatal client isn’t delicate or injured—they’re very strong and capable,” she says.
In addition to taking care not to overexert or overheat the body (two big no-nos with prenatal exercise), Courtney says that paying attention to your range during Pilates is key. “We need to be mindful of range of motion and overstretching because mom’s ligaments are a little more sensitive.”
To keep things within a safe range, Courtney likes working with support props, such as a stability ball or foam roller, especially during rotation. One of her favorite modified Pilates exercises is placing a prop behind the body on the Reformer during Footwork. For more moves, check out Courtney's Pilates Anytime workouts.
Of all the benefits that Pilates gives the prenatal exerciser, this might be the biggest.
“My number-one rule with pregnant clients is that they let go of the ego and listen to their body," Courtney advises. "This is the time to let that competitive attitude go, and learn to become connected to your body and listen to your intuition. If you feel nauseous lying on your back, then don’t do it. If you’re feeling fatigued, don’t push yourself. I stopped doing supine work [lying on the back] after my first trimester, but did prone exercises [on the stomach] into the early part my third trimester because it didn’t bother me.”
Bottom line: Pilates empowers you to do what works for you. And that’s a beautiful thing.
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