Carrie Macy Samper on Pregnancy, Pilates and Piecing It All Together

Carrie Macy Samper, National Pilates Training Manager for Equinox and Pilates Anytime Teacher, Shares Her Insights on Prenatal and Postnatal Pilates.

Editor's Note: this interview took place just before Carrie gave birth to her second child.

You're now in the third trimester of your second pregnancy. How does this pregnancy compare in general to your first?

Mentally and emotionally, this pregnancy is easier because I know what's going to happen. I know my body is going to look completely different during pregnancy, and I don't have a lot of control over that, which is mentally challenging. It sounds selfish, but it's a weird thing to go through. It was definitely harder to embrace this "different" body with my first pregnancy.

Physically, the second pregnancy has been harder. With the second pregnancy, you know that your body will be fine afterwards, and it will come back. But the pregnancy itself is harder, and moving around is harder, partly because your body has been through this before, so it expands more easily. I'm also in a slightly different place physically because I'm three years older, and I have another child, which makes it tough to get my workout in.

How has your Pilates practice changed since your first pregnancy?

My pelvis has never felt the same since my first pregnancy, and I had a lot of pain postpartum. So, I stopped doing many exercises that required me to have my legs wide and pressed in at the same time, Horseback, for example. I eliminated Side Splits, or I do them with more springs on, so it doesn’t get into my pelvis.

After years of dancing, I had neck issues that became worse after nursing my first son. So, I mostly retired any exercises that require going overhead where you’re almost in a shoulder stand position, like Overhead or Jackknife. It also was just really hard to get the right strength back to do these exercises.

On top of that, you’re caring for your child, and you don't have much time to do all the things that might facilitate healing, like going to physical therapy...and yoga...and getting a massage.

Carrie, her son, baby-on-the-way, and Mickey Mouse

Were there moments of disappointment in your prenatal Pilates practice?

Yes, the first time around there were moments of disappointment for sure! I had this sense that what I was doing was not Pilates. I felt like, "Ugh. I’m not doing my full workout. Forget it. Why bother?" But with this pregnancy, I have a more mature attitude about Pilates, and I try to see what I can get out of my Pilates workout. I look at it with less disappointment this time around.

At what point in your pregnancy did you stop your practice?

The first time around, I stopped practicing Pilates in my second trimester. I was disillusioned because my Pilates routine was so irregular, and the work felt very piecemeal. So, I switched to cardio and light weights, which made sense because those workouts were piecemeal by nature, and I expected that. With this pregnancy, though, I'm still practicing at 34 weeks. I’ve been able to embrace the different Pilates that I’m doing right now. Pilates feels really good, and yoga feels really good.

Did you ever feel fear or trepidation in your Pilates practice during pregnancy?

For my personal workout, I went into it not with fear, but caution. I eliminated things early versus waiting until an exercise felt bad. For example, I tried a little Semi-circle, and I felt a tiny pull. So, I said, “Okay. That's enough of that.” But I never had any fear about hurting the baby inside me. I was more worried about injuring myself because I knew the baby was so protected in there. (People do crazy things when they’re pregnant! So, I felt pretty sure that I was not going to hurt my baby doing Rowing on the Reformer.)

Also, because I was aware that Pilates felt different to me overall, I approached my prenatal practice thinking, “How can I do this exercise differently? Can I do this standing?” I tried to think outside the box as much as possible and to do as much Pilates as possible while eliminating anything that was uncomfortable.

How do you talk with your pregnant clients when they’re feeling fearful or hesitant?

I defer to the mother always. I try to be very aware of what she is feeling and what she is thinking a lot more than with other clients. If a mother tells me a Pilates exercise doesn’t feel good, I'll have her come out of that position. If any other client hesitates or expresses some reticence, I might make some adjustments, and I might make the judgment call to help them through it. But when someone is pregnant I'm not going to push them, and if it's an older pregnant mom I'm for sure not going to do that because that would irritate me as a client.

Carrie Teaches Rowing on the Reformer

How has your teaching approach changed with prenatal and postpartum Pilates clients?

I have a lot more compassion, for sure. It's not that I had a lack of compassion before, but I now have a deeper understanding, more empathy. During my first pregnancy, there were exercises in my own practice where I thought, “Why am I doing this?" And I realized there are a lot of Pilates exercises that are not contraindicated, or you should not necessarily eliminate during your pregnancy, yet they feel terrible. Why do something that doesn’t feel good? That understanding was eye-opening for me. And the way I worked with pregnant women shifted because I knew what they felt, and I understood why it’s not good to lie on your back for a long time. It just feels horrible. You have a 35-pound ball pressing into your gut.

Another big shift for me is that I now avoid any type of contraction of the rectus abdominus. Yes, Pilates is all about contracting the core - scooping, deepening, etc. During pregnancy, all of that has to be let go. Don’t worry about tightening, tightening, tightening. You have to make room because there's a baby in there. You also have to be able to release in order to give birth. You have to make adjustments. For clients, it's hard to shift focus from the Pilates they have always done. So, having that understanding allows me to help my pregnant clients feel more comfortable with their practice.

Are the considerations the same for working with pregnant clients who are younger versus women who pregnant in their 30s and 40s?

At 25, everything feels easier. Dancing is easier. Recovery is easier. Someone who is 25 might be able to do more or go faster than a 43-year-old in the same situation. So, you have to work with the client who's right in front of you. What they are feeling is important. And the main thing is to keep the communication open when working with a pregnant client - not overdoing it but finding out what's going on for their specific needs. It's so important to not make assumptions.

How has your workout schedule changed since having a child?

Watch: Carrie talks about finding time to workout post-pregnancy.

It’s really hard to work it in. Your child has to eat, he has to sleep, he has to get to school. I completely understand why mothers just stop. I totally get it. Because movement has always been a part of my life, though, I have to do it. If my body doesn’t move, I don’t feel good. But it’s just another part of my life where I’ve had to compromise. This is where my life is now, and this is what I get to do.

And the working-out-at-home thing is hard. When my son was little, sometimes I would do online Pilates or something else at home, but he doesn’t nap as much now. He’s running around, and he wants my attention. It’s impossible. So, any day I’m at the club (I work for Equinox.), I have a rule that I have to do something. I’m very lucky with my job. I can wear workout clothes to work, and I can do weights, or I can pop into the Pilates studio for 15 minutes between calls...and I have my rules!

How do you prioritize the different facets of your life?

There really is no way to “balance things.” It’s really challenging to wrap your mind around that because you have this huge challenge to be a mom and not miss anything, and then you have this challenge with the pull of your career. I think that may be a challenge of being a mom later in life: you’ve created this other life, and you don’t want to let go of that stuff either.

Carrie and Family at the Beach

So, you find the priority that day or that week. Maybe my son has a family brunch at 10:30 on Friday morning, so I’m going to brunch at his school. The next week, I have to travel to New York to teach seminars, so I am gone from home for six days.

It’s a puzzle, and it’s often that I’m shifting the puzzle around, and if I take my son with me to Kids' Club, I can do an hour of work, and then I can spend the afternoon with him...but, then, wait, that’s his naptime! So, it is always moving those puzzle pieces.

It's all a compromise and sacrifice in some ways. But would I rather be single, or would I rather have my husband, and my child, and dog? Of course, I choose the second! So, it's sacrifice for the greater good, and one I choose gladly.

Carrie Macy Samper
About the Author

Carrie Macy Samper

Carrie is the National Pilates Training Manager for Equinox. She has presented workshops for Balanced Body Pilates on Tour and currently is a presenter for the Pilates Method Alliance conference. Carrie is also the Pilates model for the Toesox ad campaign.


Alison D
1 person likes this.
Such a great article! I’m currently in the first trimester of my first pregnancy and I’ve just kind of been putting off my own practice for fear of it being nothing like what I can usually do - but now I can see that it’s just a mindset thing I can overcome here, it’s still worthwhile! 
Kiri F
I'm just finishing up my first trimester of first pregnancy and I totally relate to the dissappointment she describes....I feel like I can't do anything and its so hard to accept. Looking forward to moving more in my 2nd trimester and understanding that its going to be a new practice with this new and changing bod! Thanks for this article! So so helpful. 

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