How To Do Prenatal Pilates

From Bodylove Pilates’ Ali Handley

There are so many wonderful benefits if you are able to do regular pilates when you become pregnant. Pilates offers a mind-body approach that globally strengthens the body with particular focus on the muscles of the deep core to support you through your entire pregnancy, prepare you for labor and ensure you make a quicker postpartum recovery. For these reasons and many more, Pilates is a popular form of exercise for pregnant women. Here are my top tips and moves for all you pilates newbies to ensure you are working out safely and effectively – and in a way that will see you reap the rewards of making pilates part of your mama-to-be workout routine.

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Research your instructor or studio.

Whether you are taking group classes, private sessions or have joined an online studio – do your research. It’s really important to have well-educated instructors that have experience and proper training to be working with prenatal women. Ask around your friends, facebook groups and read reviews and testimonials. Part of why Pilates is so popular for pregnant women is that almost every move can be modified, so having an instructor who knows what modifications are needed to make Pilates exercises safe and effective for you is key. A Prenatal Pilates program should emphasize deep core strengthening – which means no crunch type moves, exercises should provide overall stability for the body – particularly the pelvis. You should always be working to counter the changes that occur over the course of 9+ months.

Listen to your body.

My rule of thumb for all prenatal clients is – if it doesn’t feel right, stop! Now isn’t the time to push yourself when something doesn’t feel good and you should never, ever work through pain. If you feel too hot, stop – cool off and hydrate. If you ever feel a tugging or pulling apart of your abdominals, stop – the movement is likely causing damage to your Linea Alba, the connective tissue that goes down the midline of your tummy. If you are feeling a stabbing, tugging feeling inside your vagina or an ache in your low back, stop – there is likely imbalance in your pelvis and that particular exercise is aggravating it. Talk to your instructor about what’s going on so they can make a modification for or direct you to your healthcare practitioner.

Practice deep core activation and avoid traditional ab exercises.

When you are pregnant, your abdominals experience extensive changes. One of the major changes is the fact that your 6-pack muscle group divides and separates down the midline of the body, causing what is known as Diastasis Recti. This dysfunction means that you should avoid all exercises that activate the 6-pack so you don’t cause further damage to the stretched tissues, making your postpartum recovery much slower. You should no longer be doing traditional abdominal exercises like crunches, and classic Pilates moves like roll-up or teaser. Instead focus on the deep core muscles – the Transverse Abdominis (TVA) and the Pelvic Floor (PFM) – which, when activated correctly, pull the two sides of the abs closer, providing support for your pelvis, spine and baby.

Try to do the short deep core series below every day – it will take 5 minutes and make all the difference!

CAUTION – Know how to get up and down off the mat safely.

When you are pregnant, you want to make sure you are not doing any crunch type moves, so this means you need to be cautious when getting up and off the mat. It’s important you bring this awareness to your everyday activities as well – getting up off the couch, out of bed, out of a taxi!

From a seated position, slide all the way down until you are side lying. Only when your head is completely down can you roll onto your back! To come back up – Roll over onto your side. Using your top arm, push yourself up to an upright seated position.

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Hug Your Baby:

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This is one of my favorite exercises to do when pregnant – it makes you feel supported, in control of your changing belly and connects the movement of your muscles with your baby.

Set-up – Get seated comfortably in neutral – on a physioball, yoga block or bolster, household chair. Just make sure you are evenly on your sitting bones.

Inhale through your nose and allow your belly to fill up with air and your stomach muscles to completely relax.

Exhale a long, slow, even breath out your mouth as you imagine your TVA wrapping around your baby and hugging it into your spine.

REPS – 3 sets of 10

TVA Counting:

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The goal of this TVA exercise is to challenge your ability to maintain the hug your baby connection to your spine. Start by counting to 10 and build to 50 or even 100.

Set-up – Seated in neutral spine and pelvis on a physioball, yoga block or bolster, a household chair.

Inhale through your nose and allow your belly to fill up with air and muscles relax.

Exhale a long, slow, even breath out your mouth and image pulling your belly button all the way to your spine, the TVA wrapping around your baby – hugging it into your spine. Hold that connection and begin to count out loud. Make sure to take small sips of air as you count. The goal is to be able to maintain the connection whilst breathing.

REPS – Start by counting to 10 and build to 50 or even 100. Do 5 sets of counting to 10.

Bird Dog:

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In this exercise, we challenge your core connection and the stability it provides your spine and pelvis by moving the arms and legs. The goal is for nothing in the spine to change as you complete the exercise,

Set-up – In the all-fours position. Wrists are under and in line with the shoulders and knees are under and in line with the pelvis. The spine is in neutral.

Inhale through your nose and allow your belly to fill up with air, the muscles to relax, and your baby to fall down toward the mat.

Exhale a long, slow, even breath out your mouth and imagine pulling your belly button all the way to your spine, the TVA wrapping around your baby – hugging it into your spine. Hold that connection as you reach your left arm and right leg out in opposite directions.

Inhale again, maintain the connection as you bring the arm and legs back to the start position.

REPS – 8 each side

Knee Hovers:

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In knee hovers the movement is very small and controlled. The goal is for nothing in your spine to change as you hug your baby up so much that you are able to hover the knees off the mat.

Set-up – In the All-Fours position. Wrists are under and in line with the shoulders and knees are under and in line with the pelvis. The spine is in neutral.

Inhale through your nose and allow your belly to fill up with air, the muscles to relax, and your baby to fall down toward the mat.

Exhale a long, slow, even breath out your mouth and imagine pulling your belly button all the way to your spine, the TVA wrapping around your baby – hugging it into your spine. Then, with control, hover the knees off the mat.

Inhale again through the nose and hold the position, keeping the baby all the way into the spine.

Exhale again out the mouth, deepen the core connection, and with control, lower the knees back down.

Have you read Ali’s post on  postnatal core exercises? Also see this guide on how to keep a tight derriere while pregnant