Pilates Is the Safest and Most Effective Prenatal Workout
Exercise is highly beneficial during pregnancy not only for you but also for your baby, provided there are no complications. This article briefly reviews the benefits of the most popular prenatal workout, Pilates, as well as important precautions the expectant mother should be aware of when exercising during pregnancy.
Astounding New Research
A new study has found that as little as 20 minutes of exercise 3 times a week during pregnancy can increase the brain function of your child. Other research has found that moderate exercise (30 minutes a day) during pregnancy can improve back aches, prevent pregnancy-associated diabetes, and improve sleep. Pilates in particular has been proven to help with a host of additional issues that often arise during pregnancy such as fluid retention, change in the center of your gravity, cervical pain, reduction in lung capacity, ligament laxity, and muscle imbalance.
There’s simply no better exercise than Pilates during pregnancy. The emphasis on ‘core’ muscles and breathing are so important for a successful delivery and a healthy newborn. Additionally, the controlled and fluid movement unique to Pilates virtually eliminates any exercise risks to yourself or your child.
The following are important considerations for any kind of exercise during pregnancy. You and your doctor or midwife should review these in more detail before you begin.
- Skip all exercises on your belly until after your delivery so as not to place any weight upon your baby.
- Beginning in your second trimester, it is recommended that you eliminate back-lying poses, because this position places pressure on a major vein called the vena cava which can lessen blood flow to the uterus. Symptoms of vena cava obstruction are shortness of breath or nausea.
- I’ve avoided any inversion exercises such as the ‘Shoulder Stand Scissors & Bicycles,’ ‘Jack Knife,’ ‘Bridge,’ and ‘Corkscrew’ – those performed upside down or with the buttocks higher than the head – because there is a risk of embolism (artery obstruction by blood clot or air bubble) in the second and third trimester and postpartum period.
- Eliminate sharp percussive movements of any kind during your routine, such as vigorous sidekicks. I encourage slow and fluid movement at all times even if you aren’t pregnant because this also eliminates wear and tear on your joints.
- Don’t do any extreme stretching during pregnancy, because your joints are being flooded with a hormone known as relaxin which makes muscles, tendons, and ligaments more pliable to help facilitate labor. The down side of this pregnancy hormone is that it puts you at greater risk for muscle strains and sprains during exercise and particularly stretching. The Pilates emphasis on controlled movement prevents overstretching.
- Your sense of balance is a huge issue during pregnancy. As your baby grows, your center of gravity shifts. Familiar ways of moving can become a surprising challenge such as using a ball or even simply getting up off your mat. The good news is that each Pilates exercise I present below is safely strengthening and stretching core muscles that create greater balance.
- Stop and rest if you feel breathless, dizzy, or light-headed. Fitness experts suggest the talk test. If you are too winded to say one word, it is time to slow down. Other signs that you need to take a break are nausea, racing heart, shortness of breath, uterine contractions, bleeding or leaking fluid, and headache.
- You may need to find an alternative way to ‘engage your core.’ If you already use such methods as ‘scooping your abs’ or ‘finding a c-curve in your belly’ or ‘navel to spine’ these simply don’t work during pregnancy. Try a simple modification such as my favorite which is simply ‘squeezing your buttocks.’
- Be on the lookout for ‘diastasis’ which is a separation of abdominal muscle tissue that occurs in some women during pregnancy. If this happens to you it is wise to stop all exercise until after delivery. In About.com’s guide to exercise, Paige Waehner, in Pregnancy Today describes a way to check yourself for this condition, “To check for [diastasis], lie on your back with knees bent and place your fingertips about 1 or 2 inches below your belly button, fingers pointing toward your feet. Lift your head as high as you can and, if you feel a ridge protruding from the middle of your belly, that’s a diastasis. Pay attention to how you feel, and if you experience any discomfort in your abdominals or back, stop!” I would only add that it is important to also check this with your doctor.
- Stay hydrated – remember that you are eating and drinking for two!
There are 17 Pilates mat exercises that are perfect for the pregnant mother. Complete video instructions can be found here. These exercises require no equipment or a gym so you can do them in the comfort and convenience of your home or work place.
Pilates works your entire body with an emphasis on the ‘core’ muscles surrounding the center of your body which include the abdominals, obliques, back, and Kegel muscles which are all key to a more comfortable pregnancy and delivery.
In the great tradition of Pilates exercise – now nearly 100 years old – there is a tremendous emphasis on breathing, and this is particularly beneficial during pregnancy to feed oxygen and energy to every cell of your body and that of your child – no wonder the research cited above found larger brains in the newborns of women who exercised during pregnancy.
About the Author
Bob has been teaching Pilates for nearly 4 decades, and is the author of the ebook, Prenatal Pilates – The Best Exercise For You & Your Child During Pregnancy available at Amazon.