This is a topic that I have been eager to write about for a while now. I have spent years working with pregnant clients both in the physiotherapy clinic and in the Pilates studio and with a deep understanding of the anatomical and physiological changes that occur during pregnancy, I have seen the impact Pilates can have.
Pilates is not only safe to do during pregnancy but recommended. In fact, the ACOG (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) recommends strength conditioning and aerobic exercise in pregnancy. It is however, important that you gain clearance to exercise from your obstetrician, midwife or GP as there are some medical reasons to avoid exercise.
What are the benefits of Pilates during pregnancy?
This list could’ve gone for days but I have narrowed it down to the 5 most important benefits of Pilates in pregnancy:
1. Prenatal Pilates Strengthens The Pelvic Floor Muscles
The pelvic floor muscles are a group of muscles in the pubic region that attach from the pubic bone, to the tailbone and sitting bones. Think of these muscles as a sling that support the organs in the pelvic region (including the uterus and growing baby in pregnancy) and also help with continence, which is the control of release of urine (wee), faeces (poo) and flatus (wind). Now in pregnancy, there is extra pressure on the pelvic floor muscles due to the increase in the weight of the pelvic cavity so these muscles need to work harder to counteract that force.
Building strength through the pelvic floor muscles will also help prevent incontinence and other pelvic floor problems.
Here is a 4 minute Pelvic Floor Strength video. I recommend doing this daily throughout pregnancy.
2. Prenatal Pilates Will Build Stability In The Pelvis And Hips
In pregnancy, the body changes and adapts to accommodate the growing baby. Some of the biggest physical changes occur around the pelvis as certain hormones allow the joints to relax and the pelvis to expand. While this is a necessary and important change of the body, it’s important to build strength around the pelvis to ensure that the body feels supported and stable in these changes. Specific Pilates strengthening exercises can help build this support. Exercises like clams, donkey kick, bird dog and squats are all important exercises to build this stability.
This 15 minute side lying glute strength video is a must!
3. Prenatal Pilates Helps Prepare The Body For Labour
The labour experience is different for everyone but for most women, it’s an experience that requires endurance and stamina. Pilates classes can help prepare women for the labour experience by working on both the strength in the global muscles of the body but also by working on cardiovascular endurance. Cardiovascular exercise is safe and recommended for pregnancy, as long as you are able to talk while exercising (this is called the talk test), and as long as no symptoms of dizziness or nausea are experienced.
Here is a 10 minute High Intensity Pilates class designed for pregnancy.
4. Strengthen The Deep Abdominal Muscles
As a pregnancy develops, the muscles of the abdomen stretch to make space and accommodate the growth of the baby. One of these muscles is called the rectus abdominis (your 6 pack muscle), and it has a thin layer of tissue called the linea alba between the bands of muscle. As the belly stretches, so too does the linea alba. This is a natural part of pregnancy and most women will experience this stretch, called a diastasis rectus abdominis, by the third trimester. While this stretch closes for some women postnatally, for others, the stretch of the tissue doesn’t heal naturally. It’s important to heal a diastasis postnatally (I’ll talk about this in a separate blog post) but there are things to do in pregnancy to assist with postpartum recovery.
The way to do this is to develop an activation through the deep abdominal muscles - the pelvic floor and the transversus abdominis. Think of these muscles as the core muscles as they lie deep in the body and help build deep stability. Prenatal Pilates integrates this activation through all exercise.
5. Pilates Helps Build Strength For Postpartum
Once the baby arrives, the heavy lifting really begins! That’s because there’s a lot of carrying, feeding, settling, changing and lifting associated with a newborn. So, it’s important to get your body ready for this during pregnancy. Pilates classes focus on this whole body strength training through exercises like squats, lunges, clams, push ups, weights and more.
This 30 minute class with weights is great for building full body functional strength.
What about the mental health benefits of Pilates in pregnancy?
So that concludes the physical and anatomical reasons why Pilates is great for pregnancy but Pilates can do more than that, it can improve your mental health as well. Pilates can have a calming effect on the body as you move through breath led exercises and have a chance to focus on what your body feels. It’s a form of mindfulness, or moving meditation. In pregnancy, a mindful movement practice is important to calm the nervous system and connect into your body.
Remember to consult your obstetrician with any questions you have.
Head to my website for more information on Prenatal Pilates and start your two week free trial today.