The benefits of exercising during pregnancy are indisputable. Reduction of back pain, easing of constipation, decreasing your risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and Cesarian delivery are only a few benefits. But there’s also the promotion of healthy weight gain in pregnancy and help with losing the baby weight afterward.
I always advise women to pick exercise programs that bring them happiness and joy instead of dreading the movement. You have lots of choices when it comes to joyful movement including walking, swimming, stationary biking, as well as modified Yoga and Pilates to name a few.
I fell in love with Pilates the second I tried it. I loved the way my body felt long and lean and toned. I loved mentally connecting to the smaller yet super important muscles way down deep. With a few modifications, I was able to continue the exercises I loved during 3 pregnancies from the moment I found out I was pregnant until the very day I delivered those little nuggets.
While it’s next to impossible to narrow down my favorites, here are my top 8 Prenatal Pilates exercises and why they are perfect for your pregnant body.
This exercise gives you a great opportunity to practice finding a neutral spine position. I ask my clients to engage all 4 parts of their deep inner core BEFORE moving on. They take turns inhaling and sliding one leg long out on the mat feeling the length in their body. Then they exhale and ask their deep abdominals to pull the leg back in. One simple exercise but it creates a body that feels long and leans while toning the deep abdominals to better support the baby in pregnancy. The breathwork helps tap into the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest).
The modification includes laying over an incline, knees bent and feet flat, keeping the head down. Once again, all 4 parts of the deep inner core are engaged first. Next clients bring their right knee towards their chest, hands-on their shin. As they exhale, they gently pull the knee closer to stretch the hip, on the inhale they extend their leg long, equal to the height of their bent knee while extending both arms overhead, feeling the length in their body from fingertips to toes. This is another great way to activate the deep abdominals while encouraging the ribs to stay together when they are so often being splayed outwards in pregnancy.
This ain’t your mama’s bridge. It starts with finding your pelvic floor muscles, then pulling in your deep abdominals, then rocking back and rolling up into the bridge position allowing the front of your pregnant body to enjoy the most delicious stretch. To return, fold from your bra line and articulate your spine down one bone at a time like you are crushing a line of grapes underneath you one at a time. When your tailbone arrives back on the mat, allow your pelvic floor muscles to melt open. Pure GOLD!!! It takes your sacrum through the very range of motion it will need during vaginal birth, making sure the sacral ligaments and attachments are stretched and ready for you while training the pelvic floor to contract and relax!
Now, this might not always be part of a classic Pilates sequence, but this is where it’s important to “obey the principles without being bound by them”. (Thank you, Bruce Lee) Short doses of being in the all 4’s position can allow you to unweight the baby from the spine providing some much-needed relief. By exhaling, tucking your chin to your chest, and rounding through the upper back you allow the most amazing stretch to take place. Then gently inhale and sink into a slight arch in your spine. Once again, your sacrum rocks back and forth much like it will be asked to do during vaginal childbirth.
Spending too much time in the all 4’s position does have the chance of putting too much pressure on the connective tissue between your two “6 pack” muscles so it’s important to hug your baby up towards your spine with this exercise instead of letting your baby hang on the tissue. Imagine you have a cup of icy cold water on your lower back. Extend one leg long while extending the opposite arm in front of you, keeping the baby pulled up and the pelvis level so as not to spill your imaginary ice water. Here’s the cherry on top: while the opposite arm and leg are extended, engage your pelvic floor muscles. Amazing!
This might be my favorite stretch of all time. In fact, I wrote a blog just about this one exercise. Sitting on your left hip with your legs staggered out to your right, bring your right hand to your right ankle and your left-hand overhead. Grow tall through the crown of your head and your left fingertips (without shrugging), round your body towards the right like you are rounding over a giant beach ball. Feel the most amazing stretch in the side of your body and take a few deep rib breaths to stretch your intercostal muscles. Then drop down onto your left forearm as your right arm takes a turn rounding over towards the left. Return to your staggered sitting position and extend both arms into a “T” position like you’re going to touch the opposite walls of the room until you feel the stretch under your arms, near your armpits. Not only does this stretch help create “space” and lengthening in the torso, it also stretches the thoracic outlet, an important area of nerves near your armpit that are sometimes responsible for creating numbness and tingling in the wrist and hands if compressed as is common in pregnancy.
I don’t even know where to start with the benefits of this amazing series. Plus it’s tough…..you WILL feel the burn. There are several different exercises in this sequence that are performed while you are on your side. It works the tiny internal and external rotators of the hip, and I can’t emphasize the importance of strengthening these muscles to help your body support your baby in pregnancy but also to prepare your hips to birth your baby in a vaginal delivery.
Lying on your side bring your knees and hips to a 90-degree angle and extend both arms, one on top of the other, out in front of you. Inhale as you lift the top arm up towards the ceiling, then exhale and allow that same arm to open all the way up as you attempt to set it on the floor behind you. Inhale to expand the rib cage, and on the exhale engage your deep abdominals to draw the arm back to the starting point. Do a few reps before repeating on the other side. It’s a great way to release tension from your chest and shoulders, an area that is often tight from the weight of your growing breasts.
What’s best is that each one of these can be modified for just about everyone, from the seasoned athlete to the woman who has been fairly sedentary. Struggling with back pain? No problem, we can shift positions and still get the benefits of the moves while keeping you comfortable!
Many women feel confident designing their own exercise program in pregnancy and I’m cheering you on! But if you, like me, have less anxiety when an expert can take you by the hand and help you out, I’d love to be that expert for you.