Most pregnant women know that some form of exercise is not only safe when you’re “expecting,” but it is actually recommended. A general rule of thumb for pregnant exercising is to maintain your pre-pregnant workout regimen but be sure to listen to your body and don’t get overly ambitious—in other words, your second trimester is not the moment to start training for your first marathon. If you were formerly sedentary, however, it may be a great time to try Pilates.
Pilates is a low-impact workout that increases flexibility, strength, coordination, and balance. Its focus on the deep torso and abdominal muscles—known in Pilates parlance as “the powerhouse”—can not only help pregnant women stay fit during pregnancy, but can actually assist in labor and delivery as well as speed up postpartum recovery. Strength, balance, and coordination are all important goals for any individual, but for the pregnant woman it can be especially difficult to attain: her center of gravity is shifted; her overly lubricated joints can lead to dysfunction and pain; and her growing abdomen can weaken muscles and cause strain on hips and back. (And, as any pregnant woman knows, this is just to name a few of the weird and uncomfortable things that may happen to her!)
Pre- and post-natal Pilates can offer the following benefits:
- Relieve lower back strain
- Ease fatigue
- Relieve strains of pregnancy posture
- Prevent varicose veins, leg swelling, and incontinence
- Maintain flexibility and strength
- Increase stamina for the birthing process
- Increase blood flow and oxygen to your baby
- Recover abdominal strength and toning
- Relieve upper body tension from carrying the baby
- Quickly regain strength and energy
One of the central tenants of Pilates is breath. Mindful breathing positively affects blood flow to the brain and increases circulation for both mom and baby. Additionally, the breath work can help during delivery. Another attribute that separates Pilates from other types of exercise, such as aerobic or weight lifting, is circulation. During these traditional types of exercise, blood travels to the part of the body that is working, or the extremities. In Pilates, all movements are initiated from the “powerhouse,” which brings the blood flow toward the center of the body—toward the baby—giving him or her more, rather than less, oxygen.
While Pilates can be a safe and effective exercise for a pregnant woman to begin at any point in her pregnancy, she should seek out a Pilates instructor who is specifically trained in prenatal physiology. Certain moves and positions—such as lying on your back for prolonged periods after the first trimester—are generally not advised, as they can put pressure on a major artery (the vena cava) and lead to lowered blood pressure. A well-trained prenatal Pilates instructor will also ensure that the exercises are modified appropriately, as the pregnancy progresses. What you can do in your second trimester may not be advisable in your late third. But rest assured, that—unless your doctor or midwife advises otherwise—Pilates is a great exercise to do all the way up to your fortieth week… and beyond.