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If you find yourself pregnant and not sure what you can and can’t do with regards to exercises, then starting Pilates is a great low impact, strengthening workout that will keep you strong during your pregnancy but also prepare you for the demands of labour and motherhood. 

Pilates involves a variety of movements that can be adapted to suit all stages of pregnancy. The movements are done in a controlled way and in a variety of positions such as standing, side lying, kneeling or on hands and knees. Although Pilates can adapt exercises to suit you, its important to listen to your body and stop if there is pain!

A specific prenatal Pilates class will ensure you work your whole body to build strength, and it will also help ensure you develop a more functional core connection by integrating breathe and pelvic floor through movement. This will better support your growing bump and also reduce the loading (from your growing bump) down in your pelvis. 

Aim to do atleast 2 sessions of building strength per week and give yourself a rest day between these two sessions. If you are new to Pilates, keep the intensity low and build moderately. Your breathing will be able to help you with this, if you can talk through an exercise you are not overexerting. If you can’t talk then you may be over working and need to slow down a little. 

Although Pilates is a fabulous exercise to start and continue through your pregnancy, there are a few things you should avoid; 

First Trimester (1-12 weeks)

This is where you are at the most risk of a miscarriage. Pilates is a safe exercise to perform but the intensity must be lighter to avoid increase in body temperature and heart rate. Elevating too much can increase risk of a miscarriage. Although your bump may not show, I would recommend reducing the amount of ‘crunch’ type exercises and focus on pelvic floor and a more integrated functional approach to core strength. 

Second Trimester (13-26 weeks)

  1. Avoid Flexion to help reduce increasing pressure on your abdominal midline which can increase chances of Diastasis Recti.
  2. Avoid lying on your back. We want to reduce the effects of supine hypotensive disorder (a compression of a main artery that returns blood back to the heart. This may cause you to feel faint or dizzy and reduce the oxygen supply to the baby. 
  3. Avoid lying on your stomach, this may just start to feel uncomfortable and be too much pressure on your growing belly. 

Third Trimester (27 weeks to birth)

During this trimester, your baby may an increased growth spurt and this can cause more of a dramatic posture change. Its important in pilates during this stage to focus on reducing the pressure of the lower back and doing more stretching and back strengthening exercises. 

Other considerations

  1. Always wear layers so that you can adjust your temperature to keep cool during your workouts! A baby cannot regulate their temperature so relies on you to control overheating!
  2. Stay hydrated during and after your workouts
  3. Avoid any contact/hitting sports such as Boxing, Kickboxing or Jujitsu.
  4. Always do a longer than usual warm up and cool down to avoid blood pooling and leg cramps!
  5. Activate your pelvic floor throughout all your movements to ensure you remain strong and supported in your pelvis. 
  6. Stop if you feel dizzy, nauseous, vaginal bleeding or leakage of amniotic fluid. 

I hope this helps to put you at ease that being active and healthy throughout your pregnancy is so important for mind and body. I hope you find doing Pilates regularly helps to support you and build strength and confidence throughout your pregnancy. 

Why you should do Pilates when you are Pregnant?

From the beginning of your pregnancy to the end, your body experiences the most amazing changes that are designed to help you carry your baby and eventually delivery your baby. With these changes, your body will become stretched, strained, weakened, tight and/or overused.  These adaptations can be very tiring for your body and can often increase over the length of your pregnancy. By maintaining good postural and body awareness from the start of your pregnancy can help to support and maintain your changing body over the different trimesters.

Pilates is the perfect low impact workout to do during pregnancy. Pilates is the type of exercise that involves using your core (the abdominals, pelvic floor, back muscles and diaphragm) to help you move efficiently and promotes restoring correct posture and alignment.  (This is important during pregnancy but REALLY IMPORTANT for your post- natal recovery especially if you have a diastasis recti separation.) It links movement exercises with your pelvic floor and this is greatly needed as a mum when your body is in such great demand to feed, carry, lift, push and care for your baby.

What physical changes take place in pregnancy?

  1. Weakened abdominals (due to the growing bump)
  2. Weak pelvic floor muscles (due to the downward pressure from carrying baby inside)
  3. Increased lumbar (lower back) lordosis (arching)
  4. Forward tilted pelvis (due to growing bump pulling pubic bone downward)
  5. Weakened glute muscles
  6. Thoracic tightness and kyphosis (due to growing breasts)
  7. Tight adductor muscles (due to pelvic tilt forward)

At the end of your first trimester, the hormone, Relaxin is released into your body; however it can be present earlier. Relaxin’s main role is to loosen and relax the pelvic floor muscles making it ready for a vaginal delivery. Relaxin affects most of your ligaments and connective tissues in your body due to its ‘loosening’ affect and therefore helps to stretch your abdominals to accommodate the growing baby; and your ribcage so that your body can adjust to the pressure of the diaphragm from your growing uterus.

Pilates exercises will;

  1. Strengthen your abdominals, back and pelvic floor muscles
  2. Help relax you due to the focus each exercise needs. There is much evidence to show how effective relaxation is on your mental and physical health.
  3. Establishes good breathing techniques. Exhale on the hard phase of the exercise and inhale on the easier phase of the exercise. The exhale increases your intra-abdominal pressure. This gives your body more strength during the movement which will be beneficial to know and do when you are lifting, carrying, holding and caring for your baby. Practice makes perfect, right!
  4. Provide pelvic stability and strength to help support your growing bump. This can reduce Pelvic Girdle Pain (PGP) which is the umbrella term for all pelvic pain during pregnancy. (please see blog on PGP for more information)
  5. Create mobility in your stiff areas such as spine, shoulders and neck. Due to the changing posture these areas are prone to more stiffness and our westernized lifestyles of Sitting, driving and watching TV does not help)
  6. Open up the front of your body by enjoying some much needed stretches
  1. Restore good posture
  2. Create postural awareness throughout your pregnancy to help a better and faster post-natal recovery. This is important if you suffer with a Diastasis Recti separation as an imbalance in pelvic neutral, ribcage displacement (from carrying your baby) and chest breathing patterns can all inhibit the healing of a DR. (please see my blog on What is a diastasis recti?)
  3. Strengthen all major muscles in preparation for delivery.
  4. Strengthen all major muscles for the physical demands of being a mum!

Physically-fit Pilates is a fantastic class that will continue teach you about your posture, create awareness about your posture, teach you how to perform your pelvic floor exercises correctly, build body confidence during and after your pregnancy, breathe for abdominal strength as well as relaxation, teach you functional mum movements to get you strong for all the lifting, carrying, pushing and pulling you will be doing as a mum and of course a great place to meet other like minded mums and be yourself! I look forward to seeing you at a pilates class!

So, many mums ask me this in my pre natal Pilates classes and the truth is there is no right answer. I am sorry I can’t make it black and white for you but that’s the way it is I am afraid. With every woman being very different and experiencing pregnancy differently makes how you exercise during your pregnancy very specific to each woman. Where some women feel sick in their first trimester, some may feel sick throughout which may make wanting to exercise a challenge. Some may experience pelvic pain and others have a blissful pain free pregnancy. So, everyone is different and your level of what you would like to do will vary from woman to woman and from each trimester.

So, as it’s very different and unique to each woman exercising pre pregnancy it’s the same school of thought for post- delivery. However, there are a few more things to consider. How was your delivery? Did you tear? How big was the tear? Did you have a c-section? And the list goes on. Don’t panic…. you will be able to exercise again and start to feel your ‘old self again’ but when you start will be specific to a number of factors. So, please don’t rush back to running 2 weeks post baby (you laugh but people do this!!) and please ensure you have had your 6 week GP check or/and consulted a pre and post natal exercise specialist for advice on when you can start and at what level you should be starting from. One exercise you can start with immediately after giving birth is your pelvic floor exercises and breathing correctly.

Cortisol Levels

Another reason as to take it easy on getting back to exercise to soon after delivery is the adrenal hormone cortisol. When you exercise, your adrenal glands pump out cortisol to increase your heart rate and breathing rate, and to increase blood flow to your muscles. There is a significant drop in cortisol levels post-delivery, going out for a run two weeks after giving birth will draw on the tapped resources of your adrenals before they are ready, and this will knock your recovering body out of balance. There are also many studies showing that most new mums have an elevated level of cortisol in their system to deal with the interrupted sleep and demands of new born baby. A high level of cortisol sitting in your system has been shown to slow wound healing, so if you have suffered from an episiotomy, diastasis separation or C-section this will have an effect on how quickly you recovery post-delivery. 

Flexible Ligaments

You may have enjoyed an increased degree of flexibility during pregnancy. Your joints will still be loose for the first few weeks post-delivery and loose ligaments mean greater risk of injury. Exercising too hard in those first weeks can also delay the healing of episiotomy and caesarean section. If you haemorrhaged after giving birth, you may be anaemic, and you will need to build up your iron levels for a while before you’re ready to exercise. Consider taking a supplement that will have a good level of iron and increase your dark green leafy veg intake. 

So, in general there is no right answer, seek medical help or advice from a pre and post natal fitness specialist to get a guideline on when to start and most importantly listen to your body.

Happy exercising x

Here are some guidelines to help you continue doing just that….

You have just found out that you are pregnant and love training hard. There has been loads of research to say keeping active in your pregnancy is very beneficial to mum and baby. Barring any complications and contraindications you should continue to exercise for best health and outcomes.

But how hard should you be training? More specifically should you be exercising at a High Intensity Interval Training (HITT) or keeping it at a low to moderate level for all workouts?

Risks Vs Benefits

We have to consider the risks vs benefits and always in pregnancy the benefits must outweigh the risks. So, there is no need to stop training and I think you can train successfully and safely at higher intensity but this must be planned and programmed into your training not done on a whim at the end of your training because you used to do that. All this needs to be planned and done with safety in mind.

So, how do we do that?

  1. Heart rate 

Is there a specific heart rate you should not exceed during exercise whilst pregnant? No, there are no hard and fast heart rate guidelines as there once was (back in the day there was a guideline of keeping 140bpm, but this was obsolete in the 1980’s) Whilst you can track your heart rate throughout your workout in pregnancy out of interest, you don’t need to worry about keeping it at 140bpm if you feel comfortable raising it above this.

  1. Rate of Perceived Exertion

RPE is a better means of monitoring your exercise intensity in pregnancy. A rough guide is 1 = lying on a couch and 10 = sweating profusely, can’t talk, completely out of breath. So you can work at a challenging rate of ‘somewhat hard to hard’ level. You may not want to workout at ‘very hard to very very hard.’ You should feel a bit breathless but can speak and feel your heart pumping and breathing rate increased. Please note that during pregnancy you will also feel more breathless on exertion, this is normal so this rate is relative to how you are feeling now not what you used to do when not pregnant.

  1. Body Temperature and Hydration

Body temperature is something you will want to be aware of during higher intensity exercise. There is a concern that high body temperatures could cause birth defects especially in first trimester. It is recommended to keep your body temperature under 38 degrees Celsius. It is recommended to wear layers when exercising so you can take a layer off if you get too hot. Even find a spot near the air conditioning to help keep you cooler if needed. Keeping well hydrated during exercise is even more important in pregnancy. You should be looking to take in 500ml-1Litre during your workout.

  1. High Impact and Plyometric Exercise Caution

This should be avoided in pregnancy due to the downward pressure on your pelvic floor from the increasing size and weight of the uterus, placenta, foetus and normal weight gain of pregnancy can be difficult enough for the pelvic organs (bladder, uterus and rectum) to endure.

We need to also consider the release of Relaxin at around 24-27 weeks. This is a hormone that helps to make the soft tissues of our body more lax to help with labour and delivery. Running, Burpees and Jump Squats will only make this downward pressure worse.

Good news though, this state is only temporary and for now you and baby are what’s most important so don’t panic, there are plenty of other exercise alternatives you can do to keep healthy and active during your pregnancy.