If you were a Pilates fan before pregnancy, you might be curious about the potential benefits it can bring to you during pregnancy, and how to safely engage in a few exercises while sporting a bump. Here to share her experience and advice is Brooke Siler, certified Pilates instructor and author of the New York Times best selling book The Pilates Body. Brooke has trained Madonna, Kirsten Dunst, Amber Valletta, and others at her re:AB Pilates studio in New York City.
The Pregnant Pilates Scoop
I was told throughout my pregnancy that because I was so abdominally fit I would just do a roll-up (the Pilates equivalent of a sit-up) and the baby would come “flying out.” Well you can imagine my disappointment when I was in the delivery room doing my best impression of a roll-up and the doctor was raising an eyebrow. Finally, (and I might add with a very special disdain reserved for speaking to complete idiots) she said to me, “What on earth are you doing?” (Need I tell you that this is not the time you want to be questioned on your technique.) I said, “I’m contracting my abs and scooping!” “Well don’t!” she snorted. “You’re pulling the baby further away!”
She followed this with a brilliant piece of information I wish I’d had months earlier: “Don’t scoop … Poop!”
So there I was all these months practicing my Pilates “In and Up” thinking “Won’t I be the talk of the hospital when I give birth in under 10 seconds” and I was actually reversing the “Down & Out” process. Had I known that the process of pushing the baby out was the exact opposite of those we employ in Pilates (it’s certainly a big head smacker now) perhaps I could have saved myself some vital brain energy. But let’s not dwell. Instead you should profit from my ignorance.
The moral of the story is that while all the Pilates “Scooping” in the world may not be the panacea to giving birth, its benefits are still well worth the price of admission. Pilates helps build your energy reserves, the focus on focus helps take your mind off the impending labor, it’s confidence building and relaxing, it has fabulous circulatory benefits for both mom and baby, it’ll help your breathing, and it provides wonderful relief from any pain or discomfort along the way.
So what DO we want to do to prepare for birth and beyond?
Well, believe it or not, it’s still very important to strengthen the abdominal muscles to support the weight of the baby as it grows inside you, and to maintain the integrity and suppleness of the tissue in order for the abs to stretch more effectively and then shorten quickly afterwards. So if you have been doing Pilates for years, by all means continue and make sure you are working with a teacher who understands the myriad changes on the horizon.
However during pregnancy the rule is to refocus your goals to: Assess vs. Progress & Maintain vs. Gain!
This means don’t go adding super new moves you’ve never tried before. Also, listen, listen, listen to what your body is telling you! The increasing weight of the baby and inherent cardio output of the heart pumping for two make everyday a workout. You’ll need to remain umpteen times more vigilant about staying hydrated and beware gravity shifts that make balancing a safety risk.
When it comes to Pilates training it becomes increasingly difficult to engage from our deep abdominal muscles. After all, there’s something now parked in our “Powerhouse” space, so we can work on strengthening the endurance muscles, the large “slow twitch” muscles (their fibers have a slower contraction time), used for holding posture instead of the ones reserved for strength and speed.
Here are two portable, multi-tasking moves to take with you throughout your pregnancy. They both have the proper pregnancy pedigree: simple, safe and stable.
Sliding Down the Wall
2 lb. hand weights can be added to work upper body.
Start with your back against a wall and walk your feet about a foot and a half away from the baseboard. Open your feet to shoulders’ width (wider if needed as the months progress) and arms by your sides (with or without weights). Staying aware of your back flush to the wall, bend your knees and slide down until your hips are about 6” above your knees. (knees are directly above ankles). Hold this position for a count of three and slide back up the wall.
Do not allow the feet or knees to roll in or out.
(Don’t do these all at once. Pick a few each day to play with.)
• Hold squat position for counts of 5 and then 8 before sliding up again.
• While in squat position circle your arms (with or without weights) 5x in each direction. Keep blades flush to wall. Increase size of circles.
• While in squat position raise arms (with or without weights) above head until they touch the wall overhead. Bring them back down or leave overhead as you slide up again.
• While in squat position lift arms to shoulder-height and then open arms straight out to your sides until they touch the walls (with or without weights). Bring them back in and then down as you slide up again.
Angled Wall Push Ups, a.k.a. “It’s Okay to put Baby in the Corner”
Stand facing a furniture-free corner and measure one arm’s length away. Legs should be parallel and open to hips’ width. Place one hand on each wall with heels of hands at shoulder height and wider than shoulders’ width. Turn hands so that fingertips face each other. Bend your arms and allow your chest to near wall without collapsing in low back (keep those expanding tummy muscles engaged!). Hold for a count of three and then push away until arms are straight again.
Reminders: Keep your elbows wide to the sides, shoulders low and be aware of your blades drawing together as you bend and drifting apart as you straighten. Repeat these 3-5 times.
Consult your doctor before participating in any fitness routine.