Top 5 Pilates exercises for a stronger pregnancy
By Ali Handley
I like to think of labor like running a marathon – you need to train for it. You’ll need to summon muscle strength and endurance, physical stamina and a lot of mind control. As you enter your third trimester, and approach your due date, it’s time to start to include exercises and workouts that target the muscles you will need to get through the challenges of childbirth and set you up for a speedy postnatal recovery. But never forget – your body was made for this! Unlike a marathon that you may or may not complete, you absolutely will cross the finish line and at the end, your prize is your beautiful baby! Now lets start training!
If you plan on having natural childbirth it’s important to have strong legs in order to hold certain birthing positions and support you throughout the challenges of labor. But no matter how you give birth, you will certainly need good lower body muscle endurance as you reach the final weeks of pregnancy and your baby is getting bigger and bigger. When you are postnatal strong legs will get you through all the hours ahead spent standing, rocking and stroller pushing. Plies are a great exercise to strengthen the legs and glutes plus it’s a fun and safe cardio you can continue all the way up until the day you give birth.
Inhale – Through your nose and bend your knees, lowering straight down into a plié. Exhale – Out your mouth – lift the pelvic floor, hug your baby, push through your feet and stand back up to the start position.
TIP – Holding a low plié and breathing is an awesome way for you to challenge your mind control skills for labor – test yourself to see how long you can hold the plié, focusing on your inhale and exhale – ignoring the muscle burn of your thighs!
During your 1st and 2nd trimesters all we talk about it is strengthening your pelvic floor muscles to keep the baby in. Now that you are in your 3rd trimester you also need to stretch and fully release your pelvic floor so the baby can come out! As you approach the final weeks I recommend including pelvic floor stretching in all your workouts and even daily as you get closer and closer to the birth. Believe me – you’ll thank me later!
Place a yoga block or stack of pillows against the wall. Stand with your back to the wall with your feet out in front of you. Slowly slide down the wall, your pelvic floor fully releasing as you go. Keep going down and begin to feel the pelvic floor stretch until you reach the yoga block/pillows. Once you are down, slowly butterfly the knees open and gently apply pressure just above the knees to get an additional stretch. Hold the stretch for 90 secs. Close the knees and then repeat again.
Reverse breathing is an important technique to learn as you approach the birth. This is the breath pattern you will use in the pushing phase of labor. Now I know this can be a little confusing, which seems unfair as your preggie brains are already foggy - so I’m going to break it down step-by-step.
During regular exercise your breath pattern when doing pelvic floor moves is – INHALE – fully release the pelvic floor muscles. EXHALE – squeeze, lift and engage the pelvic floor. In labor, as the name of this exercise suggests, you need to do the exact opposite to get the baby out! INHALE – squeeze, lift and engage the pelvic floor. EXHALE – with the power of your breath, fully release the muscles and completely let go.
TIP – If it seems hard to practice this technique in a seated position – try to do the breath pattern while doing plies or squats. Exhale – fully release the muscles as you squat/plié. Inhale – lift up and engage the muscles as you stand back up.
The physical changes your body goes through when you are pregnant greatly affects your spine and therefore your posture. Your upper spine rounds as your boobs get heavier. Your pelvis tilts forward and crunches your low back as your baby grows. Your prenatal exercise program should be targeting muscles of the back, shoulders and core that help support the natural curves of the spine. Externally rotating the shoulders and focusing on stabilizing the shoulder blades can really help relieve any upper back pain you have and open up the front of your body to help you look and feel your best.
Stand or sit but make sure you are starting from a good position, being your tallest self! Turn your palms up and hold the theraband – green or blue – between your thumb and hand. Inhale – through your nose and squeeze your upper arm into your side. Exhale out your mouth, hug your baby to your spine to stabilize and then externally rotate the shoulder as you pull the theraband apart. Keep your upper arm squeezing your sides and imagine it is a door hinge and your lower arm is the door opening up.
TIP – Make sure you are stretching out your pec muscles too as much as possible. These get super tight when you are pregnant and can cause you to round over even more.
There is nothing more important than core control and strength as you approach labor. The muscles of the deep core – namely the Transverse Abdominis (TVA) and your Pelvic Floor muscles are going to support that big baby that you’re hauling around, and both play an important role in the pushing phase of childbirth. Hug your baby is my favorite exercise, I practiced it in every workout, on the subway, waiting at the traffic lights , even standing doing the dishes. The muscle this exercise activates wraps around the whole mid-section - attaching to the spine at the low back, providing support, and then hugs your baby into your spine at the front. During labor, your strong TVA will help the uterus as it ramps up its contractions to push and move the baby down the birth canal and out!
Place one hand just below your sternum on the top of your belly, and the other hand just below your belly button. Inhale through your nose and allow your belly to fill up with air and the muscles totally relax. Exhale – out your mouth and imagine hugging your baby to your spine as the muscles wrap around your mid-section – cinching and lengthening your waist.TIP – When you first start doing this exercise, watch yourself in the mirror. I liked to call it my magic trick. See how much you can hug that baby into you and make your tummy smaller. Don’t worry it cannot hurt the baby, your baby is in a fluid sac that protects it from any changes in pressure, just feels like a hug from it’s mama!