- Instructor Training
Many expectant mothers embrace their new-found curves and growing tummy, while others dislike not being in control of their own body. Either way all mothers want the best for their child.
The Pilates Method is an ideal form of exercise for pregnancy, when taught by a fully qualified instructor in a fully equipped studio. Both the nature of the work and equipment used, allow the workout to focus on the body in its entirety, as well as being completely adaptable in terms of load for strength gain, range of movement and body positioning. This caters not only to the different stages of pregnancy, but to each individual pregnancy as well.
There is strong evidence supporting the many benefits of exercise pre-, during, and post- pregnancy. The American College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists recommends becoming active and exercising for at least 30 minutes on most, if not all, days of the week to assist with:
They also suggest this may possibly improve your ability to cope with labour itself as well as post-natal recovery.
By commencing Pilates prior to falling pregnant you allow the body more time to gain the strength needed to support the body, especially the spine, throughout pregnancy. Unfortunately, not all of us have the luxury of preparation. If this is the case Sports Medicine Australia now advocates that it is safe to start an exercise program during pregnancy. To commence Pilates when pregnant, clearance from your treating practitioner is required, to ensure there are no contraindications.
A key focus of the Pilates Method is breath.
It can be used as a form of relaxation and stress relief, especially if there is a sense of anxiety or work overload associated with pregnancy. It is also used to promote the release of tight joints and muscles, particularly through the thoracic region and ribs, which need mobilisation to accommodate the growing baby. To engage deep abdominals, important for spinal strength and pelvic stability during movement, a strong, forced exhale is used. As lung space becomes limited with the progressing pregnancy, ‘Pilates’ or lateral breathing, which keeps the ribs mobile, also assists in alleviating shortness of breath.
A good functioning pelvic floor is essential to pelvic and spinal stability, as well as urinary function. This is even more important for pregnant women, with studies indicating close to 50% of all women experiencing urinary incontinence during pregnancy and about 30% postpartum. A well-trained instructor will not only help you to find your pelvic floor, but also teach you correct recruitment patterns and timing of recruitment. Support in this area also reduces the chance of pelvic instability issues such as sacroiliac and pubic symphysis dysfunction, which can be both painful and debilitating.
In the early stages of pregnancy, Pilates allows the abdominals to be strengthened through their full range of movement. Then, as the pregnancy progresses abdominal work is modified, with more focus on the supportive transversus abdominis and less on rectus abdominis. This ensures diastasis is not exacerbated.
Control and awareness of pelvic floor, as well as abdominal strength, are also of great assistance in an active labour.
The nature of the Pilates method and its repertoire promotes full spinal health during pregnancy. The lumbar spine needs mobilising due to it being pulled forward by the growing tummy and weakened abdominals. The thoracic spine needs a strength focus due to a corresponding, increased kyphosis.
Strength and good function of the thoracic spine are also vital when nursing a newborn.
There is increased laxity in all joints in preparation for childbirth. As mentioned previously the pelvic joints (sacroiliac and pubic symphysis), are particularly affected. Increased pelvic floor and abdominal strength, as well as spinal health, support these joints, together with increased gluteal strength. This is again where an instructor’s ability to ensure correct recruitment pattern of the involved muscles is of the utmost importance. Strong leg muscles are also extremely important during active labour, so you can support your body weight in various birthing positions.
With increased laxity and the change in centre of gravity affecting co-ordination, there is an increased risk of musculoskeletal injuries and falls with pregnancy. The Pilates Method utilises exercises within safe ranges of movement to maintain healthy function of all joints, as well as safe balance exercises, both of which help to keep the expectant mother safe.
Pilates is often seen as a gentle form of exercise, which it quite often is, especially if the mother is suffering from sacroiliac dysfunction, is tired and suffering morning sickness, or is coming to the end of their pregnancy. It is also a strong, body conditioning workout that challenges strength, stability, coordination and, at times, the cardiovascular system.
There are even specific exercises integrated into the late stages of pregnancy to focus on assisting labour.
A fully qualified instructor will be able to design a specifically tailored workout, set at an appropriate level, for each woman, throughout all stages of pregnancy and beyond. They also have the skills to adapt each workout accordingly, based on how the expectant mother is feeling on any particular day.
Pelvic floor exercises, learnt in Pilates, can commence as soon as the new mother is comfortable. The Royal Women’s Hospital recommends 1-2 days following birth, as long as there no increased pain. A return to Pilates is recommended 6-8 weeks post birth, after clearance from your treating practitioner.
A post-natal workout continues to focus on the body in its entirety.
Great care needs to be taken when building back abdominal strength, due to the possibility of diastasis. The traditional crunch or sit up will only exacerbate that problem, whereas the Pilates method offers many options for supported abdominal work until the diastasis has reduced and the supporting connective tissue regained its strength and function. Exercise also plays big role in preventing and overcoming postnatal depression.
Pregnancy is an amazing and challenging process for the body and so is a very important time for the expectant mother to look after herself and her unborn child.
Kath Banks (M.Clin.Ex.Sci&Rehab, B.App.Sci (HM)(Hons), Adv.Dip.Pilates, Cert IV TAE)