Pilates is a method of exercise that involves performing low-impact flexibility and muscular strength and endurance movements. (Ref 1) It has a focus on developing and maintaining good posture, through correct alignment of your body parts, stretching of tight muscles and use of your deep core muscles.
It was originally developed in the 1920s by a man named Joseph Pilates, as a method of rehabilitation for dancers and athletes. Since then, it has been expanded on and adapted to sort all kinds of participants.
What does a Prenatal Pilates class involve?
Like a standard Pilates class, a Prenatal Pilates class will have a focus on activating your deep core muscles, including your pelvic floor muscles, to provide stability and support while you perform exercises in a slow and controlled manner. Attention is paid to your breathing in order to match the different parts of the movement to your breath, and also use your breath to assist in the movements.
Exercises are performed in a range of positions, such as: side-lying, kneeling, standing and in four-point (hands and knees). Resistance is provided by gravity or your body weight, however sometimes small pieces of equipment such as Therabands (long elastic bands) are used to add extra resistance.
The exercises are all designed to be safe and appropriate for you and your baby. As well as the focus on activating your deep core muscles, there are also exercises that increase strength in your glutes (bottom), lower body and upper body. A class also includes flexibility exercises, to stretch the muscles used in class as well as areas of the body that can be typically tight during pregnancy.
What are the benefits of Prenatal pilates?
- Increased strength and endurance of Pelvic Floor muscles – All pregnant women are advised to do pelvic floor exercises, to strengthen and improve the tone of the pelvic floor. A healthy pelvic floor is more likely to recover well after undergoing the extra load-bearing during pregnancy and the birth itself. This can lead to benefits for the mother such as reduced risk of urinary incontinence post-natally. (Ref 2, Ref 3)
- Relaxation – The concentration required to complete exercises correctly can help you “switch off” from the outside world, in order to focus purely on your movements and breathing. (Ref 4)
- Improved Posture – By strengthening weak muscles and lengthening tight ones, your posture can be improved.
- Improved Stability – Such as the stability of your pelvis. As your baby grows bigger and heavier, the pelvis can benefit from additional support, which is where exercises that improve the strength of your glutes (or bottom muscles) can be beneficial.
- Non-impact – Easy on your joints.
- Functional exercise – Exercises in a Prenatal Pilates class often have a very clear link to a real-life movement or requirement. For example – an exercise that uses the upper back muscles is aiming to improve your ability to have good posture in the neck and shoulders, and avoid the “hunched” or rounded shoulders that can otherwise be quite common in a new mother from holding and nursing her newborn.
Do I need to have done Pilates before?
No, absolutely not. If you have, you may find it easier to activate your core and pelvic floor as you have had more practice compared to a first-time attendee, but that is all. The Pilates teacher will communicate different levels of the exercises, so that you can choose what level feels best for you on the day. In that way, all participants can work to their own pace – whether you are a complete beginner or someone who was very physically fit leading into your pregnancy.
What if I have an injury/condition?
Talk to your midwife/GP/obstetrician and obtain their clearance as well as any recommendations they have. When you arrive at class, talk to the Pilates teacher about any concerns so that they are aware. There are many different modifications to an exercise, and there are always different exercises for the same muscle group. Your Pilates teacher is able to provide these different options to you throughout the class, to make sure you get the most benefit.
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