by Pamela Debiase
When my female clients approach me and happily announce they are pregnant, it’s normally followed by hugs and congratulations. Then they ask “Can I keep doing Pilates? My doctor says I can’t do any sit-ups anymore”.
OK I get it, you think Pilates, you think core, you think strong abs, you think sit-ups. We don’t really do regular sit-ups in Pilates though do we, but yes we are rolling up through the spine in exercises like Teaser or Neck Pull and there is the good old Hundred and Abdominal Series that will have to fade away at some point in your 9 month journey. We definitely aren’t doing those exercises for an hour and there is SO much more to Pilates!
Joseph Pilates gave us hundreds of exercises and options to work safely giving your body what it needs, even when you are pregnant. Will your workout change? Absolutely. What will it look like? I’ll tell you! This is of course just a guide of a typical case, and you must check with your doctor and talk to him/her about your specific situation.
So instead of talking about what you can’t do, let’s talk about what you can do. Some things will be on hold over this time, but remember these exercises are just on hold, they will be back in your future!
1. Work your core by lifting in, up and out of your pelvis.
Once you start “showing” you will have to start cutting out the exercises where you curl your head up or roll up to avoid over stretching your abs. Diastasis recti is a fairly common condition of pregnancy and postpartum in which the right and left halves of the Rectus Abdominis muscle spread apart at the body's mid line fascia, the linea alba. The Rectus Abdominis is responsible for making us sit up, so this is what your doctor is talking about – no more sit ups or curl ups or roll ups. But you can work on being upright and pulling in and up! This can simply be done while seated with a Magic Circle. Put a magic circle between your inner thighs and imagine your spine is an elevator. Close the elevator doors on the bottom floor as you hug the circle with your inner thighs and pull the elevator up to the top floor, then slowly release it back down. Repeat this 5 to 8 times. This tool of learning to pull in and up can be used in ALL of your Pilates exercise to encourage a “lift” particularly in your lower back while pregnant.
2. Seated exercises
Once you are uncomfortable lying on your stomach, you cut those exercises out, and by the time your reach your third trimester, it is not good to spend too much time lying flat on your back as this puts too much pressure on your organs and arteries. BUT you have lots of seated exercises you can do and some exercises can be modified to be done seated. Footwork on the Reformer, for example, is an exercise that can be done seated on the Electric or Wunda Chair instead of lying on your back. This can be done even when you are not pregnant, but why not use this opportunity to work on this version while you are! Pull straps can be done seated on the long box instead of lying face down. In fact you may learn something new about these exercises by doing them in this way that could make you stronger when you go back to do them in their ideal version. Bonus!
3. Side lying exercises
These are great for you during your pregnancy. It’s a safe supported way for you to lie down, exercise and work on your core stability! Side kicks can be done on the mat or on the Cadillac with a leg spring.
4. Standing exercises with support
Your balance will likely be thrown off a little by your third trimester, so doing standing exercises which don’t challenge your balance are best or using the Pilates apparatus to support you. Each case will be different but you have lots of options like standing arm springs at the Cadillac or the High Chair/Electric Chair offers handles to hold on to for balance while doing press downs with your legs. While twisting is limited in your 2nd trimester and almost impossible by the 3rd, you can do some side work like side sit ups on the ladder barrel with your feet at the bottom of the ladder, your hips on the barrel and a small range of motion, working the lift in and up your spine!
There are many other options, exercises and props that can be used to your benefit. Above are just the foundation upon which your Pilates sessions should develop. In a country that feeds off of fear, I hope to spread seeds of possibilities rather and tell you about all the wonderful things you can do for yourself over this nurturing motherly time of your life that will hopefully spill over into your post natal workouts.
Your pregnancy is not a time to show off and see if you can break any records, but perhaps a time to become more in tune with your body and what it needs and what it simply can do without at this time. Like inversions, perhaps they are just not worth the risk. The intensity of your workout should be lower and you should drink water as needed as it is easier for a pregnant woman to get dehydrated. Make your workout restoring and rejuvenating rather than draining and pushing to your limit.
Remember exercises only need to be taken out of your routine at the appropriate time and it is good to keep moving as you did before while you can. Work with a teacher who is qualified and trained to work with prenatal clients and always keep an open line of communication so your teacher knows if you feel anything funny, strange, bad or good. Pilates makes for happy, strong and healthy mommies!