If you’ve just found out your pregnant, or perhaps have even found yourself in the two-week wait and want to take extra precaution, this is the article for you. Who better to ask than the brilliant Lynne Robinson, the ultimate expert when it comes to Pilates. Lynne offers some sound advice and a handful of exercises to undertake during this stage. Don’t forget, to always consult with your doctor before embarking on any new fitness regime, especially when pregnant.
Over the first few weeks and months of pregnancy your body’s priority is to build your baby’s support system. This will require a lot of energy, so it’s no wonder if you’re feeling tired and sleepy.
Your heart rate has increased, your blood sugar has dropped, your metabolic state is burning lots of energy, but try not to stress. You’re not ill, this is a normal state for pregnant women, but you do need to try and take things easy. Listen to what your body is telling you: if you need rest, then rest.
This does not mean that you have to stop exercising altogether (although I would advise that only women who have been practicing Pilates for at least four months before pregnancy should follow this Pilates programme). These early weeks of pregnancy provide the perfect opportunity for you to maintain your well-earned movement skills and all the health benefits of Pilates.
Before you exercise it’s important to take a minute and decide if you feel comfortable and ready for exercise. I would recommend that you try and include relaxation techniques as often as you can and it’s crucial that you take time when getting down onto the Pilates mat and up again. Always roll over onto your side and wait a moment before getting up.
I would recommend the following five Pilates moves for the early stages of a pregnancy, to help you to feel refreshed and revitalised through exercise, without over straining yourself.
In this exercise you will be rolling the thighbones on the pelvis to help mobilise the hip. Yet you must still maintain a stable relationship between the hip, knee and ankle joints. It also challenges the stability of your spine as the legs move independently from the hips.
The Relaxation Position. Position your legs slightly wider than hip-width apart. Place your hands onto your pelvis to check for unwanted movement if you wish or you can reach your arms out on the mat slightly lower than shoulder height with your palms facing down. Tighten your pelvic floor muscles to your navel (also known as zipping up) to maintain a constant and appropriate connection to your centre throughout the exercise.
- Breathe in to prepare your body to move
- Breathe out as you roll your right leg in from the hip joint and simultaneously roll the left leg out, also from the hip joint. Both knees will therefore roll to the left; allow your feet to roll with the movement. Try to keep your pelvis relatively still.
- Breathe in and return both legs back to the centre at the same time. Repeat to the other side and then repeat the whole sequence up to 5 times.
Once you’ve tried this exercise you will appreciate why it is so popular. It’s perfect for you when you are feeling stressed, as it helps to release tension.
The Relaxation position. You may give your core muscles a break for this exercise.
- Breathe naturally throughout. Keeping your neck lengthened and released. Begin to roll your head in a small spiralling motion. Allow each circle to be slightly larger than the last. After about 10 circles, start to spiral the other way in ever-decreasing circles.
Curl ups with Leg Extension
We do not want to over stretch your hamstrings at the back of your thighs, but we want to keep them lengthened. The leg extension element of the exercise is a safe way to do this as you use the dynamic movement to gently stretch them out.
The Relaxation Position. Place a cushion between your knees. Lightly clasp both hands behind your head, keeping the elbows open and positioned just in front of your ears, within your peripheral vision. Zip up to maintain a constant and appropriate connection to your centre throughout the exercise.
- Breathe in, preparing your body to move
- Breathe out as you nod your head and curl up from the mat, simultaneously straightening one leg from the knee, the cushion stays put
- Breathe into the back of the ribs to maintain the curled up position
- Breathe out as you slowly curl back down with control, while bending the knee and replacing your foot on the mat.
Repeat, straightening alternate legs up to 5 times with each leg
Seated Waist Twist
This simple but effective exercise will teach you how to rotate the spine sequentially with length and control. An added bonus is that it also works the muscles around your waist, which will be starting to disappear! With regular Pilates practice, you can look forward to it putting an early appearance back in after the birth.
Seated on a chair. Fold your arms in front of your chest, just below the shoulder height. One palm is on top of the opposite elbow and the other hand is positioned underneath the opposite elbow. Zip up to maintain a constant and appropriate connection to your centre throughout the exercise.
- Breathe in to prepare to move, and lengthen your spine
- Breathe out as you turn first your head, then neck, then torso to the right. Keep your pelvis stable and keep lengthening up through the crown of the head
- Breathe in as you continue to lengthen your spine and rotate back, torso, neck and head to the starting position
Repeat up to 5 times each side.
Tennis Ball Rising
A mini squat, which brings all the benefits of squatting. This easy-to-do-anywhere exercise strengthens the ankles and feet, helps postural awareness and balance control. It also stretches the calves gently, so may help if you are getting leg cramps at night.
Stand tall on the floor sideways to a sturdy chair or a wall, which you may use for balance if you wish. Your legs are parallel and slightly closer than hip-width apart. If using a ball, place it between your ankles, just below the inside anklebones. Zip up to maintain a constant and appropriate connection to your centre throughout the exercise.
- Breathe in to prepare your body and lengthen your spine
- Breathe out and rise up into the balls of your feet, lifting your heels off the floor. Keep your spine lengthened and stable and maintain the position of the tennis ball (if using) in-between your ankles.
- Breathe in as you lower your heels back down to the floor, lengthening away from the crown of your head
- Breathe out as you softly bend your knees, keeping your heels on the floor
- Breathe in as you straighten your legs and return to the starting position
By Lynne Robinson, Author of Pilates for Pregnancy and founder of Body Control Pilates (to find a teacher near you visit www.bodycontrolpilates.com). Click here to buy a copy of Pilates for Pregnancy.