Is It Safe to Do Pilates During Pregnancy?Posted on Mar 8th 2011 12:00PM by Liz Neporent
I used to take Pilates at a studio where a very pregnant woman also came in for her sessions at the same time. She was obviously in very good shape, and it was an engineering marvel to see her gracefully swing her body from pose to pose despite her burgeoning belly. But I wondered at the time: How safe is Pilates for pregnant women?
To get a straight answer, I asked top Pilates pro Alycea Ungaro for her opinion on this matter. She's the owner of Real Pilates in New York City and author of the new book "Pilates Practice Companion ." She started off by offering several important cautions.
Ungaro said back-lying poses are considered a no-go after the first trimester. Lying supine puts pressure on a major vein called the vena cava, which can lessen blood flow to your brain and uterus; you may wind up dizzy, short of breath or nauseated. The woman I witnessed at her Pilates lessons spent a lot of time lying on her back. Although I never heard her complain once -- and she showed up for her session right up until the week she gave birth -- that doesn't necessarily mean she wasn't compromising blood flow to either herself or the baby. The instructor should have modified those back-lying moves by placing a pad or pillow under her hip or booty or by skipping some of those moves altogether. As Ungaro pointed out, she also shouldn't have kept her in any one position too long.
Extreme stretching is another concept that's off-limits during pregnancy, according to Ungaro. Pregnancy floods your joints with relaxin, a hormone that is important to help facilitate labor, but also causes joint laxity, putting you at greater risk for strains and sprains. The tendons that hold joints together are flexible but not terribly elastic, meaning that once they're overstretched, they don't snap back into shape. In terms of Pilates, you need to be careful of pushing the range of motion of any exercise to the limit. Even something that feels fine at the time may be doing more harm than good in the long run.
Ungaro also said that sense of balance is a huge issue during exercise in pregnancy -- as if any pregnant woman needs a reminder of that! As the baby grows, your center of gravity shifts. Even familiar ways of moving can become a surprising challenge. "Take extra care during one legged moves or exercises that require a rapid weight shifts," said Ungaro. It's also a good idea to drop anything that feels too shaky from your routine until after the baby is born.
OK, now for the good news: "When done correctly, Pilates can be very safe during pregnancy," said Ungaro. "It's uniquely adaptable for any level of fitness, all types of injuries and any stage of pregnancy. So long as you keep hydrated and stop and rest if you feel breathless, dizzy or light-headed you should do fine with it."
In fact, Pilates done right can help you sail through your nine months feeling more mobile and comfortable and help you bounce back sooner after giving birth. For example, rolling like a ball is a good exercise to do in early pregnancy because it helps unkink tight lower-back muscles. Planks and side planks are also great: These moves utilize the supportive transversus abdominals and oblique muscles to help maintain strength and stability in your torso as your main abdominal muscles stretch and weaken. Standing Pilates footwork, the entire series of arm weights and most Magic Circle moves also get Ungaro's thumbs-up.
If you decide to continue or even take up Pilates while there's a baby in your belly, Ungaro recommends looking for a Pilates teacher who has undergone additional training for prenatal fitness -- something I suspect the preggo woman's instructor did not. Pilates certification programs don't always include a pregnancy fitness module, so ask questions. Make sure your instructor has the proper training, knowledge and experience to work with you.
What are your thoughts on exercise during pregnancy? Got any good stories to share? Post 'em here.
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