Pilates & Pregnancy
There are a fair few myths surrounding exercising while pregnant, and we are here to tell you exactly what’s what – what’s safe, what’s not and what could in fact be really beneficial for you and your baby.
Pilates works your muscles, improving flexibility, posture and breath control while remaining a low-impact form of exercise, so it is really great for both pre-natal and post-natal exercise. If you’re looking for a way to keep your body fit that can be adapted to suit all stages of pregnancy, Pilates could be worth a try.
We also recommend pre-natal yoga to expecting mums who want to stay fit and flexible during their pregnancy.
A quick note before we start
Yes, Pilates is more than safe during pregnancy. Pilates is a non-impact workout that can increase your strength, flexibility, and muscle tone and it’s good for overall pregnancy fitness. Provided you exercise caution and listen to your body as your pregnancy progresses, there’s no reason why you can’t continue practicing Pilates right up until your due date if you want to.
Exercise in pregnancy is not just recommended by us, it’s also recommended by medical professionals. NHS guidance encourages women to stay active and the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) recommends both yoga or Pilates to pregnant mothers.
Below, we’ll explore Pilates during pregnancy and look at some safe pregnancy workouts that can help you to stay fit and healthy throughout your pregnancy. Pilates is a versatile form of exercise that can easily be adapted to suit different levels of strength and fitness. At each stage of pregnancy, your capabilities and limitations can change, which is why it’s important to understand how your Pilates practice might change as your due date nears.
What are the benefits of Pilates during pregnancy?
Pilates offers many health benefits in general, including improved flexibility, enhanced muscle strength, improved posture, and better balance. But it also offers a lot of benefits specific to pregnancy that can help you to enjoy a more comfortable pregnancy and even minimise the risks of certain complications post-birth.
Pilates can help with combatting the aches and pains that come along with pregnancy. If you were practising Pilates on a regular basis before you became pregnant, there is absolutely no reason for you to stop. And similarly, if you are new to Pilates, now is a great time to introduce yourself to the basics and take it really slow.
As Pilates focuses on strengthening your core muscles, it can be effective in providing your body with the support it needs to deal with the extra weight of your baby!
Another area which should be focused on generally when exercising throughout pregnancy is the pelvic floor, and Pilates focuses on strengthening this area of your body. This is particularly important for labour and postnatal recovery – it can combat the possibility of incontinence post-birth!
It is worth bearing in mind that your body’s limits are very likely to change as your pregnancy progresses, so make sure to listen to your body and don’t push yourself if it doesn’t feel right.
Pilates in the first trimester
In the first trimester of your pregnancy, you might not be showing much but your body will still be changing as a result of your growing baby. You might feel more tired than usual, suffer from morning sickness, or even feel that your balance and coordination are being affected by pregnancy.
At this stage of pregnancy, Pilates can be extremely useful because it can help you to improve your sense of balance, combat and prevent posture problems that arise as your bump grows, and even aid emotional regulation to counterbalance some of the mood swings that often accompany pregnancy.
You won’t have to make a lot of exercise modifications to practice Pilates during the first trimester, but the main thing to take into account is not overexerting yourself – listen to your body at this time. Practice, in particular, Pilates foundational techniques including breathing and stabilisation, and this can help you to tune into your body and recognise more of its needs – a useful skill to have during pregnancy.
How you approach Pilates in the first trimester will also depend on how much prior experience you have in Pilates. If you’re just starting out, you’ll need to be extra careful to pace yourself and only advance to more strenuous or difficult exercises when you feel fully ready to. If you’re experienced in Pilates, you may be able to continue with the exercises you were doing before pregnancy as long as you listen to your body and rest or slow down when needed.
If you attend Pilates classes, make sure you tell your Pilates instructor that you’re expecting so they are aware that you’re pregnant and can make suitable recommendations for any exercises that may be more difficult for you during class.
Pilates in the second trimester
In the second trimester of your pregnancy, you may be starting to feel a little less tired and nauseous, which is why this trimester is often called the ‘golden period’ of pregnancy. However, as some of your symptoms wane, your bump will still be growing bigger, which can affect your ability to be active or conduct pregnancy core exercises.
Every week in the second trimester of pregnancy your bump is growing bigger, your bones and joints are adjusting to your new shape, and your centre of gravity is constantly changing. At this stage, pregnancy Pilates exercises are a great way to increase your stability and bodily awareness as well as manage some of the stress and anxiety that you might be feeling.
During the second trimester, you might want to think about switching things up a bit to protect your changing body. Your balance might be feeling off as your body’s centre of gravity changes, and from this stage of pregnancy onwards it’s important to limit the time you spend lying on your back, as this puts too much pressure on your core.
You should be able to modify most Pilates exercises that require you to lie on your back. You could try the same exercises lying on your side, seated, or standing. The same goes for exercises lying on your stomach – which is obviously a no-no at this point in your pregnancy!
At this stage of your pregnancy, it’s also important to be aware of incorporating too many forward flexion (crunching) exercises – this can cause diastasis recti, or abdominal separation. A Pilates exercise example of this movement is the Pilates Hundred. If exercises like this come up in your class or instruction, you could take a breather or replace the exercise with something a little gentler.
Pilates in the third trimester
As your third trimester arrives, you’re probably looking forward to your due date now more than ever. Your bump is still growing every day, and the changes in your body might have a significant impact on your strength and mobility. Postural changes that take place at this stage of pregnancy mean that your pelvis tilts in an anterior direction, which shortens the hip flexors and weakens the hamstrings and the glutes. In other words, even walking might feel quite sore.
At this stage, your energy is also likely to be depleted, so it’s important not to push yourself too much and focus on breathing and relaxing with every workout you do. One of the biggest benefits of pregnant Pilates workouts in the third trimester is the improvements to your emotional wellbeing, and practising your breathing can help you to achieve this.
Pilates in the third trimester can also help to alleviate joint pain by increasing blood flow within your body, and it can also ease the symptoms of a common condition in late-stage pregnancy called pubic symphysis, which can cause significant pain in the pelvic area when walking, bending, and carrying out other common daily activities. You might also find that the mindfulness and concentration that you develop while practising Pilates can help you to stay centred during childbirth!
At this stage of your pregnancy, the most important thing to remember is not to push your body too hard – in Pilates, or anything else. If you don’t feel like it, don’t put yourself through it. But if you want to get moving, take it slow and do what feels good for you.
Back pain is also a common issue at this stage of pregnancy, so it can be useful to focus on chest-opening exercises. Chest-opening exercises can help to improve flexibility in the mid-back area, relieve tension in the neck and shoulders, and improve your posture.
You should also ask your Pilates teacher about modifications that you can make to ensure that you can keep yourself moving safely during the third trimester of your pregnancy, for both your body and your mind. Your Pilates instructor might be able to recommend specific exercises that can help to ease particular symptoms, or they can suggest modifications to exercises during classes that are more suitable for you.
Pregnancy safe workouts
If you’re looking for Pilates exercises that you can do at home at any stage in your pregnancy, we can help and will guide you. There are lots of core exercises for pregnancy included in most Pilates repertoires, and it’s important to choose exercises that you’re comfortable with at every stage of your pregnancy.
Ideally, your pregnancy Pilates routines should include exercises specifically chosen to target the aches and pains of pregnancy and counterbalance some of the challenges you might face in each trimester. Below are some of our favourite pregnancy-safe workouts for pilates enthusiasts.
First trimester Pilates workouts
In the first trimester of pregnancy, it’s important to exercise at a pace that suits you. Particularly if you’re new to Pilates, it’s important to introduce new exercises slowly and take regular breaks. Some of our favourite first trimester Pilates workouts include:
- The Single Leg Press, a gentle exercise that you can do on your hands and knees which strengthens the hips and pelvis.
- The Side Bend, which you can do while lying on your side to improve your overall stability.
- The Plank with Leg Lift, which works your entire body and exercises your core muscles as well as your arms and legs.
Second trimester Pilates workouts
During the second trimester of pregnancy, it’s important to pay attention to your body’s changing needs. You might feel the need to limit exercising on your back, and it’s likely that lying on your belly might be uncomfortable too. Exercises that you can do from a standing or side-lying position are ideal in the second trimester. Some of our favourite second trimester Pilates exercises include:
- The Side Leg Lift, which involves lying on your side and lifting one leg straight up. This can strengthen your hips and your shoulders.
- Standing Side Leg Lift, another exercise that strengthens your leg muscles this time from a standing position, while also developing balance skills.
- Clam with Kick, a variation on the Clam exercise that adds an extra kick to help strengthen your hips and legs
Third trimester Pilates workouts
In the final stage of your pregnancy, you could benefit from working out on a Pilates Reformer and there are also plenty of exercises that you can do at home. All of the precautions of the second trimester still apply, as are those exercises which cause forward flexion while supine. Some of our favourite third trimester Pilates exercises include:
- The Bird Dog, which you can do from an all-fours position and which involves extending opposite arms and legs in unison.
- The Lunge Bicep Curl, which involves using resistance bands to strengthen both your legs and your arms.
- The Sit Squat, a modification of traditional squats that you can do using a chair for extra balance and safety.
Our final recommendations
If you’re keen to stay fit and healthy during your pregnancy, Pilates is an excellent way to strengthen your core, prepare your body for later stages of pregnancy, and improve balance and flexibility in the run-up to birth.