One of the more common questions I’m asked is whether pregnant women can benefit from Pilates. My answer is always a resounding yes. In fact, there are a number of ways Pilates can help during pregnancy.
Pregnancy creates many changes in a woman’s body that can lead to an increased chance of injury, including laxity in ligaments that protect the spine and pelvis, stretching of the abdominals and pelvic floor muscles, a change in center of gravity, fluid retention and reduction in lung capacity.
• Pregnancy results in the release of the hormone relaxin, which causes laxity in ligaments that compromises the stability in the low back and pelvis. The excessive movement associated with this change can lead to pain and inflammation and makes the superficial muscles work extra hard and tighten up to compensate for the instability.
• Pilates exercises can help strengthen the pelvic floor and core muscles surrounding the spine, which become more inefficient as they stretch during pregnancy. This helps to provide an internal bracing support that acts to restore the stability lost during pregnancy. The focus on stabilizing the core muscles that surround the spine helps to prevent separation of the rectus abdominis (superficial abdominal) muscles in the third trimester of pregnancy.
• The changing center of gravity associated with the additional weight gain puts pregnant women in a more vulnerable position that can be successfully managed with a consistent Pilates program. To respond well to such a change, the mind-body connection must be strong to make the adjustments needed to protect the spine and pelvis.
• Pilates promotes a heightened balance awareness by engaging the core muscles that surround the spine. The flow of a Pilates exercise routine helps to improve the coordination needed due to changes in the center of gravity during pregnancy.
• Fluid retention during pregnancy must be managed to improve comfort. The release of relaxin contributes to fluid retention, which in turn increases the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome. The legs commonly retain fluid during pregnancy. Pilates boosts circulation by integrating the entire body during exercise, helping to better manage fluid retention.
• Women are more likely to become short of breath during the third trimester of pregnancy. Being mindful of taking deep breaths in and out during all Pilates exercises not only deepens the benefit, but also improves lung capacity. This is particularly helpful as the growing baby pushes on the ribcage and diaphragm. Expanded lung capacity improves endurance during the first and third trimesters, when women tend to become more fatigued. Breathing also provides a way of relaxing muscles that tighten as the body changes during pregnancy.
A Pilates exercise routine, guided by a knowledgeable physical therapist and/or Pilates instructor, is one of the safest and most effective ways to exercise during pregnancy.
Kim Gladfelter is a physical therapist and Pilates instructor at PhysioFit Physical Therapy and Wellness in Los Altos. For more information, call 947-8500 or visit www.physiofitpt.com.