Prenatal Pilates: Why And How You Should Exercise During Pregnancy

Prenatal Pilates: Why And How You Should Exercise During Pregnancy

Prenatal Pilates: Why You Should Exercise During Pregnancy

Giving birth can be the biggest workout of your life, and you need to be ready.

Support your body through the extra weight and strain that pregnancy puts on it with a programme designed to keep the body strong in preparation for childbirth

Pregnancy is a time when a woman’s body naturally puts on weight and grows in ways that make a healthy birth possible. An effective prenatal exercise programme supports this natural process of expansion and addresses the potential weaknesses that arise during and after pregnancy that can leave a woman vulnerable to injury. 

The good news is, there are safe exercises in the Pilates world that support women during pregnancy! 

Also Read: Postpartum Diaries: Bed Rest Is The Worst Advice Ever

Prenatal Guidelines


“Prenatal and Postnatal Pilates should be designed to suit you, not be modified for you,” says Michelle Kok, who teaches Prenatal Pilates at Flex Studio Hong Kong. “Pilates for pregnancy and postpartum focuses on all the key areas that need special care, such as upper body strength to prep for holding, feeding and carrying; back and core strength to counterbalance a growing belly; butt and hamstring workouts to support a much heavier body; and stronger calves and achilles’ tendons to keep your balance intact.”

If you know a highly qualified Pilates instructor who has experience with training pregnant women, you will be safe doing Pilates as long as you train under his or her supervision. And while it’s generally okay to start Pilates when pregnant, especially if one has led a physically active lifestyle prior, one still needs to be careful to follow a certified Pilates teacher in order to gain the benefits of the system without fear of injury. 

Also Read: Hong Kong Pregnancy Journal: Fitness Instructors on their PreNatal Journey

PreNatal and PostNatal Senior Pilates Instructor Nicole Serje is known for her informative, inspiring and personalised instruction

Strengthen the core while the belly grows


Back pain is a common complaint among pregnant women as they get heavier and their bellies begin to protrude, putting extra strain on their backs. 

“Keeping your core muscles strong during pregnancy is essential,” says Nicole Serje, who runs PostNatal Recovery Workshops at Flex Studio One Island South in Wong Chuk Hang. “This means learning how to engage the core, which includes the deep abdominals, pelvic floor, diaphragm and muscles of the back. This not only supports the extra weight and protects the back from injury and overstraining, but is also vital for post-natal recovery.” 

However, there are core workouts to avoid, such as those that involve flexion. Flexion is the rounding of the spine forward when standing or sitting, or rolling upward when lying down, like a sit-up. When doing crunches, abdominal muscles are responsible for this action. Pilates exercises like the Upper Abdominal Curl, Roll Up, and Roll Down compress the abdomen and shorten the abdominal wall. This is not what you want to do when your belly is growing during pregnancy – it’s counterintuitive to contract that which should be expanding! Try core stability exercises instead.

Furthermore, the connective tissue between the superficial abdominal muscle (rectus abdominis) can become stretched and weakened during pregnancy and this can be exacerbated by sit-ups due to the extra compression on the abdomen. (Also Read: Body After Baby: Common Postnatal Symptoms and What Cause Them)

Keep the rest of the body in good shape


“Building and maintaining general strength throughout your whole body while pregnant is more important than you think,” says Nicole. It not only helps to support your growing belly, it will also prepare you for once your baby arrives.

According to Nicole, upper body strength will be much needed for picking up your not-so-little bundle of joy all the time. And feeding, whether it’s breast or bottle, tends to pull you into a hunched-over position that can create weakness, tightness and pain in the upper back, neck and shoulders. 

Lower body strength work will help with lifting and carrying, along with pushing your stroller, and walking around holding an unsettled baby! “General strength and core work is important for postural strength and functional movement,” Nicole explains, “but it can also help prepare you for labour and the birthing process… and you are more likely to recover better afterwards.” Strength work is also fantastic for general well-being!

Beware the overstretch


When a woman is pregnant, her body releases a chemical called relaxin that relaxes the muscles, tendons and ligaments to allow the baby to emerge through the pelvis. In the second and especially third trimesters, women need to be careful about doing stretches that go beyond their pre-pregnant range of motion. It’s possible to stretch too much and destabilize the joints, particularly in the pelvic area. 

It’s all in the balance


They say giving birth can burn more calories than running a marathon. Labour requires a tremendous amount of endurance, which is why exercising during pregnancy is essential! 

On the flipside, it’s important to remember: moderation is key. Especially as you approach your third trimester, follow your intuition and don’t overtax yourself of your baby. Excessively working out during pregnancy can put strain on your body and take the focus off the baby growing inside – which is, at the end of the day, the most important thing here. So listen to your body!

Prenatal exercise guidelines


Here are some general guidelines on working out when pregnant: 

  • Do stabilization exercises for the torso and hips
  • Work on building postural strength and endurance
  • Keep your legs, arms and back strong
  • Stretch gently to release your hips and back


Here’s what not to do when pregnant:

  • Don’t do sit-ups or anything that compresses the abdomen
  • Try not to lie on your belly especially during exercise
  • Try not to lie on your back in the third trimester, especially when working out – this compresses the abdominal aorta and blocks blood flow to you and your baby
  • Don’t stretch excessively during the second and third trimesters

And finally, do not forget to keep up the good work postpartum! “Postnatal recovery, especially the first four months, is very important,” says Michelle. “New mothers have to work with a professional to regain inner strength and close diastasis.” 

Nicole also stresses the importance of breathwork within any pre and postnatal programme. “It’s essential for re-building the core after birth, helps a tired mum reconnect with her body, and also helps her downregulate her nervous system.”

Always talk to your medical health professional about any concerns you have before starting any new exercise programme.

Bun in the oven? Flex Studio has a range of Pre and Post Natal small group classes in Hong Kong to help you stay strong through and beyond your pregnancy. Private, Trio (3 per class) and Quartet (4 per class) formats in both our Central and Wong Chuk Hang studios ensure personalised attention from experienced instructors. Get in touch with us now for a special rate! We can offer 50% off your first Prenatal Reformer Group Class at our Central location using the code ‘TRIAL50’.

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