Low-Impact Fit: Prenatal Pilates for Moms-to-Be
Amy Dorsey has been doing Pilates for a year, and she’s been pregnant about half that time. With the help of Soulistic Studio & Spa’s Joan Van Geison, who is certified to teach prenatal and postnatal Pilates, she’s been able to stay fit while accommodating her changing body. I sat in with Joan as she led Amy through tailored prenatal exercises, and even though Amy is six months along, Joan didn’t go easy on her—but she did make sure none of the exercises involved lying on her back, an important rule for women in their second and third trimesters.
Although most Pilates classes are focused on sculpting long, lean muscles, Joan warns that pregnancy is not the time to try to "get in shape." Rather, it’s “a time to work your body in a way that supports the changes and helps prepare it for the upcoming birth. The prenatal moves are designed to stretch and open up the muscles, giving them their full range of motion. That, in turn, helps reduce [symptoms such as] sore backs and achy feet.”
Working out of Soulistic’s sunny second-floor space, Joan keeps her prenatal classes low-impact with exercises on the reformer, the chair, and the inflatable ball. At times she uses movements so subtle that they look deceptively easy, but I know from my own forays into Pilates that just five reps of the smallest movements can leave you aching the next day.
Joan cautions that all pregnant women should clear exercise regimens with their doctors, and advises performing all exercises under the close supervision of a Pilates instructor. Below are three moves you might find in a typical prenatal class.
1. THE TRICEP SQUEEZE
With the reformer set up in the “long box” position, sit and straddle the box while facing the springs. With a wooden handle in each hand, bring your arms up behind your head, with your elbows pointed out around your ears. Bring your hands together over the crown of your head, forming a triangle with your thumbs and pointer fingers with your thumbs pressed into the handle. Draw your abs in and inhale, and as you exhale, extend your arms long over your head so that the carriage moves. Inhale and bend your elbows to return to the starting position. Repeat the arm extension a total of five times.
“Triceps are the weakest part on a lot of people,” says Joan, and she encourages pregnant women especially to not neglect their arms. “Once you have the baby … you’re holding this child all the time, and you’re picking up the car seat, and if you haven’t kept that strength up it’s going to be a nightmare for you.”
2. THE PEDAL PRESS
Stand with your toes lined up against the base of the Pilates chair, facing the pedal with your hands on hips. Stand tall and keep your hips tucked under so your spine is straight. Without shifting to either side, lift one foot and place it on the pedal. Lift your heel and inhale, then exhale as you press the pedal to the floor. Keep the tension in the springs as you slowly lift the pedal up, with control. Repeat a total of five times on each foot.
This exercise is “all about balance,” says Joan. In addition to working the ab muscles, pushing the leg down in this manner forces women to focus on their balance, which is often thrown off by a changing center of gravity.
3. THE BALL BOUNCE
Sit up tall on the inflatable ball and start bouncing slightly, originating the motion from your abs rather than your legs. With control, keep your abs tight and breathe deeply as you continue to bounce. After about 30 seconds, slowly stop bouncing until you are settled.
“This exercise is really good for loosening, stretching, and working the pelvis,” says Joan. “It’s a good hip opener and pelvis opener.” By strengthening the pelvis and the pelvic floor, women will be able to better support their baby and help ease the birth process.
Photo: © Michelle Klosinski, Groupon
Emily Wachowiak is a Chicago-based writer and editor.