Pilates is becoming a very popular and effective form of exercise used by new mums. Pilates for new mums, or post-natal Pilates, will focus on regaining core strength and control as well as correcting posture, improving your pelvic floor strength and reducing back pain after carrying your little one for 9 months and continuing to care for him/her for years following.
What actually is Pilates?
Pilates is a safe, effective and progressive exercise based treatment method used to increase the strength of all muscles in the body with focus to the deep muscles of your abdomen, spine and pelvis. The muscles that surround these areas, mainly your core muscles, are essential in supporting the trunk during everyday movement and looking after your newborn baby. Also, the pelvic floor muscles lengthen and weaken during pregnancy due to postural and hormonal changes, plus the weight of the growing fetus. Post-natal Pilates aims to restore pelvic floor muscle strength to reduce incontinence, regain pelvic stability and eliminate/reduce risk of pain.
There are 5 key elements of Pilates that every instructor will follow in order to provide an effective workout:
- Centering and neutral spine position – Centering is activation of the pelvic floor and deep core muscles, don’t worry, your instructor will teach you how to do this! Neutral spine position ensures correct pelvic alignment – this is where your deep muscles activate best.
- Shoulder blade position – You will practice gliding your shoulder blades back and down as you exercise.
- Ribcage position – The front of your ribcage should be tucked inwards towards your spine to avoid rib ‘flaring’.
- Neck position – Imagine a hot air balloon is attached to your head and pulling you upwards, that’s how your neck should be positioned to improve posture and engage the deep neck flexors.
- Breathing – some deep breathing will be incorporated into your workout to activate the diaphragm (pssst! The diaphragm is also a deep core muscle!)
How can Pilates help me after pregnancy?
Postnatal Pilates is an extremely effective way in improving your mummy tummy as well as improving the efficiency of muscles that have stretched and weakened as a result of the pregnancy. Weakening of muscles during pregnancy can make new mums more prone to problems such as lower back pain, pelvic pain and reduced function. Postnatal Pilates will focus on waking up those weakened muscles and re-strengthening them in order to build a good, strong core.
Another common problem for new mums is abdominal separation (diastasis rectus abdominis or DRA). This usually occurs in pregnancy as the abdominal muscles are put under pressure and separate to allow room for your baby to grow. It is common for the gap to not completely close following childbirth; however, Pilates is an effective treatment in encouraging the gap to close and to retrain both the inner and outer core musculature. Your experienced physiotherapist will need to assess your diastasis before tailoring your Pilates programme to meet your needs.
Some of the most common benefits you will most probably see with pilates include:
- Increased pelvic floor and deep core strength
- Improved flexibility
- Increased overall control, posture and stability
- Improved endurance
- Improved coordination and balance
- Reduced lower back and pelvic pain
- Increased global muscle strength to aid day to day function
I could go on but we would all be here for a while if I did!
What exercises are used in postnatal Pilates?
There are loads and loads of exercises that can be used during a postnatal Pilates class or private session. I will name a few for you…
- Scissors – While lying on your back you lift one leg at a time into tabletop position. Whilst incorporating the 5 key elements, you will slowly lower one leg and tap it lightly on the floor the return it to the table top position. Then repeat with the opposite leg. This helps to strengthen your transverse abdominis, pelvic floor muscles and obliques.
- Clams- While side lying, you will place one leg on top of the other and bend them to a 90-degree angle. Then, whilst keeping your feet together, you will slowly raise the top leg as though you are making a clam shape before returning it back down. This exercise is great for glute (bottom) muscle strengthening to increase stability to the pelvis, hips and spine.
- Single leg circles- While lying on your back, bend one leg and put your foot flat on the floor. With the other, slowly raise the leg and whilst keeping it straight, starting moving it big circular in circular movements- imagine you are drawing big circles on the ceiling with your foot! Repeat on the other side. This will challenge your coordination and rotatory control at the pelvis.
Before starting Post-natal Pilates is strongly advised that you check with your G.P. first. As long as there are no complications, it is generally safe to start exercising 6 weeks post natural delivery and 8 weeks post c-section. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us to speak with one of our friendly Physiolates instructors.