• Melissa Connolly

Some Pre-Natal Pilates Guidlines

A pre-natal exercise routine should be a balanced routine that can energize while also providing relaxation and enjoyment. Pilates is so great because within its principals it involves components of stabilization, strength, flexibility, mobility and breath work and you will find it is easily adapted for pregnancy.

During pregnancy a woman undergoes many musculoskeletal changes that alter postural alignment and create muscular imbalances. With the average weight gain of 25-35 pounds, body proportion changes from the growing belly and breasts, and pregnancy hormones that causes ligaments to loosen we need to adjust a program that is safe and still effective.

Hormonal system changes result in growth of breast tissue, laxity in the joints, reduction in muscle tone, an increase in fat and softening of ligaments and surrounding joints. The pregnant body’s suppleness can create instability in the joints and her “correct" alignment shifts to move with her rapidly changing body. Therefore we must be careful with stretching and stick with the general rule of not over stretching and only go to about 50% of what feels like you can do. Focus on stabilizing the body to support the joints.

Changes in her cardiac output and heart rate will increase more during exercise and as the fetus grows a woman’s heart pumps more blood to the uterus. She is going to become more easily winded with exercise as her resting heart rate climbs by 8 beats per minute in the early weeks of pregnancy to a high of 20 beats above normal by 32 weeks. As the diaphragm is being pushed up farther into the chest cavity by the enlarging uterus it becomes difficult to breathe and more oxygen is used during breathing therefore less oxygen is available for exercise. Take breaks when needed, stay hydrated and really listen to your body to not over exert yourself. Pregnant women should not work to exhaustion, encourage them to work at 80% effort.

During the First trimester is a good time to focus on your Pilates foundation, like breathing and stabilization. Exercise intensity should be based on assessment of energy levels and adjusted as necessary to minimize fatigue and nausea. . Notice how you’re feeling, and start to become more in tune with your body. Although nothing is going to hurt or harm the pregnant woman or the baby during the first trimester this isn’t the time to push yourself or go up a level.

At this point, clients tend to be timid about approaching the Pilates teacher to let them know they’re pregnant. The good news is that there’s nothing specific that you can’t do just yet—and that goes for both matwork and equipment exercises—but if you speak up your teacher can educate you and encourage you to listen to your body.


The second trimester usually comes with a greater sense of calm and the body will now begin to rapidly change. Although your energy and stamina are probably back up, your body is starting to shift. Your weight and center of balance are changing, your lumbar curve is greater, your chest might be forward. This is when you need to start making modifications and adjustments, to find the strength and stability to support your joints as they are now.

She will work in a range of motion that is comfortable for her body and progressively modify the exercises. During this trimester is when we really begin to discontinue certain exercises and body positions:

LIMIT SUPINE WORK. When you lie on your back during the second trimester, the uterus compresses the inferior vena cava and the aorta restricting blood flow to the baby and making the mama-to-be feel dizzy. Try to keep supine work to just a few minutes at a time. Modify with side-lying, seated or standing work.

AVOID LYING ON YOUR BELLY. It’s not recommended for obvious reasons—there’s a baby in the way!—and it might not feel comfortable.

ER ON THE SIDE OF CAUTION. If you’re worried that something might hurt the baby, or that it might not feel good to you, there are other things we can do to work those same muscles. So tune in and know that we can modify as needed. Stop inversions such as plow, shoulder stand and short spine.

STOP FLEXION FROM SUPINE. Too much forward flexion can cause diastasis recti (a separation in your rectus abdominus muscles) from too much pressure from the uterus or if your stomach muscles are too tight and strong. Be proactive and stop abdominal curls, the Hundred, the Ab Series, Boat pose or Teaser. But you can still do flexion in a seated position—a seated Spine Stretch or a Half Rollback on the Tower are good choices.

TWISTING IS OK WHEN DONE WITHOUT STRAIN. Rotation is a functional movement, whether you’re pregnant or not. Melissa recommends not using extra resistance, and to think of lifting and elongating and “hugging the baby” with your abdominal muscles.

FOCUS ON THE DEEP ABDOMINALS. You want to engage your abs just enough to support you and your back. Honing in on your transverse abdominis—your deepest abs—can help with back pain.

DON’T OVEREMPHASIZE THE PELVIC FLOOR. You want to let it go a little during pregnancy. Bring awareness to the pelvic floor muscles through breath, and allow them to relax and fully release between reps.

The third trimester is one of slowing down, decreasing the workload and continually modify for the growing body, physical energy and mental state. A workout program should be designed so it has flow, is light and creates ease of movement.

GO WIDE. Your stance will naturally be bigger, so you might need to have your legs in second position (turned out) instead of parallel.

GIVE THE CHEST AND BACK SOME EXTRA TLC. Your belly is growing, and so are your breasts, so there’s a tendency for the shoulders to round forward and for back pain] to start creeping in. Do more chest openers (like Swan standing or seated on a Box) and back openers. Chest Expansion works double duty, as both a back and chest strengthener.

DON’T IGNORE BELLY BUTTON PAIN. It could signal a hernia, something Pilates can’t fix. It’s probably a good time to call your doctor.

JOINTS, REJOICE. Pilates can help with joint pain, since it helps promote circulation and works the muscles that support the joints. Just don’t overstretch. If it feels too easy in a range of motion, back off to about 50% of what you can do.

RELAX ALREADY. Let go of any expectations or judgements of yourself, and do what feels good.“Give yourself more permission to relax. Go back to the breathing work and focus on finding relaxation during your workout.

With all these guidelines it might seem intimidating to workout while pregnant. But it is NOT! There is really so much you CAN DO in a group class that will only support you and make you feel better in your body.

Melissa has been through 2 pregnancies and:

· Is a certified pre and post natal specialist through the Center for Women’s Fitness.


· Has a certificate for Pre and post natal Yoga through Yoga Fit.

· Has presented pre and post natal videos on Pilates Anytime.



· Has presented pre and post natal Pilates continuing education workshops for Balanced Body at Pilates On Tour and Boston Body.

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