Pre-natal Pilates is a great exercise method that teaches a mother to deal with the physical changes through pregnancy, and get ready for childbirth. Here are the 7 ways of how pre-natal Pilates can benefit a mum-to be.
Do you spend long days in the office behind your desk? Do you find your body getting increasingly stiff, fidgety, or uncomfortable as the day progresses? The cause could be due to a weak core stability – the foundation of your body.
HIGH-RISE AND BODY-WISE
Think of your body like one of the skyscrapers in CBD. Your deep core muscles are like the foundations, beams and pillars which hold it upright. Should this internal scaffolding become weak or damaged, your body becomes an unstable structure, ready to break at any time. High-rise buildings of course have many supportive structures internally, externally and underground to allow for error (thank goodness) so that they can withstand the elements.
Our bodies are somewhat clever in that we too, have a back-up system. We have muscles that are ready to help out should our main structural system fail. However, these muscles simply aren't designed for this role of anti-gravity and postural support, so when they get tired and tight, this is where injury occurs.
Sitting at a desk all day causes our internal scaffolding to become ineffective, and our deep core in turn becomes weak and under-active. Aside from a weak core, we often find that our upper back and hips can become stiff. Our joints produce lubrication through movement. With long periods of immobility, the production of the fluid that oils our joints slows.
KEEP THINGS TICKING
Studies into lower back pain have proven that the muscles that support the trunk and pelvis become weak through a process called pain inhibition, i.e. a painful area becomes a weak area as the adjacent muscles just don't want to work. Seeing a Physio can help to put you on the right path through an assessment of your posture and functional movements, and subsequently a specific treatment plan to help target those weak or stiff bits.
General exercise and maintaining an active lifestyle will help to keep things ticking over. Or working with a personal trainer to have some specific guidance with your training can really help to build general or specific strength and endurance, depending on your individual goals.
BUILD THAT 'POWERHOUSE'
One form of exercise that is perhaps a little more targeted towards the core and our 'internal scaffolding' is Pilates. Pilates aids the activation and development of the deep core muscles, which are crucial for pain-free daily function, optimal performance during sports, and injury prevention. Through its extensive repertoire and targeting of very specific muscle groups, Pilates will make you 'feel' muscles you never knew you had, and also increase your body awareness significantly. So when you start to notice that your posture is off alignment and causing unnecessary stress on your body, you can correct and reposition yourself.
Pilates also helps to improve flexibility by encouraging you to counter-balance those positions that you find yourself stuck in for long periods of time – such as rounding forward over your keyboard, or slumping towards your computer screen.
Pilates can be done on a mat or with a specialist equipment, the most popular of the equipment being the reformer. Pilates is best taught by a qualified physiotherapist, or someone who has extensive experience within a rehabilitation setting. This allows them to scrutinise your every move to ensure you're doing the movements perfectly, thus eliminating the room for error to achieve the best results.
Regular activation and strengthening of these crucial deep core muscles with Pilates is important, whether you're experiencing physical pain or not. We all know that having an effective core or 'powerhouse' muscles is a recipe for success. The general rule is that after six weeks of twice-weekly Pilates sessions, your body will start to FEEL different, aside from looking more toned. And the best part about Pilates - ANYONE can do it!
The newest UFIT Clinic outlet at Orchard Central offers small group Physio-led Pilates Reformer classes. While there are other Pilates Reformer classes in Singapore, this will be the only class that offers an individually tailored program led by a physiotherapist who will pick from an extensive repertoire of exercises to best achieve your specific goals.
About the author
Lucy Warren is a Physiotherapist and Pilates specialist from the UK. She has a first-class honours degree in Physiotherapy from Cardiff University, and is also an APPI-trained matwork instructor. Lucy has extensive sports experience with professional and semi-professional teams and athletes, having provided pitch-side physiotherapy for multiple elite sport teams in the UK. She has also worked for the British Army for two years, assessing and treating infantry soldiers and helping them to rehabilitate to peak fitness.
Lucy taught matwork Pilates for several years before making the transition across to Reformer Pilates. Lucy loves using the Reformer and other Pilates equipment with her clients in order to achieve their specific rehabilitation goals. She believes that it is an incredibly versatile tool which can lead to daily life improvements like better posture and more efficient movement, as well as relief from pain associated with physical imbalances.
In her own time Lucy is a keen netballer, skier, and loves to travel to new places.
In the age of Instagram and Facebook, and with celebrities like Miranda Kerr and Gisele Bundchen flaunting their post baby bodies on social media, there seems to be increasing pressure on new mums to get back into exercise soon after childbirth.
But did you know that participating in sport, running and other high-impact exercise too early after childbirth can reduce pelvic floor strength and cause long-term bladder and bowel problems or pelvic organ prolapse?!
There are however, many benefits to postpartum exercise for both mum and baby. Here are some tips for new mums or soon-to-be mummas on how to return to their normal exercise regime safely.
Benefits of postpartum exercise
- Facilitates recovery after delivery
- Increases cardiovascular fitness
- Facilitates postpartum weight loss
- Improves energy levels
- Improves mood
- Reduces anxiety and depression
- Improves muscle strength and posture
- Increases joint and muscle flexibility.
Pregnancy and childbirth place enormous physical stress on the body. Your pelvic floor muscles weaken during pregnancy and are further stretched during childbirth, your muscles and ligaments are looser due to the effect of Relaxin and your abdominal muscles are stretched due to your expanding belly.
All of these changes have occurred over 9 months and it is likely to take at least that long before your body gets back into its pre-pregnancy form. It is therefore important to be patient and realistic about your return to a fitness regime.
Please consider the following factors prior to getting back into exercise. Failure to address these issues before returning to moderate-to-high intensity exercise can cause incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse, abdominal hernias and back pain:
- Pelvic floor muscle dysfunction- signs and symptoms of this include difficulty getting to the toilet on time, frequent urination, leakage of urine or stool when you cough, sneeze and/or laugh, a sensation of heaviness or dragging in the vagina or lower pelvis, painful intercourse
- Musculoskeletal aches and pains such as lower back pain, coccyx pain and pubic pain
- Abdominal separation- otherwise known as Rectus Abdominis Diastasis.
It is also important to consider the time since your delivery, the type of delivery that you had and how you have recovery since your delivery before deciding when to return to exercise. If you have had a Caesarean section, the assistance of forceps or a vacuum in your delivery or a tear or episiotomy, your recovery is likely to be slower, therefore delaying your return to exercise.
Pelvic Floor First Australia’s recommended exercise guidelines
- Pelvic floor exercises - commence 24 hours after a vaginal delivery and 3 days after a Caesarean section
- Gentle abdominal bracing - this involves very gently engaging your deepest abdominal muscle by drawing in your lower tummy just above your pubic bone. Commence 24 hours after a vaginal delivery and 3 days after a Caesarean section
- Walking - when your body feels ready. Start with short walks on a flat surface without a pram and slowly increase the distance and difficulty as your body allows
- Swimming (once bleeding has stopped).
- Low impact exercise - walking on increasingly challenging terrain, cycling, cross-trainer (if no low back pain or pelvic pain)
- Light resistance - light hand weights or Therabands/tubes but nothing that causes you to hold your breath or strain, body weighted exercise, low intensity water aerobics
- Continue with pelvic floor exercises and abdominal bracing
- Be aware of good posture, form and quality of the exercise
- Invest in a supportive bra!
- Consider visiting a physio for an abdominal muscle check and pelvic floor muscle testing before returning to high impact exercise, running, sport or abdominal exercise programs
- Slowly increase resistance, intensity and impact of exercise.
You can return to your previous activity levels if your pelvic floor muscles have returned to normal and you are not experiencing back pain or signs of pelvic floor weakness such as incontinence or a sense of heaviness in the vagina during or after exercise. If your symptoms persist, seek the advice of your obstetrician or a physiotherapist with experience in Women’s health and continence.
Remember that everyone’s birth experience is unique and we all recover at different rates. Return to exercise only when you feel ready - it should be an enjoyable experience so there is no point pushing yourself when you’re sleep deprived or achy and sore!!