Why a Regular Pilates Class Isn't Right for Pregnancy

Pre-Natal Pilates You Can Do at Home

Pregnant woman doing pilates
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Sometime in the last decade, Pilates became synonymous with "pre-natal workout." If you are a woman considering your pregnancy workout options, you may be surprised to know that Pilates group classes are really not intended for pregnancy. Read on to learn what your Pilates options are during pregnancy and what Pilates moves you can do at home.

What Kind of Pilates Class Should I Look For?

Good question.

 Most Pilates classes are organized by type. There are mat classes which take place solely on the mat. Some classes focus entirely on reformers or other Pilates apparatus and there are still other classes that seek to target particular customer types. In those instances, the workouts may be geared toward beginner or advanced levels or even according to gender.

Occasionally, Pilates classes will hone in on specific goals such as classes suited for runners or triathletes. As a general rule of thumb, know before you go. Call ahead, ask questions, and read up to make sure the Pilates class you are interested in is appropriate for you. The only type of group Pilates class that is truly safe during your pregnancy is one that is specifically geared towards pregnant women.

Why a Regular Pilates Class Isn't Right for Pregnancy

When Joseph Pilates created his resistance training system, he considered exercises for the "normal, healthy" body.

The home program presented in his book "Return to Life" shows the mat system as it was intended to be performed. The mat work alone contains a multitude of exercises performed on the back and on the stomach with a heavy focus on the abdominals.

Although many women pass the first six weeks of pregnancy without discernible changes, by the time you are into your second trimester, exercise positions become a factor in both comfort and safety.

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG), which issues statements on wellness in pregnancy, recommends that women not exercise on their back after the first trimester of pregnancy. Such exercise can cause undue compression on the vessels to the heart and compromise the health of both mother and baby.

When Pilates teachers aren't focusing on the abdominals and guiding the class through exercises on their back, they often turn things upside down and direct students to flip onto their stomachs to work the spine and spinal muscles. For a mother-to-be, this eliminates a huge portion of exercises that can be executed in a group class. Coupled with the focus on deep abdominal strength, the mat work as it was originally designed, is actually a poor choice for a pre-natal workout.

Reformer classes come with the same set of problems. In a routine Pilates class you can expect to spend a protracted period of time on your back focusing on contracting your midsection, neither of which is suitable during pregnancy.

Many obstetricians and gynecologists have come to know that Pilates is ideal for resistance training, core strength, pelvic floor strength, and can be uniquely modified to any body.

To the unexperienced Pilates practitioner, that sounds ideal for pregnancy training. And it is—just not in a classic Pilates group format. The solution? Prenatal Pilates is best delivered in private or semi-private training with a dedicated instructor. Alternatively, expecting mothers should seek out classes that are specifically labeled "Pre-Natal Pilates." These classes will typically be smaller in number and crafted with modifications that serve the needs of the pregnant body. 

In case you can't make it to a pre-natal Pilates class or don't have access to one on one training, don't worry. Here are a few at home options to capture the best Pilates results possible during pregnancy.

Pre-Natal Pilates You Can Do at Home

The Abs

Begin with the obvious. Being pregnant does not mean you can not work your abdominals. This simple seated move can serve you anywhere and anytime and allows you to stay connected to your core strength no matter how far along you may be. Label this one, "find your abs."

Sit comfortably with good posture and place one hand on your belly and one behind your low back. Inhale and feel your middle fill with air. Then slowly exhale, drawing your abdominals inward toward your spine. Your front hand will naturally pull in towards your back hand. Done properly, you should feel your abdominal muscles contract slowly and steadily. No need to fold over or collapse here, maintain your tall spine and breathe smoothly to find your pilates abs.

Repeat 10 times. Perform 2 to 3 times daily.

The Legs

Lie on your side to work your legs. A baby's development requires a lot of calcium, which is drawn from the mother's bones and can affect bone density within the spine and hips. Front kicks can strengthen and stabilize the hips both during and after pregnancy.

Begin in side-lying and prop your head up on your hand. Extend your legs ahead of you so your body is aligned at a 45 degree angle. Raise the top leg a few inches and rotate it so the knee faces up toward the ceiling. Brace your body with your free hand by placing it on the mat in front of you for balance. Kick the top leg in front of you with two pulses at the peak of the kick. Then sweep it back and down behind you, lengthening the leg and tightening the gluteals. 

Repeat 10 kicks and then switch sides. Perform 2 times daily.

The Arms 

Grab a set of 2-3 pound arm weights for a standing arm exercise designed to work your entire body and prep you for long hours of holding your new baby. Named for the smaller fireworks, the "sparklers" will provide a quick burn and solid toning for your arms and shoulders.

Stand tall with your legs held together, heels together but toes apart. Hold the weights low just in front of your hips. Make eight tiny rapid circles with the arms circling the weights towards each other as you raise them all the way up overhead. Then reverse the circles and lower the arms all the way down for another eight counts.

Repeat 3 - 4 sets. Perform 2 - 3 times daily. 

The Feet

Your feet bear the burden of pregnancy each day your baby grows. The ligaments in the feet spread and moms-to-be routinely complain of the all-too-common swelling that plagues the third trimester. This move aims to combat weakening foot muscles and maintain some of the muscular integrity that ensures you will revert to your old shoe size after the birth of the baby.

Known as the "two by four," this move can be done standing on a real two-by-four or simply on the floor. Either way, hold on to something for balance, like the back of a chair or even a wall. Stand tall and parallel with your feet separated about 6-8 inches. Bend your knees deeply, keeping your heels flat to stretch the calves and achilles tendons. Roll the heels up until you are high onto the balls of the feet, but keep your knees bent. When you can't go higher, straighten the knees pulling the leg muscles taut and raising the heels ever higher. Finally lower the heels slowly to finish. Make sure to follow these step-by-step instructions.

Repeat 5 times. Reverse for 5 move. Perform 2-3 times daily. 

Bottom Line

In the proper setting, Pilates can be an ideal training regimen during pregnancy. Before jumping into a class, connect with the studio and find out if they offer specific pre-natal training and if their group classes are appropriate for moms-to-be. If not, inquire about private training. Either way, follow the above at-home routine.


Exercise During Pregnancy. American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology Website. http://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Exercise-During-Pregnancy.