First of all, I love high impact exercise. I am a big fan of running and plyometrics (jumping). A long time ago I used to think that you couldn’t a good workout in if you didn’t go full on high impact.. I know now that high impact just isn’t appropriate for everyone and particularly in pregnancy and in the postnatal period it is sensible to protect your weakened pelvic floor and core by switching to low impact strength work. After years of teaching pregnancy and postnatal exercise classes, it’s become second nature to offer low-impact, safe variations of the “normal” types of exercises we do. I should also add here that if you ever attend an exercise class and the instructor can’t (or even worse won’t) give you a modification to an exercise then please don’t attend that class again! And continue reading to arm yourself with the knowledge to adapt the exercises yourself..
Anyone who has done one of my “low impact” classes knows that they are JUST as challenging, yet much kinder and more appropriate for the body, especially during pregnancy, after having a baby, recovering from injury, or those who just want to avoid jumping/impact in general. Mama on the Move’s strength and fitness online programmes are ALL low impact.
Here are some (video) examples of modifications of your beloved impact exercises without taking down the intensity:
NOTE: Please make sure you get the all clear from your midwife/doctor before commencing on any exercise programme. We would not advise doing the “step out” burpees or frontal plank if you are suffering from diastasis recti or in the 3rd trimester. In addition if you suffer from Pelvic Girdle Pain you may find some of these exercises (even the modified ones) not appropriate so as always listen to your body and stop if you feel any pain/discomfort.
Tips on how to decrease impact and modify exercises:
- Keep at least one foot on the floor. If you want to change a traditional jumping movement, keep one foot on the floor at all times. For example – see our star jump alternatives..
- Step it out…. Break the exercise out into separate segents… See our burpee variation
3) Arms up! By raising your arms above your head, your heart rate will increase. If you’re keeping the moves low-impact, try to think of some ways to add in controlled arm movements to increase your intensity (light weights can also be added..)
4) Instead of jumping, rise up onto your toes. See our squat jump alternative - Come down into a squat and rise up onto your toes (getting calf workout in too), reaching your arms up. Move quickly and your heart rate will soon start pumping!
5) Pulse it out…. Instead of jumping, add a pulse to ramp up the intensity -see our jump lunge variation, you will really feel the burn with small movements but without the impact..
6) Decrease the range of motion.. For example, don’t go so low in the squats/lunges, start with small movements and build up from there.
7) For planks and push ups try using a wall or slight incline (like the back of a sofa) to avoid excessive pressure on your core. If you have no diastasis recti after having your baby then you can start to build up to floor work for side planks and push ups but always start on your knees..
While I was having coffee and <ahem> eating cake with my lovely Pregnancy Pilates group the other day we were discussing the subject of the “mum bum”. How during or post pregnancy many of us find that our bottoms feel rather soft and lacking in muscle tone! It’s expected to have a squishy tummy post baby but the bottom too?! Why is this? Well, during pregnancy your centre of gravity shifts and as a result, many women try to counterbalance that shift by tucking their tailbone. This means that you end up underusing your glute muscles and overusing the posterior pelvic floor muscles. This results in a flattened backside that can’t fill up or hold up a pair of jeans.
While it might seem a bit odd, the next time you are with your mum friends... check out their derrieres (surreptitiously of course!) – what do you see? Chances are you will see a lot of flat bums, flat backs and jeans that are continuously being pulled up. The ‘mum bum’ epidemic is out of control; if you want to avoid it then read on for some advice and exercises to help keep your bottom bootylicious, and, as an added benefit your pelvic floor will thank you too!
Sitting does nothing to build the glutes and everything to make your bum as flat as a pancake. This is tricky in the early postnatal weeks as we are often glued to the sofa feeding our little ones. However, in between those feeds minimizing the amount of time spent sitting is critical to maintaining a healthy backside!
One of the best exercises out there is walking, and something that all new mums and mums to be can and should do as often as possible. It is a low impact form of exercise, so kind to the pelvic floor as well as a good way of getting the endorphins flowing. Hill walking is particularly beneficial, as when you add in the incline of a hill, it really blasts those glutes into high gear along with elevating your heart rate.
- Glute Bridges
The simple route to a perfect posterior is to master the glute bridge. As well as helping your bum look fabulous this exercise will also help improve your hip flexibility and mobility. To increase the challenge, try raising one leg off the ground and keeping it steady as you bridge, or move both feet on top of a table or box.
- Lie on your back on an exercise mat or the floor in a bent-knee position with your feet flat on the floor.
- Place your feet hip-width apart with the toes facing away from you. Gently contract your abdominal muscles to flatten your low back into the floor. Attempt to maintain this TVA activation throughout the exercise.
- Gently exhale. Keep the abdominals engaged and lift your hips up off the floor. Press your heels into the floor for added stability.
- Inhale and slowly lower yourself back to your starting position.
Watch points: Avoid pushing your hips too high, which can cause hyperextension (arching) in your low back. Keeping your abdominals strong helps to prevent excessive arching in the low back.
During pregnancy you should be cautious if you choose to exercise while lying on your back due to supine hypotensive syndrome, particularly after 16 weeks. Exercise on the back for short durations only and watch out for feelings of dizziness. If you experience dizziness, stop exercising immediately.
Squatting is a great bum builder and is also a functional movement as you will be always bending down to pick up the little ones or the paraphernalia that comes with motherhood. Squatting can be done (and should be done) during pregnancy and within a few weeks postnatally. The range of motion can be modified but you want to aim for a nice deep squat with the tailbone un-tucked and your pelvis in neutral (keeping the small curve in your low back). Squats are one of my favourite exercises and there are many variations that can be done to keep things interesting.
- Stand with feet slightly wider than hips. Keep your back straight, with your neutral spine, and your chest and shoulders up. Keep looking straight ahead
- Toes should be slightly pointed outwards and engage your core by sucking your tummy button into your spine to work your transverse abdominals. (The girdle that holds everything in your abdominals together.)
- Slowly bend your knees and lower yourself to the ground as if to sit in a chair position – pushing your bottom back and down. As you squat down, focus on keeping your knees in line with your feet.
- Stop when your thighs are parallel with the floor.
- Push back up through your heels, exhaling at the same time.
Inhale when lowering body, exhae when pushing back up. Keep your toes pointed forward. Don't allow your chest to drop and sink onto the tops of your thighs.
During pregnancy there are times though when squats are not beneficial. You should avoid squatting when baby is not in an optimal position after 30 weeks, as squats help descend a baby deeper down into the pelvis. If there is any pain when you perform a squat then you may need to have your technique assessed to correct your form or you can choose from different variations to reduce any discomfort. There are some scenarios when you don’t want to induce early labour, a couple of examples might be Vasa Previa and multiple pregnancies under 35 weeks.
- The Oyster
The oyster helps to open up the hip joint, as well as strengthening the glutes and stabilising your pelvis. The opening and closing of the leg are also a great way of working your pelvic floor muscles.
- Lie on your right side with your shoulders and hips aligned on top of each other. If you are pregnancy you may wish to use a pillow under your head and bump for comfort.
- Place your left hand on the mat in front of you and bend both knees so that your heels are in a line with the back of your pelvis.
- Inhale to prepare and then exhale and keeping the feet connected lift up your top knee. Keep the pelvis still and stable and move from the hip joint.
- Inhale and control the leg back to the start position.
Only open the top leg as far as you can whilst keeping the pelvis still. Keep your core engaged and your waist lifted off the mat throughout the exercise. Try and place as little pressure through the top arm as possible
- The Glute Pulse
This exercise focuses on building strength in the glutes and hamstrings. Completing the move in four point position will also challenge the core muscles as you work to keep the torso stabilised and the spine in neutral against the movement of your leg.
- Start in four point kneeling position with wrists under shoulders and knees under hip joints.
- Inhale to prepare. Then exhale and keeping the core muscles engaged, slowly lift the left leg.
- Your knee should stay bent as you press your foot up toward the ceiling.
- Inhale and lower the leg back to start position.
Keep your spine in neutral by engaging your core muscles, and avoid rotating your hip s by keeping the shoulders and hips squared to the floor during the entire exercise.
We've created some short tabata workouts to get those glutes working:
The term “core” is really a fitness buzzword and its actual meaning can be debated to no end. If you have read Tamsin’s blog you know about the ‘Power Four’ as the main inner muscles of the core that Mama on the Move focus on: The transverse abdominis, (TVA) the pelvic floor (PF), multifidus and the diaphragm.
For pregnant and postnatal women the process of carrying and delivering a baby can place a significant strain on your core muscles, meaning that we often suffer from conditions such as pelvic floor dysfunction, hernias, diastasis recti and low back pain. Quite often it is not just the case that these muscles have been weakened but our brain may also have forgotten how to connect with and communicate with them. If you are pregnant – click here to read our blog on connecting with your core in pregnancy…
- How to engage TVA:
I personally use the cue of “gently drawing your tummy button towards your spine” with my clients, and I believe if you really understand that this is NOT sucking your tummy in as hard as you can then it is an effective cue for lots of people, myself included!
So, we know it isn’t sucking your tummy in hard – WHY? Well think of a tube of tooth paste, if you squeeze it hard in the middle - all you’re doing is displacing the paste. Yes, the centre where you squeeze is thinner, but the paste is still in the tube, it’s just moved. Sucking in your stomach and pulling air up into your diaphragm or pushing air down into your pelvic floor isn’t going to do anything for you.
You also want to add in the correct breathing and connect with the pelvic floor at the same time as “gently drawing your tummy in towards your spine” on the EXHALE and release these muscles on the inhale. When the muscles of your Pelvic Floor turn on, your TVA can engage properly. This is drastically different from simply “sucking in your stomach”. Making a ssssssssss sound as you exhale can sometimes help find the deep core muscles you are working.
- So, how to engage your Pelvic Floor?
This is going to sound a little strange, BUT - imagine using your vagina like a straw. Imagine sucking up a smoothie or trying to pick up a grape. It’s a gentle upward lifting action. Note, it’s gentle, not forceful.
Don’t forget your posture:
Good posture and alignment is crucial. Make sure your spine is neutral, your chest should not thrust – so lower ribs stay back, stacked directly over hips. Your shoulders are relaxed and not up by your ears and your tailbone or bottom doesn’t tuck underneath you. When you engage your TVA, you should not see movement anywhere else in your body.
- Simply drawing/sucking your stomach in doesn’t do anything. So don’t waste time trying to active your TVA independently
- Your Transverse Abdominis AND Pelvic Floor muscles activate together
- Think about your posture, shoulders relaxed, chest not thrust forward, bottom “untucked”
- Proper engagement of your TVA and Pelvic Floor feels like a gentle upward *and* inward pulling
- Don’t forget the BREATHING. Inhale to prepare, EXHALE as you gently pull upward on pelvic floor and inward with tummy to spine. INHALE to release the muscles.
- DON’T FORGET to relax these muscles too -you CAN overuse them– don’t go around trying to hold in your tummy and pelvic floor all day – this will not make them stronger, they need to relax.
When to “engage” the Core:
- Before you lift anything… your baby, the car seat, the buggy…. Prepare and protect your back by properly engaging your core. I know this sounds like a lot to remember but if you re-train yourself to do this then it will become second nature…
- Before you perform exercises such as squats, lunges, press ups etc. Remember also to EXHALE on the EXERTION – which in squats, lunges, press ups is as you push back up
- When you are doing your pelvic floor exercises, don’t forget these muscles work best when worked together so activate your TVA as well.
Our pregnancy and postnatal programmes include Pilates workouts that will help you reconnect with and strengthen your core and pelvic floor. Click here for more details.
One thing clients are often surprised about is that they can and should be working their core muscles during pregnancy. As Tamsin talked about in her blog, most people are not really sure what their core muscles are or how to properly engage them. Many think they are your abdominals (the “six pack muscle”) and whilst women may be aware in pregnancy that exercises such as crunches and sit ups are not suitable (Correct!), they are unaware that there are some essential core exercises you should be doing.
Magic Disappearing Bump Trick
An effective and safe core exercise to do in pregnancy is called “hugging the baby in” and the great thing about this simple exercise is you can do it standing, sitting (on the ball is good but on a chair fine) or on all fours. You just fit this in around your day and practice it whenever you have some spare time. It’s also a great “party trick” as you can amaze your other half/friends as you hug your baby in and make your bump disappear a little! This exercise is also safe for all 3 trimesters and can be done postnatally (even after a c section).
PLEASE NOTE – THIS DOES NOT HURT YOUR BABY IN ANYWAY!!
Hugging the baby in (engaging your pregnancy core) promotes good posture during pregnancy by strengthening the deep core muscles, the TVA and pelvic floor, which helps support the weight of your growing baby.
By learning to ‘HUG THE BABY,’ you are strengthening your TVA and pelvic floor which in turn:
- Decreases susceptibility to Diastasis Recti
- Prevents and alleviates lower back pain
- Promotes good posture
- Help with pushing the baby out during delivery
- Postnatally it helps your tummy return back to its pre pregnancy state quicker
How to Hug the Baby and Release the Baby
- Stand up tall, lengthening the spine to the ceiling, like you have a string on the top of your head.
- Inhale deeply, allowing the air to fill down the sides and back of the ribs, (Lateral Thoracic Breathing).
- EXHALE as you gently lift up on the pelvic floor and you hug your baby (pulling baby or tummy in towards the spine activating the TVA). Keep the pelvis neutral (don’t tuck your bottom under).
- Feel equal weight on your feet pressing down into the floor and keep the shoulders relaxed and down away from the ears.
- INHALE as you relax the TVA and pelvic floor, releasing the Hug the Baby posture.
The ability to completely relax the TVA and pelvic floor allows for flexible, strong muscles rather than tight, inflexible muscles, and it is very important to remember to relax completely on the inhale.
In the video I am hugging the baby in on all fours. Mare sure your hands are directly under your shoulders (and shoulder width apart) and that your knees are directly under your hips and hip width apart. You spine should be in “neutral” position, which a flat back and un-tucked bottom.
During my third pregnancy I followed Mama in the Move’s Fitness and Pilates programmes, which include lots of safe deep core exercises and I can honestly say it was my easiest pregnancy and I had no back pain at all. I was also able to activate my deep core muscles much earlier postnatally because I had been working them throughout my pregnancy.
Depression in pregnancy is perhaps less widely talked about as postnatal depression. I suffered from antenatal depression during my second pregnancy, having not fully recovered or been treated from the PND I had with my first daughter. Added to that I was terrified of giving birth again, so I suffered from extreme anxiety about what lay ahead.
Pregnancy is obviously a time of HUGE physical change and many clients come to me in pregnancy because they want to maintain some sort of “control” over their changing bodies. By continuing to exercise they can feel empowered and physically stronger and as a result hopefully suffer less of the nasty pregnancy niggles such as fatigue, poor posture, back ache, weakened pelvic floor muscles and excessive abdominal separation. Exercise also better equips mums for labour and birth. I personally found maintaining my exercise routine during pregnancy helped alleviate the depression. Although it is not a magic cure, it can be hugely beneficial both for your mental health AND physical well-being.
Tips on Exercising to help Ante-natal Depression
- Walk as much as you can in pregnancy – it really is one of the best and safest forms of exercise – getting out and about in the fresh air is great at lifting your mood naturally.
- Some exercise classes and gym work ARE safe for you to continue taking part in during your pregnancy. If you have been doing classes for a while, you don’t have to stop as soon as you get pregnant! Always tell your instructor you are pregnant though. For more tips on exercising in pregnancy, see our blog on the benefits of exercising in pregnancy and also our online pregnancy programme has details on how to continue to attend your favourite exercise classes but with little tweaks here and there to accommodate your growing bump safely.
- A pregnancy Pilates or Yoga class can be very beneficial as both concentrate on the breathing and relaxation techniques which can help you feel more calm and focused. There is also “mindfulness” linked to these forms of exercises where you can “switch off” and be in the moment which has been shown to help alleviate feelings of depression. Plus you get to meet other expectant mums, great if you are feeling a little lonely or isolated in your pregnancy.
- Try our safe and effective pregnancy Fitness and Pilates programmes – they can be done in your own home/garden or at your gym. It means you can keep up your exercise but secure in the knowledge the exercises you are doing are safe for your stage of pregnancy. We also have lots of great healthy recipes for you to try too.
If you are experiencing depression in pregnancy then please seek the help you need. Speak to your family and friends and your doctor or midwife. You can also contact ante/post natal depression charities/helplines for further advice. If you have experienced a traumatic first birth and you are worried about subsequent births like I was, then counselling can really help. Find a counsellor or organisation that specialises in dealing with these issues.
- For those Bristol based Bluebell Care is a fabulous charity working with those suffering from depression in pregnancy and postnatally. http://www.bluebellcare.org/ - it also has useful links to other organisations that can help.
- The Samaritans - http://www.samaritans.org
- Mind helplines - http://www.mind.org.uk/help/advice_lines
Women are increasingly aware that exercising during pregnancy has a huge range of benefits for both mum and baby. Although I exercised throughout my first 2 pregnancies, I still suffered with the back pain that most pregnant women get. During my most recent 3rd pregnancy I practiced Pilates regularly and as a result I was amazed that I didn't experience ANY back pain - my core was much stronger and I can honestly say it was my easiest pregnancy.
Pilates focuses on training the core abdominal, pelvic floor and back muscles (see our blog about them here), which are all important for good posture, balance and strength. As a result it can help prevent a number of common problems associated with pregnancy.
Here are 6 reasons why you should consider practicing Pilates during your pregnancy:
- Pilates can reduce pelvic girdle pain.
The pelvic girdle is a ring of bones at the base of your spine connected by strong ligaments. Hormones released during pregnancy soften these ligaments increasing their elasticity. This helps the pelvis to expand during labour, but for some women it can sometimes result in severe pain in the pelvic area. Pilates strengthens your pelvic floor, stomach, back and hip muscles. This takes the pressure off your joints, which may help to reduce pelvic girdle pain.
- Pilates helps to decrease back pain.
A recent study suggested that over 68% of women suffer from back pain during pregnancy. One of the biggest changes during pregnancy is in your posture as your baby grows. Common changes include a rounding of the upper spine due to the increased weight of the beasts and either a forward or backward tilt in the lower spine. This shift in your posture can increase tension in the muscles, which may in turn lead to back pain. Pilates can help with this by improving your postural awareness, muscular control and core strength.
- Pilates may help prevent a diastasis recti
During pregnancy your outer stomach muscles, the rectus abdominus, divides along the central line, the linea alba so that the uterus can grow. The divide will usually close again after birth. However, in some cases it will not improve which can lead to that hard to shift ‘mummy tummy’. Pilates focuses on strengthening the deepest stomach muscle, the transverse abdominis, which will help relieve pressure on the linea alba and prevent the divide from becoming too wide.
- Pilates strengthens your pelvic floor.
As the weight of the baby increases it puts pressure on the pelvic floor muscles. These muscles support all the pelvic contents, uterus, bladder and bowels so pregnancy can commonly lead to pelvic floor problems including incontinence and prolapse. Pilates enables you to connect with your pelvic floor so that you can improve the tone and function of these muscles, helping prevent the dreaded ‘sneeze pee’.
- Pilates can help you have an easier labour and delivery
The transverse abdominis is one of the main muscles that is involved in the delivery of your baby. During labour it compresses the stomach and helps you push more effectively. Pilates also encourages deep lateral thoracic breathing and a connection between mind and body, which may help you relax(!) during labour.
- Pilates helps with balance
As your baby increases in size your center of gravity changes, which may make you feel clumsier. Pilates strengthens the deep core muscles that help stabilize you so that you can feel more secure.
If these reasons have inspired you to practice Pilates then check out our Mama on the Move pregnancy programmes, which include 5 different Pilates workouts, suitable for the various stages of pregnancy.
So, in writing this blog the first thing I should probably confess is that my exercise during pregnancy was pretty much non-existent. There were a number of reasons for this. Firstly when I was about seven weeks pregnant I was admitted to hospital with stomach cramps. In spite of the fact that my hcg levels (a pregnancy hormone) were extremely high doctors couldn’t find any evidence of my pregnancy on a scan so I was diagnosed with a ‘pregnancy of unknown location’, probably either an ectopic or molar pregnancy. It was two scans and ten anxious days later that our son was finally ‘found’. Although I was overjoyed the experience definitely left me very aware of how precious yet vulnerable my baby was. I had heard that there may be links between exercising in pregnancy and miscarriage and didn’t want to do anything that might harm the baby.
Around the sixteen-week mark I already had a large bump and by the twenty-week mark I had already put on the recommended 2 stone that you are supposed to gain by the end of your pregnancy! Therefore I decided that maybe some gentle exercise might help, which lead me to my next obstacle - boredom. The only forms of exercise that seemed to be recommended for pregnancy were either swimming or yoga. Unfortunately I have never enjoyed swimming and after three sessions I just could not bring myself to continue with it. And even with the extra relaxin in my system I was still far too inflexible for yoga so that only lasted for two sessions.
I then gave little more thought to exercise until the 39th week of pregnancy when I was told that the baby had not engaged. At this point a quick Google alerted me to the benefits of walking and squatting to help stimulate labour. As the days ticked on and I went further and further overdue I stepped up the regime in desperation but sadly to little effect and I ended up being induced when I was 2 weeks overdue.
At this stage you may be forgiven for wondering how I became a part of Mama on the Move! However, if I had one regret about my pregnancy it was failing to exercise, for a number of reasons.
- After being induced I had a very long labour that ended in an emergency c-section. I now know how important the core muscles such as the transverse abdominis, pelvic floor and diaphragm are during labour and delivery.
- My son was also huge, weighing in at 9 pounds 11 ounces, when I am only 5”3. Again, during my training I discovered that there is a link between macrosomia (large babies) and a lack of physical activity in pregnancy.
- Post delivery I struggled to regain my pre-pregnancy figure, and when I resumed exercising I discovered I had a diastasis recti as well as pelvic floor problems – both of which I could have avoided or at least reduced if I’d exercised during pregnancy.
After training as a Pilates instructor and specialising in pregnancy and postnatal exercise I was surprised by the amount of mis-information and confusion there is about exercising in pregnancy, with many women keen to keep exercising but worried about the risks of miscarriage or harming the baby. With this in mind I created an infographic to highlight some of the benefits of continuing to exercise during pregnancy. Whilst exercising is no guarantee of a quick and easy labour there are so many advantages to both you and your baby including:
- Reducing backaches, constipation, bloating and swelling
- Boosting your mood and energy levels
- Helping you sleep better
- Preventing excess weight gain
- Promoting muscle tone, strength and endurance
My experiences inspired me to help other expectant mothers to start or continue to exercise in pregnancy. I teamed up with Laura to create the Mama on the Move pregnancy programme, which includes Pilates and strength workouts that are safe and effective for your particular stage of pregnancy. You will also receive our pregnancy exercise guide with information and tips such as how to adapt your existing gym or class workouts for each trimester of pregnancy. We’ve also created a nutrition guide and included lots of delicious recipes and advice on eating well in pregnancy. Click on the link to sign up to our pregnancy programmes today.