Most people have heard about the benefits of a Pilates mat workout both during and after pregnancy. Mums to be speak of improved strength in their bodies, (particularly the pelvic floor and the lumbo- pelvic region), enhanced flexibility, the focus on deep breathing and relaxation, and the ultimate benefits of an easier birth and quicker postnatal recovery. Now, however, there is an even more exciting way to stay fit and healthy during pregnancy, The Pilates Reformer.
The Pilates Reformer is made up of a sliding carriage that sits on long runners and is controlled by a variety of springs and pulleys. Over 200 exercises can be performed on this superb machine targeting the whole body, from the ankles, thighs and bottom to the abdominals, shoulders and arms. For the non- pregnant Pilates exerciser the Reformer takes the mat repertoire onto the next level using spring tension to add resistance to mat movements as well as being able to challenge specific muscles more effectively. For the pregnant client it offers more specific benefits.
After the first trimester exercises in a supine position (lying flat on your back) should be avoided. This is due to the possibility of Supine Hypertensive Syndrome, a condition where the uterus compresses the vena cava effecting oxygen flow to both the mother and baby. A large amount of mat exercises are performed supine and prone (lying on your front- obviously not so achievable!) meaning that a pure mat workout can become a little repetitive as the pregnancy progresses. The sheer diversity of exercises that can be performed on the Pilates Reformer means that more variety can be offered as well as enabling mums to be to feel as if they are more closely carrying on their pre pregnancy workout (with a reduction in intensity of course). For example, the Swan, an extension exercise for the spine which begins lying prone and works the upper back muscles can be replaced by the back rows seated or long stretch on all fours on the reformer, so these key muscles are still exercised. It is very important to maintain and develop strength around the shoulder girdle as lifting and carrying a new baby is a workout in itself. The Reformer workout can therefore be a key tool in preparing expectant mothers for their new role.
Hormonal changes during pregnancy create an increase in ligament laxity throughout the body and most significantly in the low back and sacral area. Therefore, long-levered, open chain exercises (with both feet off the floor) are not recommended. On the reformer, the gliding carriage allows movement through a full but carefully controlled range of motion while keeping the arms and legs grounded for a safe and effective workout. The footwork series whilst supported on the barrel is a great way to work the core and legs whilst in a closed chain. This series of exercises is performed with the feet resting on the foot bar then bending and straightening the legs in a squat type movement. As circulation and blood flow can be affected in pregnancy this footwork works wonders for tightness and cramping in the lower legs, reducing varicose veins and swelling.
Posture and Stability
Prenatal Pilates on the Reformer also increases postural awareness while strengthening the periphery. During pregnancy the body changes daily. As the baby grows, it’s added weight can pull the lumbo-pelvic region into an exaggerated curve (an arching of the lower back) affecting the centre of gravity and balance. As the breasts increase in size, the thoracic and cervical spinal curves can also become more exaggerated. As these curves increase, so does the stress on the surrounding muscles and joints. A no impact regime, a Pilates Reformer workout places emphasis on restoring the spine’s natural curves and on improving stability and mobility in the lumbo-pelvic region. There is a focus on strengthening the thoracic extensors and lengthening the chest muscles to counteract the increased curves in the upper part of the back. Each exercise session on the reformer redefines what ideal alignment looks and feels like for each participant. Once that is established, the reformer exercises will effectively strengthen and support the body through all phases of the pregnancy.
Gemma Wright, Studio Director, Purely Pilates.
For further advice or information please contact the Purely Pilates Studio,
Tel: 01273 770900
Testimonial Pre natal Pilates on the Reformer:
‘I really had no idea what to expect, but was rather surprised to be presented with the reformer. This piece of equipment looks rather alarming with a number of straps, pulleys and bars, all arranged on an individual couch. Of course not being on the floor has had its obvious advantages with my expanding girth, but in addition to this it allows you to work on the desired muscle groups under control, with an appropriate resistance. It is a piece of equipment that really allows all muscle groups to be exercised, even when pregnant. I have found the reformer easy to use and have enjoyed the pregnancy Pilates classes enormously. At no point have I found the classes to be too strenuous or causing any pressure to me or my bump. I would very much like to return to classes as soon as possible after the birth of my baby, and look forward to a more vigorous reformer workout in the future.’
Sue Ellery, Consultant Cardiologist, Brighton.