Pilates is a safe, yet progressive and effective core stability program that is essential in any individual’s daily exercise program. It is ideal for anyone – a sedentary worker, a pregnant woman and injured athlete and the competitive athlete.
It is particularly important for women who are thinking or becoming pregnant, having a baby or postpartum. The reason for this is as a women prepares for the new arrival of her baby mentally, physically and spiritually, she’ll also begin to notice the multitude of changes in her new body.
One of these changes is the arrival of the ‘pregnancy hormones’. These play a vital role in preparing the body for childbirth. Consequently, the ligaments become more mobile or ‘hypermobile’ to maximize the ‘birth passage’. Although this hypermobility prepares the body for the birth of the baby, it also makes the spine more susceptible to injury and pain. The ‘lax ligaments’ that hold the pelvis and spine in alignment now have ‘more play’. Additionally, as the body undergoes the miracle of making this ‘new life’ and accommodates for the growing baby, there is an increased stress and load on the body, in particular the spine and pelvis. ‘Core stability’ exercises, which are exercises that recruit the deep abdominal and back muscles, will assist in protecting this region and preventing any injuries.
Pilates implements core stability in a comprehensive repertoire of balanced exercise sequences. Pilates emphasizes postural and core stability in conjunction with flexibility and mind and body awareness. It promotes a balanced and toned body that is both strong yet flexible, without risking injury. Because Pilates also involves very precise form and control, exercises are performed slowly in order to effectively work the deeper stability group of abdominals. The exercises can also be modified according to one’s level of fitness and stage of pregnancy as needed. It is thus ideal and safe for expecting and new mothers and anyone that has an acute or chronic injury.
Pilates focuses on recruiting the deepest layer of the abdominal group (called the transversus abdominus muscle – TAB for short!). It is the primary muscle responsible for proper postural alignment as it encircles your midsection like a ‘corset’; and its main role is to support the spine. With respect to back care and injury prevention, it is also the most important abdominal muscle. There are also tiny deep muscles that span between the vertebrae (bones) in the spine (the multifidus muscle), that work with the TAB muscle to assist with keeping the back ‘in check’. Implementing these muscles in a regular fitness regime is therefore very important in maintaining a healthy and strong back.
Pilates also incorporates flexibility. This is beneficial in combating stiffness, which is often a complaint during and after pregnancy. By emphasizing spinal articulation (‘rolling of each vertebrae (bone) in the spine’) and mobility, Pilates maximizes spinal range of motion and assists with keeping it as ‘limber as possible’. This component of fitness is also important in injury and pain prevention. Also, maximizing flexibility in conjunction with mind and body awareness and core stability can also facilitate an easier, faster birth and recovery. Maximizing flexibility will also prevent re-injury in the future.
Pilates is also just as important in the preparation for the challenges of motherhood once baby arrives. As a new mom, women will be grateful that their core is strong, yet flexible, as they find themselves in awkward lifting positions with a newborn that only seems to be getting heavier. It continues to be impossible to find ergonomic cribs and car seats; and the repetitive tasks of lifting and transporting their new baby only applies more load and stress to the back. Additionally, the demands of breastfeeding may bear some new sensations in the upper back.
The other great thing about Pilates is that you can do the basics anywhere – you can initiate ‘core muscles’ while sitting waiting in line to pay groceries or while changing diapers! It is also an enjoyable and fun way to keep the body in shape while connecting with baby together at home or in a mom and baby Pilates class.
As a recreational, or competitive athlete, Pilates will enhance your performance and make exercise or your sport that much more easy and enjoyable, at the same time protecting you from injury.