Two years ago Pippa Middleton told newspapers that her pilates sessions were a weekly necessity and that the exercise helped her core stability and posture.
Last January, when Kate, pictured, was three months pregnant, a source told Now magazine that the young royal was keeping fit with three pilates sessions a week. She felt it was the best exercise because she could focus on specific areas of her body.
Pilates during pregnancy isn’t short of celeb fans — Julia Roberts, Cindy Crawford, Sarah Michelle Geller and Jessica Alba are just some enthusiasts. It’s not hard to see why, says chartered physiotherapist Louise Clarke. “Pilates is safe and the best method of exercise for pregnant women because it’s challenging but doesn’t put too much strain on the body.”
Clarke points to the many physiological and biomedical changes that occur during pregnancy, which may pose problems that can be countered by pilates.
* Growing uterus causes a change in centre of gravity — moving it forward, which increases curve in spine. This can cause backache and balance problems.
* Pelvic floor is under increasing strain as baby grows. The pelvic floor holds up bladder and bowel and prevents leaking. Stress incontinence (such as when you sneeze or cough) can occur in mid to late-stage pregnancy. ‘Standing-up’ exercises like running and walking puts a lot of pressure on the pelvic floor, whereas pilates exercise are generally in positions that upload the pelvic floor — four point kneeling on hands and knees means there’s no gravitational pull through pelvic floor, so the pressure’s off while you’re strengthening.
* Relax in hormone makes joint-supporting ligaments more pliable for pelvis to open during labour. This can leave the pelvis and back more susceptible to injury. Abdominal muscles are stretched as baby grows. Pilates to strengthen buttock, pelvic floor and back muscles help support the pelvis.
* Pilates exercises can increase length of spine and of abdominal area to give baby more room. Pilates can keep middle back flexible and strengthen upper limbs — this pays off in the post-natal stage.
Many women feel under increasing pressure to get their figures back post-pregnancy, says Clarke, who points to a recent warning from the head of physiotherapy at the Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne. Dr Margaret Sherburn said the emerging trend of new mothers returning too early to vigorous levels of exercise is putting them in danger of permanent joint and pelvic pain. She urged women to opt for gentle strengthening exercise like pilates to allow their body fully recover.
Women are recommended not to return/take up even a gentle exercise like pilates until six weeks after natural birth and 12 weeks after Caesarean — all subject to their consultant’s advice. “Running is a big no-no too soon after pregnancy — it’s high-impact exercise that puts pressure on your pelvic floor. I know one woman in her mid-20s, who’d had twins — she’d been running pre-pregnancy and tried to run after and ended up with stress incontinence.
“High-level exercises like stomach crunches aren’t good either. These tend to work outer muscles rather than using deep supporting muscles.”
Chartered physiotherapist Adeline O’Dowd finds women are “only somewhat aware” of the dangers of returning too soon to vigorous exercise post-pregnancy.
“Some may be highly active up to when baby is born. They underestimate the toll pregnancy and delivery has had on their body.” In the post-natal stage O’Dowd focuses on pilates exercises to rehabilitate pelvic floor and tummy muscles, as well as on posture and positional awareness.
“A lot of post-natal pain results from poor posture. I had a girl with back pain, who was doing sustained bending, standing changing her baby’s nappy over the bed. Far better for her to kneel and engage her core stabilisers to support her back while changing.
* Visit www.physio64.com.