Exercise during pregnancy is more important than ever before. When pregnant, t’s not just your own health and fitness that’s at stake, but that of your baby as well. My new Pregnancy Stretching & Posture class incorporates a number of key elements that help make your pregnancy and delivery more comfortable, and I discuss those elements in this article.
Pelvic Floor Strengthening
Why: Strengthening of these illusive muscles is crucial in any pregnancy exercise programme. Clinical studies show that strengthening of these muscles can reduce labour time, make labour easier and reduce the risk of stress incontinence before and after birth. Stress incontinence is when you leak a small amount of urine when sneezing or laughing.
How: Imagine you are urinating and now imagine try to stop urinating midstream, actively clenching muscles. Those muscles you activated in your lower abdomen are your pelvic floor muscles. Practice contracting those muscles for 5 seconds, then relaxing. Repeat 5 times, and do this several times per day.
Lumbar Extension Stretching
Why: Healthy weight gain of about 25-35 pounds (11-16kgs) is a normal part of pregnancy. However the fact that this weight gain takes place primarily on the front of your abdomen pulls your lumbar spine forward into what we call Lumbar Lordisis (see image on right-hand-side). This is the primary cause of lower back aches and pain during pregnancy.
How: The image below is a fantastic way to stretch your lower back. Having a gym ball in your home is fantastic during pregnancy, but not essential (you can use the side of your sofa or a kitchen chair in stead). Keeling on your shins, lean forward and place your hands onto the gym ball. Now lean your head and shoulders down towards the floor until you feel a gentle stretch in your lower back (this should be mildly uncomfortable, not moderately or severely). Hold for 30 seconds, repeat 3 times per sitting. I recommending doing these exercises once or twice each day, particularly towards the end of your working day.
Gluteal Muscle Strengthening
Why: Your Gluteal muscles are the muscles in your buttocks and at the side of your hips. When exercising, they play a key role in walking, running, climbing stairs. One of their most important roles when you’re expecting is to help stabilise the pelvis. Due to hormonal changes during pregnancy, the ligaments that tightly support your pelvis are more lax (to facilitate the travel of your baby through your pelvis during labour). This laxity can cause pain in your pelvis, and strengthening your Gluteal muscles can prevent and treat this pain.
How: Alternating between the two below exercises each day are a great way to strengthen your Gluteal muscles.
- With Exercise 1, you can lay down on the floor facing the ceiling with your knees bent. Lift your hips up off the floor and hold, building up towards holding for 90 seconds, then slowly lower your hips back to the ground. You can perform this twice, and on one occasion each day.
- In Exercise 2, come into 4 Point Kneeling (hands and knees) on the floor, possibly with a towel or mat under your knees for comfort. As shown, you can lift one leg up off the floor and behind you, straightening your knee. Hold for 5-10 seconds, then slowly lower back to the floor. You can perform this exercise 10 times on each leg, and on one occasion each day.