Bella Bellies: Prenatal Pilates
One of the many challenges of pregnancy is getting back in shape after your baby is born.
While pregnancy significantly changes a woman's body, that doesn't mean you'll never be able to fit back into your favorite pre-baby jeans.
READ: Wearing a Corset to Lose Baby Weight
Anne Martens is the founder of Bella Bellies, which specializes in prenatal and postpartum movement programs. We asked her to share four exercises from her prenatal Pilates class that helps moms-to-be strengthen, lengthen, and tone their bodies.
Check out the video above to see how you can maintain your "bella belly"!
All Fours Exercise
This exercise lengthens and strengthens the lower back muscles while strengthening the core musculature.
Place the hands against the floor slightly forward of the shoulders and shoulder-width apart. Adjust the hand position so the fingers are spread apart but the thumb is pressed in. This modification will widen your base to create additional support for you and your growing baby. Also, frequently, during pregnancy, the wrists and hands are tender. If this modification does not accommodate wrist discomfort, adjust your weight backwards by bringing your buttocks closer to your heels.
Place the knees directly underneath the hips and hip-width apart. As your pregnancy progresses, you may need padding, such as a thick mat or pillow underneath your knees. As your hormones shift and your body is supporting additional weight, the joints may become more sensitive.
Curl or tuck the toes under to help prevent a toe or calf cramp. Toe and calf cramps sometimes target pregnant women, particularly in the third trimester. Exercise, hydration and diet can help prevent this. You may also consider speaking with your health care provider about nutritional supplements that have a proper balance of magnesium, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin K2 and B complex. If this does not help, consider speaking with your health care provider about a topical magnesium cream applied over the cramping area.
If you feel you need more support in the All Fours Position, you may consider supporting the weight of the upper body on a chair.
To initiate the movement, engage your core musculature by pulling the belly in, toward the front of your spine, and up, closer to your heart; hold this in-and-up position.
Pull the pubic bone toward the navel and curl the tail bone slightly under.
Slide your fingers forward of the shoulders, so the finger tips are touching the floor.
Extend the opposite leg behind you so the toes are touching the floor.
Repeat with the opposite arm & leg.
Progression for First Trimester and Early Second Trimester:
To challenge your core strength further, consider lifting the arm off the floor to shoulder height.
To further challenge your core strength, consider lifting the opposite leg off the floor to hip height.
This progression is not recommended for beginners or for women who are beyond their 16th week of pregnancy, as it may strain and overstretch the rectus abdominus, contributing to a diastasis recti and/or irritation of the lower back.
Tones the abdominal wall. Lengthens and strengthens the upper thighs.
Kneel on the ground with the hips in-line with the knees.
Arms should be against the hips or extended directly in-front of you at shoulder-height.
Keep the buttocks tight and the abdominal wall cinched-in.
Action and Breath:
Keeping the spine long, inhale and hinge back — stretching the front of the thighs but not arching the lower back.
Keeping the spine long, exhale and return to your set-up position. Tighten the buttocks and draw the belly in and up — even more to return to your starting position.
Oblique Busters (Side Bends)
Stretches and tones the sides of the body which frequently becomes tight and weak during pregnancy.
Sit upright with the shoulders in-line with the hips. If it's too difficult to sit upright, place pillow(s) or stacked blankets underneath your buttocks.
Place hands below your hair-line
Elbows should be stretched wide
Legs are pressed together or hip-width apart
Keep feet flexed
Knees are bent
Action and Breath:
Initiate the movement by drawing the belly in toward the front of the spine and up closer to your heart.
Inhale, and create space in the spine by pressing the top of the head up toward the ceiling.
Exhale, pressing the right buttock down and, in an arch-like fashion, stretch the left-side of the ribcage up-and-over an imaginary exercise ball while lowering the left elbow toward the floor. Stop when the elbow is the same height as your knee.
Pause in the side bend position to inhale and breathe into the left side of the ribcage.
Exhale and return to your starting position.
Repeat on the opposite side.
Note: As you are practicing this exercise, try not to tilt forward or back by imagining your torso / upper body in-between two freshly-painted walls.
Side Lying Exercise
Lengthens and strengthens the legs, for a long and lean look
Will strengthen the muscles of the lower body to support the pelvis
Will help prevent the waddle-like walk / gait commonly associated with pregnancy
Lying down on your side, line your torso up with the back edge of the mat, hip-over-hip and shoulder-over-shoulder.
Bend your knees and bring them forward toward the front edge of the mat. Bending the knees during pregnancy will help the musculature support your spine and the weight of your baby.
Support your head with your bottom arm or (for additional support) against a pillow or yoga block.
If not using the bottom arm to support your head, extend the bottom arm long against the floor, in-line with the bottom shoulder.
Place the top hand on the top hip or against the floor, in front of the chest.
Lift the top leg hip-height and flex the foot by pulling the toes toward the knee, ensuring the toes and knees are pointed forward and there is no external rotation in the hip.
Side note: If your leg muscles are tight or you need to adjust for lower back comfort, try bending the extended knee.
Initiate all of the movement by tightening the core musculature. Imagine pulling your waist-line away from the floor.
During pregnancy the joints of the body become more sensitive to weight and pressure. You may consider placing additional padding, such as a pillow or folded blanket underneath your bottom hip.
Action and Breath for Variation 1: Leg Lifts
Lower the leg down toward the floor and lift the leg up to hip-height.
Inhale as you lower the leg, exhale as you lift the leg.
Imagine lifting and lowering the leg with resistance, as if you are moving through water.
Action and Breath for Variation 2: Small Leg Circles
Work the top leg by circling the leg in a smooth continuous motion.
“Small Circles” should be the size of a fist or baseball, lifting the leg no higher than the top hip.
Imagine balancing a hot cup of tea on the top hip by deepening into your core musculature to keep the hips still.
Action and Breath for Variation 3: Large Circles
Work the top leg by circling the leg down, toward the floor, and pause when the leg reaches hip-height. The top leg will brush past the bottom leg.
“Large Circles” should be the size of a soccer ball, lifting the leg no higher than the top hip.
Imagine the hot cup of tea on top of your hip!
Action and Breath for Variation 4: Letter "L"
Lift the top leg up, hip-height.
Kick the leg directly forward and imagine kicking a soccer ball.
Return the leg to the hip-height position and lower it down.
Think “up, forward, back and down."