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Pilates in the Third Trimester

Posted Aug 14 2009 9:26am
You are in your third trimester and still doing pilates- great! Many women who've had babies and maintained their pilates routine throughout pregnancy say it was one of the best things that they did for themselves. Staying active keeps the body strong and your mood lifted, as well as decrease your recovery time after the birth. Of course, as your body continues to change every day, and you're getting bigger and bigger, you may wonder what pilates exercises you can still actually do!

I'll put it simply: arms and legs. It might sound boring, but there are so many exercises that tone and work the arms and legs that you can still do a different routine during each pilates session and it does not get boring. As a matter of fact, you need strong arms and legs for a smooth delivery, so its important to keep working them!

As far as the abs are concerned, the third trimester is not the time to really be working your abs in pilates sessions, though you can still do some ab exercises with limited range of motion. There are a couple reasons for this. For one thing, your abs are clearly stretched out, it is not really possible for them to contract completed. If you attempt exercises such as the Stomach Series at this stage of pregnancy, you will most likely not be working your abs but working your hip flexors and stressing out your round ligaments, as well as working your neck. Not good.

Another reason to give ab work a rest is because in these later stages of pregnancy, the abdominal muscles actually need to relax in order for the baby to turn into the correct position. When abs are too tight, they can sometimes stop the baby from turning, which can lead to increased probability of a c-section.

Also at this stage in pregnancy, you are most likely uncomfortable laying on your back for more than a couple minutes at a time. So, it will be necessary to work out in either standing, kneeling, or seated positions.

So, what are your pilates exercise options in the third trimester? Here are some ideas:


On the Tower:
-Standing Arm Springs:
the possibilities are endless and allow for a different routine each time.

-Kneeling Chest Expansion: And all its variations.

-Push Through Bar with a Spring from Below: If you're still comfortable laying on your back for short period of time, you can press up on the bar in a few variations with both arms or one arm at a time.

On the Reformer:

-Seated Pulling Straps on the Long Box:
try this on two springs, if its too heavy, reduce to one.

-Seated Swakkiti on the Long Box: Done on one spring, the non-working arm can assist in pulling the strap if its too heavy.

-Most of the Rowing Series.

-Reversed Knee Stretches: Facing the back of the reformer, place knees up against the shoulder pads and hands on the frame of the reformer, just forward from under the shoulders. Using the core and arms, pull the carriage toward the arms, and control it back toward the foot bar again. Be sure to not muscle through this movement- you should feel the work almost isolated to the low abs and upper arms.

On the Mat
-Standing Arms with Weights: a great way to end the workout. Just be careful with lifting the arms too high and too fast, you don't want to get lightheaded.

On both the tower and reformer, most leg work is done laying on the back. If it feels fine to lay on the back, you can do your footwork, leg springs, etc. Just be sure to sit up if you feel nauseas or light headed, or uncomfortable in any way. Try to change positions frequently, and don't spend too much time on your back.

On the mat: side kicks are a great way to work the legs in the 3rd trimester. You might find these movements more tiring or painful than they used to be. There could be a couple reasons for this. One reason is that the position of the baby can restrict blood flow to the legs, and blood flow is vital to proper muscle function.

Another reason could be the body's natural release of the hormone, Relaxin, during pregnancy. Relaxin helps to relax ligaments all over the whole body, in preparation for birth. You may expect that relaxin will make you more flexible, but in actuality most women in the 3rd trimester feel that it makes movement more painful due to lack of support from strong ligaments. You can still do your legwork though, it just won't be as easy as it used to be!

A few good ab exercises
You can try to do a little ab work as you near your due date, even though there are very few exercises you can still do effectively. One of the best ab exercise at this stage is also one of the simplest movements possible.

Kneeling on all fours, simply lift the knees off the mat and hold to the count of five. Repeat 8-10 times. This can be done on the mat alone, or with hands on the sides of a small barrel to create an angle. This can also be done on the reformer as part of your reformer series, to replace knee stretches. With the footbar down flat, place hands on the framework of the reformer and lift the knees.

Lifting opposite arm and leg while kneeling on all fours on the mat is also a tough ab workout for a woman in her third trimester!

Another great ab exercise on the reformer is one that I learned from Ellie Herman in the reformer workshop that she taught at my studio, Rhinebeck Pilates. Its so simple, yet the work is felt in the deep abdominals very effectively. Its almost like a modified Stomach Massage.

Take off all the springs, and slide the carriage back a little further than half way. Sit on the carriage, facing the footwork, with feet flat down on the floor. The feet should be a bit forward from the knees, and arms are reaching straight ahead.

The movement is simply pulling the carriage in and out, without any rocking movement on the sitz bones or thrusting forward of the upper body. Think of the abs as initiating the inward pull of the carriage. The hamstrings are also working, but the abs are initiating. After this exercise, a twist can be added to the same movement, just like the Twisting exercise in Stomach Massage. As the carriage moves back, twist to one side and reach the arm back. Use the core to pull the carriage and the arm comes back in. Repeat from side to side.

The Hundreds can actually still be done and are a great way to warm up before a session and to practice your deep breathing. Try hundreds either sitting on a stool or kneeling upright. Its hard to imagine this working as a replacement for the Hundreds, but it really does feel effective!

Besides doing pilates at this stage in pregnancy, you should also be....
-Walking as much as possible. Keep blood flowing through your legs by keeping them active! Walking is also one of the best ways to get some fresh air, sunshine, and oxygen.

-Practice your deep breathing. Deep breathing exercises, like the hundreds, are essential for a good labor experience. There are so many deep breathing exercises out there, especially in yoga. Finding a prenatal yoga class could be one of the best things you do for yourself!
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