by: Lesly Levy
Congratulations, you have a beautiful baby and most likely a body that can prove it. A woman’s body goes through many changes during pregnancy. The uterus grows larger and causes your center of gravity to shift forward. This can make the muscles of the lower back, hip flexors and back of the neck tight. The extra weight of the breasts also leads to tight chest muscles, round shoulders and a tight neck. This leads to postural changes that often remain long after pregnancy. The altered posture leaves you vulnerable to an array of conditions, such as lower back and knee pain that were not present before conception. Changes in blood volume and other hormonal changes during pregnancy, as well as sleep deprivation after, cause fatigue. It should be no surprise that you may be left with less stamina after delivery than before. And of course, the most visible change in the body is most often in the abdominal area.
Despite these physiological changes that leave a woman’s body in a very different state after pregnancy than before, you can regain your pre-pregnancy figure. But you’ll want to approach your workouts safely.
The presence of relaxin, a hormone present in the woman’s body from the moment of conception until 6 weeks after she stops nursing, causes connective tissue such as ligaments to soften, and therefore joints within the body to become hyper-mobile and therefore less supportive. Muscle tone is oft en decreased during pregnancy leading to an overstretched abdominal wall (or even Diastasis Recti, a separation of the abdominal muscles) and weak pelvic floor muscles, as well as sagging butt ocks, weak inner thighs and flabby arms.
A Targeted Approach
The Pilates method, created by Joseph Pilates, is not only safe, but also one of the most effective ways of toning the abdominals, back, buttocks and pelvic floor while increasing stamina and bringing the body back to overall muscular and postural balance. Pilates works the body from the inside out working from the corset of the body, the transverse abdominus (TVA), outward. The TVA is the deepest abdominal muscle and the most central muscle of the body. It is often referred to as the “powerhouse.” Anatomically, once the TVA is strong, it can then support the rest of the body both below and above the waist. Along with the TVA are the internal and external obliques and finally the rectus abdominus. All of these muscles become stronger with the practice of Pilates. The focus of the method is on controlled and continual movement from the center, the body is always in active motion. Pilates works the body from head to toe in a safe and effective way increasing the body’s stretch and strength, creating a more balanced physique, greater ease of movement and an overall more functional life.
A Word Of Caution
Truly the Pilates method is unique and effective, but not all Pilates classes are created equal. That being said, the most important thing to do when considering your workout is to find a qualified instructor who has both experience and training from a reputable organization. You want to find someone who has had training from the most basic mat level all the way through the advanced apparatus (equipment) training (look for certificates hanging on walls and ask questions). A complete certification most often requires the instructor to go through 250 to 600 hours of training time learning the essence of the work, how to teach, as well as how to modify for special cases or conditions. There are also different schools of Pilates from classical (the way Joseph Pilates, the originator of the method, taught) to a more contemporary approach. Try several and see what works for you.
While mat classes can be effective, also consider working on the apparatus. The equipment Pilates developed is fun to work on and strengthens as well as challenges the body. The best place to start is with a private session (a one-on-one with an instructor). Although these can be a bit pricy, the benefits are worth the price tag. Once you are familiar with how to access your powerhouse and familiar with the exercises you can opt for a less expensive and the camaraderie of a semi-private session where the instructor will work with two to four students at once.
Remember above all, that the method of Pilates requires patience and is a practice. Consistency is the key. Joseph Pilates’ motto was to always bring your body, mind and spirit with you to each session. Let your spirit (efforts) lead you. Remember to do your homework, find a certified instructor or studio that houses a reputable program that you feel comfortable with and then relax and enjoy the journey. It is well worth the effort.
Lesly Levy, PMA_CPT, Senior Teacher Trainer for Power Pilates and VBARRE as well as former owner of Mindful Moves Pilates Center and current Director of Pilates and Pilates Programming for Apogee, has been professionally instructing within the fitness field for over 22 years. Lesly brings with her a vast knowledge of Anatomy, Kinesiology and injury prevention. Lesly obtained her first Pilates certificate from the PhysicalMind Institute, her second from Power Pilates and is Gold Certified with the PMA. She has presented at both ECA and PMA as well as become a regular presenter at Power Conferences in NYC and has traveled both within the US as well as internationally to teach Pilates Training Courses. Lesly is an ACE certified personal trainer (1992) and ACE Group fitness instructor (1993) with certifications from Mad Dog Spin, Yogafit, Indo Row, TRX, VBARRE and Beyond Barre and specialties of recognition in perinatal fitness.