Build a stronger and leaner body with Postpartum Pilates
The female body is miraculous and ever-changing. The pre-pregnancy body is often the body that we are attached to; we have that body for many years and it feels comfortable and familiar. The pregnant body is a wild and wonderful adventure into daily changes of shape, size, and weight distribution. The post-baby body is not the same as the pre-pregnancy body; people may assume that this means that the new body is heavier or carries extra inches around the waist. In fact, the opposite can be true; the post-baby body can be stronger and leaner. How is this possible? In a word…Pilates.
Pilates helps us to love our bodies, because there is both the feeling of a return to center, as we connect to our “powerhouse,” as well as the aesthetic benefit of having a longer, leaner torso. We look stronger, because we are stronger. The powerhouse muscles are the source of this strength. Powerhouse refers to your abdominal muscles, pelvic floor muscles, lower back, and gluteal muscles. In order to activate these muscles correctly, it is important to be mindful of our movements, and focus on the details that help the body train effectively and efficiently.
Two fantastic movements for focusing on your powerhouse after baby are bridge, and double knee lift. It is not necessary to enjoy these movements with your baby, but it is a lot of fun.
Bridge is a great exercise for gaining strength in your lower body, specifically in your gluteal muscles. Begin with your feet hips width apart, and a neutral pelvis (not tucked). If you are working with baby, place your baby on your lap and hold baby steady with your hands. If your baby does not yet have neck control, it is fine for baby to lie on your chest. Slowly lift your hips to the sky. At the very top of the movement, feel the gluteal muscles contract, and hold for five seconds. Slowly lower your hips, controlling the speed of the descent. Work towards three sets of 15. If you would like to sing “London Bridge,” to your baby during the exercise, it can lead to some really great belly laughs.
Double Knee Lift
The double knee lift can increase the strength of your lower abdomen. Begin lying down on your back with a neutral pelvis. If you are enjoying the movement with your baby, it is often easier to start the exercise sitting up so that you can help place the baby on your shins. Either way, you will begin the movement lying down with both knees bent in towards your chest at a slight angle (as shown). It is normal for the ribs to flare out a little after pregnancy, so think about grounding your ribcage at your bra line. Begin to lift your legs up towards 90 degrees (until the feet are parallel with the floor) and contract your abdominal muscles as you do. Traditionally this is done with the hands behind the head and the upper body lifted to engage the upper portion of the abdominal wall also. This variation is a gentle way to ease back into core work after baby.
Desi Bartlett MS CPT E-RYT is a pre- and post-natal exercise specialist and creator of a new DVD from Gaiam, Prenatal Yoga Workout, available on Amazon. mothersintolivingfit.com