Pilates in pregnancy


History of pilates

Pilates was created by Joseph Pilates in the 1900s and has traditionally been used by professional dancers to maintain the strength, flexibility and suppleness necessary to prevent injuries.

The movements were designed to improve posture, strengthen muscles and firm up the abdominals and back, without using weights, although there are many machines that can be used.

Modern Pilates involves a mat and can be done throughout your pregnancy with a few minor modifications to accommodate your changing body.

Good for pregnancy

Pilates exercises are usually done with few repetitions, as each one is precise, controlled and moves through several planes of motion.

Pilates is a great choice for pregnancy as it focuses on improving posture and breathing awareness, building strength in the abdominal muscles as well as creating an awareness of the pelvic floor and strengthening that area as well.

All this will help make your pregnancy more comfortable and pain-free. You will learn how to relax, which will prove to be invaluable during pregnancy, labour and after baby arrives.

Very adaptable

Pilates is very adaptable. As your body changes, so does its needs and abilities. It becomes harder to do the same things. By modifying the exercise, you will keep the intent of the exercise, but adjust the form to work with your changing body.

Being a bit more cautious during exercise

While prenatal Pilates is not particularly strenuous you need to pace yourself as your energy levels will change and you do not want to overwork yourself. As your baby grows, your centre of gravity will shift.

You may find that you need to be a bit more cautious when doing certain things – like getting up and down for mat work or working out on an exercise ball.

Hormonal changes during pregnancy promote flexibility in the joints and muscles. Women do experience more strains to their muscles and ligaments during pregnancy because pregnancy hormones are making them more “stretchy”.

Working in a smaller range of motion is often a good way to tune into the subtleties of an exercise. For example, this would be a good time to work with tuning into the inner core muscles, breathing well and gently working with oppositional stretch.

Exercise during the second trimester

Once you are into your second trimester it will be time to stop doing exercises while lying flat on your back. The maximum amount of time on your back is 3 minutes. This is recommended because of the possibility of obstructing blood supply to the baby.

Also, do not put your feet over your head. You need to eliminate any sharp percussive movements from your routine.

Pregnancy is a very rewarding time to tune inward and connect with the core of Pilates – concentration, precision, breath and flow.

Go to page 2 for some recommended pilates exercises


These recommended pilates exercises work a number or muscles. They work the arms and shoulders, strengthen the muscles in the buttocks, help stabilise the pelvis and the pelvic floor. They also help work the waist, ease back problems, strengthen the abdominal muscles and tone the inner thighs.

Arm circles against the wall

Good for:

This exercise is good for mobilising the shoulder girdle and stabilising the scapula. This can be done with or without a light handheld weight.

  1. Stand against a wall with your feet hip-width apart and about 15 cm away from the wall.
  2. Keep your knees soft and your pelvis neutral.
  3. Your arms are extended in front of you at shoulder height.
  4. Breathe in and out and zip up the abdominal area as you raise your arms above your head.
  5. Keep your shoulder blades drawing down into your back.
  6. Breathe in and then out as you drop your arms out to your sides, palms facing forward and bring them all the way down next to your body.

Repeat 6 times. You can then reverse the movement of the arms for 6 repetitions.


As you do this make sure that you do not lose your neutral spine.

The oyster

Good for:

This exercise will help strengthen the muscles of the buttocks that in turn, help to stabilise the pelvis.

  1. Lie on your side with your lower arm extended above your head and in line with your body.
  2. Your legs are bent at a 45-degree angle, keeping your feet in line with your buttocks.
  3. Breathe in and then out, bracing the abdominals.
  4. Slowly rotate your upper leg as you open the knee. Do not lose your neutral spine.
  5. Your feet stay together on the floor. Breathe in and pause, breathe out and close.

Repeat 8 times on each side.

The flower

Good for:

This exercise position will help strengthen the pelvic floor and develop an awareness of releasing and relaxing this area.

  1. Sit on a thin cushion or a mat in a cross-legged position.
  2. Slowly draw the muscles of the pelvic floor up and in, just like a flower that closes.
  3. Then slowly release the muscles letting them open and soften like a flower opening to the morning sun.

Repeat 10 times at intervals throughout the day.

Bow and arrow  

Good for:

This will help work your waist and to rotate the spine gently and with control.

  1. Sit up tall with your knees bent in front of you.
  2. Place the ball between your knees to help keep your legs and pelvis in line.
  3. Place a spongy small ball against your sacrum (lower back) area.
  4. Extend your arms in front of you at shoulder height.
  5. Imagine you are being pulled upward. Breathe out and curl back slightly, “zipping up” your abdomen.
  6. Bring one hand in to your chest, your elbow still at the height of your shoulder.
  7. Breathe in and out as you unfold the arm and extend it behind you.
  8. Breathe in and out as you bring the arm back to start position in a wide circle, lengthening the back.

Monkey bends

Good for:

This exercise will open up the pelvis and strengthen the postural muscles and lengthen your spine.

  1. Place your feet hip-width apart. Place your hands on your thighs, knees soft and with your back long and straight with your neck in its natural extension in line with the back.
  2. Breathe in and then out as you zip up but do not tuck the pelvis under.
  3. Your knees are directly over the toes. Slide your hands down your thighs to your knees.
  4. Keep your back and neck extended in one long line. Keep the back of the neck long and released.
  5. Breathe in and then out again as you return to start position.

Repeat 5 times.


Do not stay on your back for longer then 3 minutes.

The pillow/ball squeeze  

Good for:

This will strengthen inner thighs and work the deep abdominal muscles.

  1. Lie on your back with a pillow or a ball between your knees.
  2. Your feet are slightly apart, flat on the floor.
  3. Breathe in and then out and press your back into the floor.
  4. Do not lift your pelvis off the floor. Squeeze the ball or pillow with your knees as you do this.

Repeat for 2 sets of 8.

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