Most women who maintain regular exercise regimens tend to voice the same concerns about fitness—whether they’re pregnant or not. How can I tone my arms? How can I avoid injury? and Should I get a personal trainer? are universal queries; and in reality, it’s the answers, not the questions, which differ when a woman decides to work out while pregnant. Halle Clarke, a Pilates expert and the owner of Mongoose Bodyworks in Soho NYC, knows what women need and responds to these same types of questions on a regular basis. Eager to educate others, Halle was kind enough to contribute to our Ask the Expert series and impart some of her infinite wisdom on Pilates for a healthy pregnancy to you.
What are the benefits of practicing Pilates throughout pregnancy? As a form of exercise, Pilates has an inimitable ability to strengthen the pelvic floor, including the transverse abdominis and the lumbar multifidus. This “inner unit” of core muscles (and other muscles too) are placed under an incredible amount of strain for many months, so the more awareness a woman can have of her inner core, the more pain-free the pregnancy can be.
What should women who are pregnant think about during Pilates? Women (all women!) should consider a basic Pilates principle: Every movement begins with a very gentle sense of support from the core. The reason why I stress “gentle” is because, if a woman overdoes abdominal work while pregnant, she can actually create a diastasis, or abdominal separation. There’s a fine line between gentle and not gentle, and it’s important to avoid overloading the abdominals to the point that they work against the body.
How important is personal Pilates instruction for pregnant women? Because a woman’s body is changing so quickly, I do think that private instruction is really important. The ways in which they should move their body one month is going to be different the next month. To help her make that transition, she probably needs an outside eye to guide and making changes to each movement. Of course, not everyone can afford to work with a personal instructor twice a week. But it would be a tremendous help to schedule a session twice a month to discuss what types of adaptations should be made as the body continues to change.
What positions require adjustments throughout the pregnancy? Certainly by the fourth month, it’s no longer comfortable to lie on the stomach. Around that time, inversions may no longer be ideal as well, which in Pilates includes short spine and corkscrew. Toward the fifth and sixth months, when the hormone relaxin starts to percolate, splits and straddles can over-mobilize the pelvis and be unsafe. The intention should be to prepare the muscles for labor, not to hyper-mobilize the muscles in the lower back and hips. The SI joints can become hyper-mobile during this time too, though a personal Pilates instructor can help to maintain this stability.
Interview with Halle Clark by Stacy at Zeel