Pre and Post-Natal Exercise Explained
Weird cravings, a growing belly and strange aches and pains –pregnancy is a wonderful thing but it can also be daunting – and keeping up with an exercise routine isn’t always easy! We checked in with the team at Kuur Rehab for some tips on why exercise during and after pregnancy is important and how to do it safely (plus some fascinating if not slightly terrifying facts about the non-obvious changes to your body with bump!).
- What are the benefits of pre/post natal exercise?
Women who exercise during pregnancy tend to have a more positive pregnancy experience and are better prepared mentally and physically for the marathon event that is labour (as well as recovering faster too!). Exercise can even help prevent gestational diabetes, maintain cardiovascular fitness levels, muscular strength and flexibility plus help with impaired circulation, coordination and balance.
After childbirth, exercise helps to build self-confidence and a positive body image as well as relieving stress and helps to prevent post-natal depression. Exercise tones and strengthens the core muscles, which include the pelvic floor and muscles surrounding the hips and pelvis which leads to improved posture, muscular endurance, and a reduced risk of injury.
- How does a woman’s body change during pregnancy and after childbirth – other than the obvious?!
The body undergoes a considerable number of changes causing symptoms and it’s important for any mama considering a return to sport to be aware of them in order to avoid injury. Changes include shortness of breath, dizziness, puffy ankles, hands and wrists, reflux, heartburn, constipation and incontinence – and that’s just for starters!
Abdominal muscles have lengthened and often separated, reducing their ability to contract and therefore function most efficiently – likewise the pelvic floor is altered and less stable. With regards to posture, the pelvis is pulled into a more forwards position, which causes the buttock muscles to ‘switch off’ making the pelvis, hips and knees unstable. The lower back becomes more arched, the upper back becomes more curved and the shoulders and neck move into a more rounded and forwards position, all of which are uncomfortable and prevent the back muscles supporting the spine properly. The ligaments supporting the joints around the body remain lax until the pregnancy and breastfeeding hormones leave the body. This puts the muscles under even more pressure to support the joints when the ligaments cannot.
- There’s a lot of talk in gyms about core stability but what is it and why is it so important?
The core of the body includes the spine, hips and pelvis, upper portion of the leg, abdominal structures and muscles surrounding this area. Your deep core muscles are the main structures that support, control and move your lower spine and pelvis.
However, when they turn off, your spine is not fully supported by its normal muscular ‘corset,’ which makes it vulnerable to injury and pain. Correct use of your core ‘ or ‘core stability’ prevents pain and will improve your body’s strength and performance in your chosen sports – and in daily life (all that lifting and carrying as a mama is no mean feat!).
- Where do you start with core training?
Given the changes that occur in the body following childbirth, specifically regarding your core area, it’s important to focus some time rehabilitating this area prior to returning to your chosen sport and higher intensity exercise.
First, restore correct posture. By doing this, muscles and joints will be put in the best position for working optimally.
For the next stage it’s important to make sure the muscles that stabilise the spine, pelvis and hips are working properly and at the correct time. Research shows that abdominal, pelvic floor and small muscles in the back should be the first muscles to activate in order to make sure the spine is supported before movement elsewhere in the body occurs. Spend time locating and becoming aware of the deep abdominal muscles and the pelvic floor. A physiotherapist or exercise professional trained in post-natal exercise will be able to guide you with this.
Stage three – once the stabilising muscles are working well and at the right time you can then add on movements of your arms and legs. Start with small movements in single directions, then add weight, repetitions and speed.
The fourth stage is to build the exercises up so that they incorporate whole body movements that mimic the sport you are returning to whether it be tennis, running, cycling etc. For example when you run you don’t just move your legs in a stepping pattern – your trunk rotates, your arms move forwards and back, and your body moves up and down and forwards. Exercises have to reflect all of these elements in order for your training to be most effective and your core to be able to support you when you return to the sport and need to sustain repeated movements over an extended period of time.
The final stage is return to sport and, like anything, start for short periods of time and build up. Looking for a way to make this a routine? Kuur rehabilitation recommend Urban Energy Fitness for pre and post natal exercise classes with their specialist trainers, right here in Dubai.
So there you have it, mama (and mamas-to-be!). There’s more to exercise during and after pregnancy than getting back into a bikini (as important as that is!). Time to get moving!
Brought to you in Partnership with Kuur Rehab