As a result of pregnancy, your center of gravity has moved forward and muscles have tightened or loosened accordingly. Added weight has put pressure on your knees, ankles and feet. You’ve overused the large muscles of the arms and legs to avoid relying on the deepest core and accessory muscles that have been “busy” supporting the baby weight. You now need abdominal muscles to help balance out your back and remove that tension. Enter Pilates.
This four-week program begins after you have been cleared by your doctor, and when you’ve decided it’s your time to get your pre-baby body back. Cardio, strength training and stretching are the three components to reaching your goal.
All Pilates moves initiate from the powerhouse muscles that conveniently circle your body’s center with a particular focus just below the belt line. This includes muscles of the abdominals, lower back, hips and buttocks. The workout below will help you find and employ your powerhouse to assist you in losing weight safely and efficiently.
Note: In Pilates, we inhale to begin a movement and exhale to complete it. When working with the following exercises, you may feel it more effective to exhale on the exertion thereby allowing more room in the abdominal cavity to scoop ab muscles.
Weeks One and Two
Cardio: Get yourself into a cardiovascular routine for 20 minutes a day, five days a week. Because your abdominal muscles are recovering and weaker than you are used to, you are more prone to injure your lower back, knees and ankles. Practice proper Pilates posture during your cardio to help support the weight of your upper body on your lower.
Strength: Complete powerhouse moves to target your transverse and pelvic floor muscles. Perform these three moves as a set, and do three sets that include ten roll backs, ten pelvic lifts and ten roll ups, then repeat the moves twice.
- Do the Roll Back with a ball or folded pillow between your knees for up to ten reps. Do three sets.
- Do the Pelvic Lift with a ball or folded pillow between your knees for up to ten reps. Do three sets.
- Do the Small Roll Up with your lower leg on a sofa chair for up to ten reps. Do three sets
Stretch: The following two stretches will help create some space in your side body and open your chest in the hope of counteracting all the forward bent positions of breastfeeding, holding and carrying the baby.
- For the mermaid, sit to one hip with the legs bent. Place one knee on top of the other, and one foot on top of the other. The hand on the side of the legs holds the ankle to secure you. The other arm is up straight to the ceiling alongside your head. Bend the body directly sideways over the legs. Reach up and over with the arm to help stretch the waist. Return to center pulling up tall. Repeat on the other side.
- For door jams, place palms on either side of a door frame at shoulder height. Open your feet to hips’ width. Make sure toes are one foot behind the door jam. With your belly taut, bend your elbows and lean through the door.
Weeks Three and Four
Cardio: Add intervals to your cardio routine and begin working in bursts of higher intensity. Add the intervals at least every five minutes if possible. Get creative and get sweaty.
Strength: Follow up your cardio with the three basic powerhouse moves from weeks one and two, and add the following exercises.
For the plank series, stand tall with arms above your head and inhale deeply as you draw your navel up your spine. Exhale and walk your hands down the front of your legs until your palms touch the floor. Inhale and walk your hands out on the mat until your palms are directly beneath your shoulders and your body is in a push-up position. Stay there and perform one of the following three moves. Run in place bringing knees to chest and keeping shoulders over wrists. Do jumping jacks while opening and closing your legs with your shoulders over your wrists. Hold one leg up for a count of five and then switch legs for a count of five.
When finished with the move of choice, fold up in your center, bringing your chest toward your legs. Exhale as you press your palms and heels firmly into the floor and pull your navel up deeper into your spine for a complete stretch. Inhale and walk your hands back toward your feet. Keep your legs as straight as possible as you go. Exhale and soften your knees, rolling your body back up to a standing position.
Stretch: Do a roll down by sitting tall with knees bent and feet on the floor. Place your hands behind your thighs. Inhale and begin to roll back toward the floor, curling your pelvis under and pressing your lower back down. Stop around halfway. Hold this position for three breaths and then roll back up to sitting position.
These exercises target the lower abs, lower back, buttocks, inner thighs, hamstrings and upper body stability, as well as challenge balance.