By Karen Ghiron
Pilates has been quite the buzz among fitness gurus and enthusiasts in recent years. Now, even women who want to get back into shape after pregnancy are discovering the benefits of incorporating Pilates into their exercise regimen at home.
How can you do this after you’ve had your baby? First, remember this rule of thumb: do not begin any exercise program until you have stopped bleeding and received the OK from your obstetrician. The recommended time is six to seven weeks after delivery. If you’ve had a Cesarean delivery, it’s usually a few weeks longer.
Familiarize yourself with five basic principles of Pilates outlined here. Then purchase a Stott Pilates video, or hire a trained Pilates instructor to come to your home and show you the array of Pilates exercises you can do without any equipment. There are many Stott trainers who can get you started in your first months after delivery; I recommend treating yourself to one session to introduce the incredible core-strengthening program that has attracted so many people in recent years.
Many new moms find their abdominal muscles severely weakened after delivery and Pilates is a great way to focus on and strengthen these muscles. The abdominal and back muscles are often collectively referred to as the body’s “core.” Pilates exercises are designed to strengthen the core by developing pelvic stability and abdominal control.
Pilates uses the mind and body to connect in such a way that it takes you away from your worries as a new mom and helps you feel relaxed, stress free and strong after each session. And it helps tremendously with your posture and flexibility.
The Five Principles of Pilates
By learning these five basic principles, you will begin to feel your body stretching and strengthening. And you’ll feel great after just one session of practice. The following principles are essential to doing any Pilates exercise.
1. Breathing. Lie on your back with your knees up, hip distance apart. Keep your hands slightly bent by your hips. Breathe by inhaling through your nose and expanding your ribs. Then exhale and concentrate on bringing your ribs together. Do this again, until you start to feel your abdominal muscles working.
2. Pelvis is neutral while lying supine with your feet on the floor. Keep your hip bones in line with your pubic bone. Your pelvis should be flat. Practice imprinting your back to the floor by bringing your hips toward your ribs. Then draw your pelvis back to neutral. Now practice with your breath: Inhale and exhale, moving your pelvis toward your ribs. When you inhale again your hips should come back to neutral. Focus on bringing your tailbone down.
3. Ribs are down and flattened. Keep your ribs flat, not popped up, when working on strengthening your core. This is key when doing Pilates exercises. If your ribs are out, then you are not connecting with your abdominals. Practice this by taking a connecting breath in. Inhale to prepare, then exhale, weaving and flattening your ribs. Add your arms to practice keeping your ribs flat. Inhale, raising your arms over your chest, exhale while your arms come over your head. This keep your ribs flat (you should feel your abdominal muscles tighten).
4. Shoulders should be pulled down in most exercises, not pinched toward your neck. Practice this by doing this preparation exercise: Inhale and raise your shoulders toward your ears. Then exhale, sliding your shoulders down in back, trying to get engaged in the back, latissimus muscles.
5. Head and neck should be in line with your spine during most exercises. Try this practice exercise: Inhale, nodding your chin and keeping your head on the floor. Exhale, bringing your chin back up to your starting position. Practice this about eight times. Remember not to jolt your chin down too much; it’s just a simple small nod of the chin.
If you learn these five basic principles then you are on your way to doing most Pilates exercises on any video or in any class taught at a local health club. I recommend you get started with these principles first. The breathing principle alone will help you to engage and reconnect with your abdominal muscles, which have been stretched during your nine months of pregnancy.
StottPilates.com – The source for videos and accessories, Stott offers several video series for professional and/or at-home use. Series include Basic Pilates, Pilates Matwork, Flex-Band Pilates, Back-Care Pilates and Yoga-Infused Pilates. Most series feature three videos (VHS or DVD) and cover different aspects or levels of the exercises.
Karen Ghiron is a professional trainer and fitness instructor who frequently writes about health, fitness and exercise. She is the owner of Wellness Works Inc. For more information, check out