Excerpt of “Pilates and Pregnancy”

Excerpted from: Balogh, Adi (May 2005). Pilates and Pregnancy. Midwives Magazine, May 2005. Retrieved from: https://www.rcm.org.uk/news-views-and-analysis/analysis/pilates-and-pregnancy

What is Pilates?

Pilates is a ‘mind-body’ conditioning exercise programme that targets the muscles stabilising the trunk (Anderson and Spector, 2000). The method was the brainchild of Joseph Hubertus Pilates. Born in Germany in 1880, Pilates was a rather sickly child and said to have asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever. However, by the age of 14 he had overcome his illnesses and chose to dedicate his life to physical fitness.

He studied a variety of techniques from gymnastics, zen meditation, martial arts and yoga to the Greek and Roman regimes of exercise. These were the inspiration for his method that he called ‘contrology’. After the first World War, he emigrated to the US and opened the first Pilates studio in New York City. Dancers and other performing artists took a liking to his techniques and it gained an almost cult-like status among these groups. Following a great deal of research to understand the science behind the art (Hodges and Richardson, 1997; Richardson et al, 2002), the Pilates method has now become a mainstream form of exercise used by doctors, physiotherapists and physical therapists all over the world. Pilates first described 34 mat-based exercises, although he also introduced moving equipment that worked on a pulley and spring principal to aid beginners with some of the more difficult exercises.

Ideally, a Pilates instructor will combine mat and equipment-based exercises and tailor them to the particular user’s needs. The most commonly used piece of equipment is the reformer – a moveable carriage for pushing and pulling against spring resistance.

Pilates in pregnancy

The Pilates method emphasises the importance of beginning movements from a central core of stability, combined with appropriate breathing control. Pilates focuses on lateral chest breathing as opposed to the stomach breathing advocated in yoga. This breathing technique utilises four sets of muscles, namely, the diaphragm, the transverses abdominus (inner abdominal muscle), multifidus (part of the erector spinae muscles) and the pelvic floor muscles. These muscles have been termed the ‘cylinder of stability’ and contracting them together leads to an increased intra-abdominal pressure.

This tenses the thoracolumbar fascia and has been proposed to be one mechanism of increasing the stability of the lumbar spine region (Hodges and Richardson, 1997). Learning the correct method of breathing is vital, but one of the most difficult principles for beginners to grasp. Once the mother has stabilised her pelvis and lumbar spine, gradual arm and leg movements are introduced to challenge this core stability. Exercise during pregnancy offers many physical and emotional benefits (Artal and O’Toole, 2003) and because of the gentle nature of many of the exercises in Pilates, it is increasingly being sought by mothers during and after pregnancy. In particular, many of the exercises can be performed on the side or while sitting, and hence are safe during the second and third trimester when a supine position is contraindicated.

Pilates is now a mainstream exercise and although the basis for the exercises have been well researched (Hodges and Richardson, 1997; Richardson et al, 2002), very little has been published on Pilates in the academic literature, largely as a result of Pilates activities being outside of academic institutions. I am unaware of any published studies looking at the effects of Pilates on pregnancy or indeed whether exercises to focus on the transverses abdominus during pregnancy can reduce the incidence of diastasis recti. Such studies are therefore much needed. In the hands of the right instructor, Pilates can be enjoyable and a highly effective form of therapy. It is important to caveat this by saying that Pilates in the UK is not well governed, and it is therefore important that anyone considering seeing a therapist check their credentials carefully and preferably seek references from other patients.


This content is excerpted from the original source for reading purposes. It is not an endorsed opinion by The Health Alliances Network or The United Pilates Teaching System.