Are Pilates and Barre Safe in Pregnancy?

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The Pilates and Barre fitness trends are not going away anytime soon. For pregnant women, that is excellent news. These two lower-impact workouts are an excellent way for women to be stronger and more comfortable during pregnancy, to be better prepared for labor and to recover more easily postpartum. Stay healthy and uninjured by learning which Pilates and Barre moves are safe in pregnancy.

General Safety Advice for Pilates and Barre During Pregnancy

As with all exercise during pregnancy, check with your doctor first before starting a workout.

  • Tell your teacher before class that you are pregnant. Let them know about any specific aches or pains you have.
  • Stop if you feel pain, shortness of breath, dizzy, or sick.
  • Don’t be embarrassed to ask for modifications for exercises. Modification does not mean easier. It means safer.

What are Pilates and Barre?

Both Pilates and Barre focus on small movements done in precise ways. Barre combines dance, yoga and Pilates moves into a single workout.  Both are full-body exercise routines that focus on flexibility, muscular strength and endurance. Both emphasize proper postural alignment, core strength and muscle balance.

Pilates can use a specialized training apparatus called a reformer that is like a bed frame on a flat platform that rolls back and forth on wheels, but many Pilates moves can also be done of the floor.

Barre classes typically involve either a traditional bar screwed against the studio wall, like the one used by ballet dancers, but a chair, ledge, or table can also be used for the same purpose. Depending on the instructor, other props may be used in Pilates and Barre classes such as:

  • A floor matt
  • A 6” diameter soft Pilates therapy ball
  • 1-5lb hand weights
  • Plastic, stretchy Thera-bands
  • Glide disks
  • A flexible plastic circle band called a “Magic Circle”

Both can be done in a group class format in person, or on your own at home. One reason Barre and Pilates are so popular is because they are “all-inclusive” and can be adjusted to meet anyone’s fitness level, even during pregnancy.

Why Barre and Pilates are Great Pregnancy Fitness Options

We know that in general exercise during pregnancy helps you to:

Pilates and Barre deliver all of these same benefits. There are some other more specific reason why so many pregnant women choose Pilates and Barre classes for their pregnancy fitness routine.  Pilates and Barre workouts:

  • Are less intense for your heart and lungs, so that you are better able keep your heart rate in baby-safe ranges.
  • Improve balance and stability.
  • Promote better posture and body alignment.
  • Increase muscle awareness and the mind-body connection.
  • Help build your core strength to prevent back injury and speed postpartum recovery.
  • Strengthen back and pelvic floor muscles to support a more comfortable pregnancy and delivery.
  • Can connect you to a great community of other active, pregnant moms if doing a pregnancy-specific Barre or Pilates class.

Barre and Pilates Moves to Avoid in Pregnancy:

It can be tough to keep up with your body’s almost daily changes during pregnancy. That is why it is important to listen to your body and not push yourself if something doesn’t feel right when exercising. A knowledgeable and experienced Barre or Pilates teacher can be a fantastic resource, especially if they are trained to teach pregnancy-specific classes.  These are some of the key precautions to keep in mind if you want to continue with Pilates or Barre for your whole pregnancy:

  • Don’t overstretch. Relaxin, a pregnancy hormone, can make many of your joints more flexible and easier to injure. Be careful to not overstretch.
  • Avoid lying flat on your back. You can modify with side-lying, standing or seated exercises.
  • No bending forward from your hips.
  • Transition between positions slowly and carefully, especially when going from mat work, to standing, or on the reformer to avoid dizziness or feeling faint.
  • Always stabilize with at least three body parts grounded while exercising, like a tripod. For example: Two knees and at least on hand on the ground would be three grounded body parts. Remember that your center of gravity changes as your hips widen and your bump grows. It becomes easier for you to lose your balance.
  • No deep turns or abdominal twists (too much stress on low back or knees).
  • Avoid cobra/bow pose (too much strain on your abdomen). Instead, do a cat/cow pose (kneeling over on your hands and knees, arch your back down as you breathe in, then arch your back up as you exhale).
  • Don’t use the stall barre. A stall barre is a set of vertical barres where students can hang from their hands to stretch the lower back. Due to the potential risk of slipping (and because your growing baby belly will eventually get in the way), you should avoid using the stall barre for your entire pregnancy.
  • Keep your feet parallel if you’re experiencing sciatica. Turned-out leg exercises can aggravate sciatica, which is most common during the third trimester.
  • Keep one foot on the floor during abdominal exercises. For all floor core exercises, be sure to press your back firmly into the ground or and keep at least one foot flat on the floor at all times to avoid straining your abdomen.
  • Instead of traditional planks, try a wall plank so that you don’t hurt your core or back. There are several variations you can try to find the safest planks in pregnancy.
  • The Pilates Abdominal Scoop or C-shape. At a certain point, usually by the beginning of your second trimester, the posture used for crunches in Pilates and Barre will put you at risk for hurting your core and potentially cause separation of your abdominal muscles called diastasis recti.
  • Percussive movements such as sharp Pilates kicks or reformer exercises.
  • The Reformer in the Third Trimester, or make sure to be very careful getting on and off it later in pregnancy.

Pilates and Barre Are Safe In Pregnancy With Easy Modifications

The best pregnancy fitness plan is one which keeps you and your baby healthy, safe, and feeling good. Pilates and Barre classes are great low-impact exercise options because they benefit your muscles and joints both during pregnancy and during your postpartum recovery. Because they promote core strength and stability, muscle control, and and good posture, they cultivate balanced flexibility, strength and greater mind-body awareness. One of the best parts about Pilates and Barre is that they can easily be adapted to your body’s changes over the course of your pregnancy.  By following the simple list of precautions listed here, you can safely make Pilates and Barre a part of your healthy pregnancy fitness routine.

Amy Harris
Amy Harris is a certified nurse-midwife with a Master's Degree in Maternal and Child Health from Harvard Chan School of Public Health. Her passions are health literacy and women's reproductive health. A recent two-year sabbatical with her family in Spain was the impetus for becoming a freelance women's health writer. An exercise nut, she is happiest outdoors and on adventures abroad.

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