Flexibility programming for the pre-natal client poses challenges distinctive from clients with general fitness goals. The body of the pre-natal client undergoes several key biomechanical and hormonal changes that will affect flexibility work. Body mass increases affect center of gravity, making any flexibility exercise requiring balance-work not only difficult, but potentially dangerous for expecting mothers. Additionally, as the lower back will have to bear new weight, it’s necessary to avoid overloading the back during flexibility and overall training sessions. Lastly, one notable hormonal change to keep in mind is the increased levels of estrogen, progesterone, and relaxin, which cause connective tissue to loosen, compromising joint stability. This is another reason to avoid exercises that overload the lower back considering that joint instability can create an additional strain on sacroiliac and hip joints.
When designing flexibility and exercise programs for pregnant clients, ACOG has one important recommendation to keep in mind. For the pre-natal client, staying healthy during pregnancy is the most important thing–the priority is to continue being healthy, not to increase fitness as strenuous, vigorous challenges can often put the mother and unborn child in danger. For flexibility, avoiding most dynamic flexibility exercises along with deep stretches and extension of joints is not recommended as most of these exercises require the client to take stretches to a maximum, causing stress to the pregnant woman’s body. Stick to seated or supine stretches for safety and to achieve mild stretches in targeting muscle groups. However, keep in mind that after the first trimester, it is often recommended to avoid supine exercises because in a supine position, blood and oxygen flow is reduced to the baby due to a depressed superior vena cava. If you are do include supine exercises after the first trimester, try to have your client lie on their side in between recovery periods of sets.
Once your client has delivered her baby, keep in mind that it can take up to six weeks for biomechanical and hormonal changes due to pregnancy to return to pre-pregnancy states. Be sure to continue with seated/supine flexibility exercises, and gradually work up to active and dynamic flexibility depending on your individual client’s fitness level.
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