A PASSIONATE athlete and sportsperson in school, I used to pride myself doing strenuous and hardcore exercises.
Representing my school in track and field, badminton, volleyball and a few other sports, I moved on to working out in the gym when I started working. There, I ran the distance on treadmills and lifted weights. Those did wonders to my physique and mental state. I was fit as a fiddle.
In the past three years, however, due to work pressure I skipped my exercise regime. Fitness was not a priority anymore. Then lethargy set in.
When I decided to have a baby, I reckoned that the extra weight during the later period of pregnancy would impose a strain on my small frame. I had to strengthen my back, spine and knees. That was when I began to learn and practise Pilates.
It is a mind-body exercise system designed for the weak and to challenge the strong. I had attended Pilates classes at fitness centres irregularly but never fully understood the benefits until I sought the advice of my former fitness instructor, Melissa Wong, who has since been licensed as a lead instructor trainer for Stott Pilates.
“Pilates builds core muscular strength, improves posture and increases flexibility while relieving stress and back pain,” said Wong.
Preparing for pregnancy
She advised me to also strengthen my gluteus muscles and build stamina to aid in pushing during childbirth. Having used Pilates to prepare herself for her two pregnancies, she vouched for its exceptional benefits to pregnancy and recovery.
Is Pilates safe during pregnancy? As a rule of thumb, it is necessary to seek the advice of the attending gynaecologist and the guidance of a qualified fitness professional. This I did and obtained my doctor’s clearance.
I was keen to start the course after learning that during a normal, healthy pregnancy, moderate exercise is safe and said to prevent varicose veins, hemorrhoids and lower-back pain besides helping to boost self-esteem and prepare the body for the physical demands of motherhood.
Wong cautioned that pregnant women who had certain health conditions — heart disease, hypertension, uterine bleeding, suspected fetal distress and other adverse conditions — should not take up Pilates.
To prepare for pregnancy, certified trainer and physiotherapist Ong Lip Qin coached me on routines to strengthen my back.
Another trainer, Maalini Devi, a Stott Pilates fully-certified instructor and physiotherapist, guided me during my second trimester.
My workout routine was adjusted around my fatigue levels. I really enjoyed each session and felt refreshed and relieved of tension.
Muscles around joints
During the third trimester, my abdominal muscles became stretched out. Fortunately, I did not experience diastasis recti where the abdominal muscles are separated.
Due to hormonal changes during pregnancy, the ligaments surrounding my joints became lax, leaving them loose and vulnerable. So I focused on strengthening and rebalancing the muscles around the joints in the arms and legs to carry the weight of the baby.
The light equipment I used combined with the matwork exercises were very useful in achieving results.
A particular exercise involved me sitting on a stability ball with my feet grounded and head, spine and pelvis aligned vertically. It helped build up my gluteus muscles to assist in labour and the movements mobilised the spine at this point in time to avoid stiffness as it will be difficult to mobilise it as the baby grew.
I was told that pre-natal Pilates helped expectant mothers to experience a quicker recovery and get back into pre-pregnancy shape. I certainly needed this assurance in view of the extra 25kg I had put on.
Post-natal Pilates emphasises on strengthening the transversus abdominis and pelvic floor muscles as they support the lower back which is the most weight-bearing area of our entire body. This is also an area where most mothers want to downsize to get back in shape.
Now that my precious baby has arrived, I want to get back in shape as soon as my confinement period is over. Fortunately, that does not call for any strenuous exertion, otherwise I will have little energy left to carry out my daily motherhood duties.