28 May 2020

Pilates vs Yoga: What is the best sport for pregnancy?

Pilates Yoga Pregnancy
By the Editorial Comitee IVI Blog

Exercise during pregnancy is one of the best things you can do, along with a healthy diet, to give yourself the best chance of a trouble-free pregnancy and birth. Sports for pregnant women

You can see more about different exercises in our article about exercise while preparing for pregnancy. But in this IVI blog article, we’re wading into the debate about two of the most effective and fun exercises: Pilates vs yoga. Which is better for pregnant women? Let’s consider the evidence.

The benefits of Pilates when you are pregnant

Before we start, always make sure that your trainer or tutor knows that you are pregnant, and that the routine you are following is pregnancy-appropriate. All Pilates routines focus mainly on building core strength and low or no-impact muscle-lengthening exercises. These can help with backaches, as well as improving your posture and flexibility. Pilates exercises specifically designed for pregnancy will also strengthen and tone the pelvic floor muscles. This can help to prevent accidental leakage during the last trimester and also after the birth of your baby.

One of the reasons Pilates is so popular among expectant mothers is that your toned muscles will support a comfortable pregnancy as well as delivery. Pilates is also well known for being one of the most effective ways to regain your pre-pregnancy figure afterwards. Another advantage is its adaptability. The exercises can be modified as the pregnancy progresses, so you can keep the benefits but make adjustments along with the changes to your body. If back pain is a particular issue for you, you can find out more from our article on back pain during pregnancy.

Which Pilates exercises should you avoid when pregnant?

The watchword for all exercise during pregnancy is moderation. There are a few specific points to bear in mind for Pilates:

  • Hormonal changes promote more flexibility and stretch in the muscles and joints, making it easier to cause a strain by overstretching. So, you should restrict yourself to a smaller range of motion and focus on building strength in your core.
  • If you are using the specialist piece of Pilates equipment known as a reformer, don’t increase the resistance beyond what you could comfortably do before pregnancy.
  • Even though prenatal Pilates is not particularly strenuous, always pay attention to your hydration levels and avoid becoming out of breath. If in doubt, try the talk test: if you can’t talk casually at normal speed, it’s time to ease up a little bit.

The benefits of yoga during pregnancy

Yoga is a multi-discipline approach to prenatal exercise that encourages mental centring, stretching and a focus on breathing. This is one of the safest sports for pregnant women. Its benefits include improved sleep and reduced anxiety and stress, an improvement in the strength, endurance and flexibility of the muscles involved in childbirth and a reduction of lower back pain, headaches, nausea and shortness of breath. Some of the techniques that produce these benefits include:

  • A focus on breathing slowly through the nose. This technique can help to improve shortness of breath during pregnancy and manage labour contractions.
  • Gentle stretching, moving different parts of your body, especially your neck and arms, through their full range of movement.
  • Postures that develop strength, balance and flexibility. You can use blankets and cushions to provide comfort and support.
  • Cooling down and relaxing at the end of the session will encourage you to pay close attention to your thoughts and emotions, in effect practising the mindfulness that can be very helpful during labour.

Yoga poses to avoid during pregnancy

Try to find a class specifically geared up for prenatal yoga, or at least make sure your usual yoga instructor knows that you are pregnant. This means avoiding some poses and movements:

  • Deep back bends need to be avoided, as well as full inversion positions like headstands or handstands. These could cause blood pressure problems.
  • Avoid practising in a room that is too hot for comfort and especially avoid ‘hot yoga’ which has a room temperature of 35 to 39 °C. You need to prevent your own body temperature from rising too much in order to protect your baby. 
  • Because of the increased relaxation of your ligaments during pregnancy, injury is more likely to result from extreme stretching. Always warm up and warm down thoroughly, and be sure to keep within your comfort zone.
  • Your increasing body weight is going to put more load on your pelvic floor and joints, so it’s important to stop at the first sign of any discomfort. For this reason, you should avoid wide squats and walking lunges.

Pilates vs yoga for pregnant women: our verdict

And the winner is … your choice! If you already love Pilates, or if yoga is your go-to activity, stick with what you enjoy. The main rules are to keep active, don’t over-do it and above all enjoy your workout. If you’re new to exercise, now is not the time to sign up to a strenuous new activity, but try to keep active on a daily basis. Even walking for 30 minutes will pay dividends by helping you to cope with labour and get back into shape after the birth. Pilates vs yoga? It’s entirely up to you.

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