The benefit of upper body strength during pregnancy

I'm going to share with you three reasons why I love using the Chariot Series on the Pilates reformer during and after pregnancy. Having worked in Women's health for many years I've seen how mothers can be debilitated by back pain and stiffness from the postural changes associated with pregnancy and different demands during daily life that are associated with both pregnancy and the post partum period. 

Improving lower back, pelvic floor, & abdominal control. 

On the Pilates reformer you can use the chariot box (or not if you're looking for more control/balance) for sitting postural control while strengthening your upper body. Keeping the back of the shoulders and back muscles (rhomboids, trapezius, latissimus dorsi, and erector spinae) strong helps to reduce the load on your joints and ligaments. I also take the opportunity to combine these exercises with a pelvic floor activation, its both time efficient and good for your coordination of movement. 

When completing a high row, the exercises targets the back of the shoulders and thoracic spine and promotes good lumbopelvic and neck posture in sitting. Aim to sit on the sitting bones and feel light through your pelvis and lower back. Bring the chin slightly backwards to avoid poking the chin forwards and lift the chest bone to take weight out of your lower back. Pull back from the shoulders aiming to keep the elbows at 90 degrees but avoid bending and pulling from the wrist. 

When completing a straight arm pull aka shoulder extension or lat pull, there are two different hand positions that change the focus of the exercise. The first, with your palms facing backwards you will target the lats and even feel your transversus abdominus coming in. Challenging yourself by first activating your pelvic floor muscles (squeeze and lift off the chariot box), continue to breathe, and pull back with straight arms. Such a beautiful exercise for teaching the coordination of deep stabilising and global moving muscles, that coordinate to enhance force closure around the pelvis. 

You can progress the exercise by kneeling on the reformer on one or two legs, or if at home standing on one or two legs and use a theraband to complete the pull. 

Now if you change your hand position so that the pinkies are facing backwards and complete the same pull with straight elbows and wrists, you'll notice how the muscles are different. Now we are working on the triceps, rear deltoid and other muscles in the shoulder blade. Focus on keeping your chest wide and open so that you don't round as you pull. Concentrate also on make the movement comes smoothly from the shoulders as to avoid hitching the shoulder blades or rolling forward through the ball of the shoulder joint. 

Preparing strength for breast feeding, lifting and lowering. 

I'm sure you've had friends/family or even personal experience with shoulder, neck and wrist injuries during the early post partum periods. Repeated washing of clothes, repeated lifting of your beautiful bubs and many hours sitting breast feeding and nursing, all place a new increased stress on the anterior structures of the shoulders, elbows and wrists. There are some exercises that can help prepare you for these changes in lifestyle and develop strength and promote safe and normal movement patterns for these tasks. 

Swivel around on the chariot box, lengthen the ropes, lighten the load and lets take the work out to the front of your body. Don't forget about adding in your pelvic floor contraction too! You definitely don't need to sustain it for the entire set, in fact, if you could, I'd probably be suspicious of your activation pattern. So with each repetition or while holding for a few, get a great squeeze and lift through the pelvic floor muscles. You should feel a pressure change from the feedback of the box you're sitting on. 

There are three great movements: a hug, an offering, and a press. These movements look similar to a chest fly, a chest press, and a forward bicep press. The aim is to drive the movement from your shoulders but avoid moving them and the shoulder blades too much. We are looking for setting the scapular well and then controlling the shared movement between your shoulder blade and shoulder joint. Avoid pulling and gripping through your hands and wrists... we're focussing on the stronger muscles further up the chain. 

Managing upper back stiffness. 

And the final variation of the seated chariot series is a single arm row with trunk rotation. This exercise is beautiful for mobilising the upper back and keeping trunk rotation flexibility. Hold the rope in one arm and place the other rope securely on the reformer. Place the hand you're not using across your chest. Begin the exercise as a simple one arm row and when the elbow comes in line with the side of your chest twist your upper body towards that side. Release the twist and then release the arm. 

Keeping your chest and trunk strong and flexible during pregnancy and practicing sitting postures and arm movements are all great ways to keep yourself fit and hopefully prevent some of the over-use injuries that occur through poor movement patterns. And remember that these principles are not restricted just to the reformer and can be done in the gym on lighter weights or with a theraband tied around a door nob at home. 

Thanks to my friends Rose for the lovely pics shared in this blog. 

Sian