For me, pregnancy has been filled with equal measures of relief, excitement and uncertainty. You can’t help prematurely thinking about the long term (I’m sure I’m not the only person who started thinking of baby names within hours of finding out I was pregnant!), but you’re also dealing with the reality of NOW – hormones, a stretching uterus and quite frankly, a body that sometimes feels like it belongs to someone else. While you can have all the ‘one day when I’m pregnant’ plans in the world, when you reach that ‘one day’, you suddenly realise that you no longer call the shots – your body does.
Before even falling pregnant, I’d researched things like ‘pregnancy safe exercises’, ‘how to prevent abdominal separation’ and I’d even jumped ahead to ‘how to get your pre-baby body back’. I’d read all sorts of things (often conflicting), with the basic principle being that you’ll be able to continue doing the exercise you love – with some small adjustments. Phew! As someone who loves to soft sand run, this was music to my ears. Nobody told me however that running on the soft sand while carrying a baby would feel like running with a water balloon in my pelvis. I discovered this for myself at week 8. My body just said ‘no’.
My saving grace was my 6-year love affair with Xtend Barre – which was far more forgiving and supportive on my body and has been my go-to exercise (along with walking) for my entire pregnancy. As an Xtend Barre instructor, we’re trained to support our client’s pregnant bodies – providing modifications to keep them safe, but importantly still keep them strong. It wasn’t until I was pregnant myself that I fully appreciated how the method actually managed to achieve both. Anyone who has tried pre-natal classes (or switched from running to walking for that matter!) will appreciate that finding pregnancy safe workouts that leave you feeling like you’ve actually had a workout AND kept your body safe at the same time is a rare feat!
I want to stress that everyone is different, and the way our bodies handle pregnancy is equally different – what feels OK for one person, doesn’t feel OK for the next.
Here’s what I observed about my own Xtend practice over the last 8 months of pregnancy:
- Your Xtend practice is going to change – and that’s OK. I used to measure my commitment to a class by the height of my battement kicks, the depth of my Pliés and my ability to find and stay in my challenge zone. Now I measure it on turning up, staying safe and concentrating on correct technique to challenge myself. For example, in foldover, I keep my extended leg much lower – but I concentrate on reaching it as long and straight as I possibly can. I get just as much out of foldover as I did before I was pregnant – and in-fact, it’s been a good lesson in the power of restraint.
- Listen – At first, it feels like the fun police are taking all the good bits away! No jumping, no bands, no squeezing of the ball (say what?!). There’s a very good reason for this though………during pregnancy, the body releases a hormone called “relaxin” that causes your ligaments to loosen. In their softened state, our ligaments loosen and become prone to injury. Jumping for example puts stress on those ligaments and joints and also puts pressure on your pelvic floor. Your teacher is trained to cue you safely and never has it been more important to really listen to those cues. If she suggests keeping your leg low, or not to come down as deep into your plie – it’s for a good reason. It’s all about keeping you safe and pain free.
- Slow it down – if you feel like you’re sacrificing control and technique for tempo, slow it down. As a mamma to be, never be embarrassed to be out of sync with the rest of the class. Have the confidence to substitute to coordination with control.
- Breathe – Use your breath to support your body, particularly when doing moves that activate your core – like push-ups. Inhale on the way down, exhale and wrap the abdominals on the way back up. Some women are happy to keep doing their push-ups on the mat, but I personally found I had more control over my core when I modified my push-ups at the barre. It also gave me more visibility of my abdominal area which leads me to………
- Watch your belly – The linea alba (the connective tissue that runs between your rectus abdominal muscles) is already under increased load from a growing uterus, so keep an eye out for signs of doming or coning which can indicate unnecessary pressure on this area. I personally stopped front loaded planks from 12 weeks onwards – modifying instead to a side plank and really concentrating on drawing up my pelvic floor and wrapping my abdominals before lifting. Traditional ab work like crunches are a no go – but there are lots of great pregnancy safe core work you can still do. Which brings me to my next point….
- Get a preggie private – Even as an instructor, I found a one-on-one pre-natal private really helpful. It helped me to connect with my pelvic floor and armed me with modifications and interesting go-to exercises that I could confidently revert to as needed.
- Lastly, if it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it – EVEN if you see other pregnant women in the class doing it. It might work for them, but not for you. For example, given the position of my placenta, I wasn’t comfortable lying on my back – even for a short amount of time. Listen to your body.
With only a few weeks to go, I’m happy to say I’ve survived pregnancy without any lower back or pelvic niggles, without weeing myself (well, maybe just a little bit!) and my body feels strong and supported. I’ve also been reminded of what an amazing community Xtend Barre is. I’ve felt like I’ve had the entire Xtend community – instructors and clients, taking the journey alongside me……the looks of knowing (and sometimes empathy!) from mums who have already been on the journey, and genuine care and concern from the tribe of instructors keeping up with my changing body week to week – it’s easy to forget, this isn’t what happens in a normal gym! The physical support of the method coupled with the emotional support of the women who turn up week after week to challenge their bodies, has been one of the most enjoyable parts of my pregnancy.
And hopefully I’ve been able to give others, who might have a baby bump of their own one day, confidence that they can keep up their love of Xtend when that ‘one day’ finally comes.
By Angie French