This is the seventh post (Week 16) in the series "What you don't expect when you're expecting".
Welcome to Week 16!
For both my pregnancies, I remember week 16 being the beginning of my favorite part of pregnancy. My energy had returned and morning sickness had abated. I had just enough of a belly to look pregnant but not so big that getting off the couch required a system of pulleys and levers (spoiler of things to come!)
Weight gain typically starts to ramp up over these next few weeks, but don’t stress if it hasn’t for you yet. If your doctor isn’t concerned, Karen at the Target checkout counter can shut her trap.
With this rapid increase in weight, your center of gravity is going to shift. Combine that with the relaxin that’s coursing through your body (more on that later) and you’ve got a recipe for “wobbliness”.
So this week, we are going to focus on exercises to help with 2 types of balance:
Balance so you don’t fall over
Balance between the 2 sides of your body.
Balance is a whole body task requiring input from multiple sensory sources:
The vestibular system is responsible for detecting the location and movement of the head.
Proprioceptors tell your brain where your limbs are located and how your joints are positioned.
The visual system “shows” your brain whether or not you are moving.
When one of these sources is removed (say you close your eyes) or distorted (relaxin loosening up your joints), it becomes difficult to maintain balance. The sensation of losing your balance causes you to make compensatory movements in an attempt to “regain” balance. Less stability results in larger and more frequent movements.
Muscles such as your deep hip stabilizers, your glutes, your core, as well as your thighs and hamstrings help maintain and regain balance. The better conditioned those muscles are, the more quickly and safely you can catch yourself if you start to wobble.
Here are 5 exercises you can work into your day or current exercise routine. All exercises should be down barefoot to assist with the proprioception of your feet:
1. Hip dips
Stand on a step or other raised surface. Hold onto something to help you with your balance. Let one leg hang off the edge, while keeping your hips level. Slowly let the hanging leg dip below the edge (without bending your standing knee). Your hips will become uneven. Then lift the hip of the hanging leg. Think of really pushing the standing leg down to do this. Repeat slowly 5-10x’s or however long it takes to feel the side seat (gluteus medius) activate.
Turn around and repeat on the other side. Make note of which side feels easier or has a larger range of motion.
2. Single leg stance
Up to 40% of your gait cycle is spent in a single leg stance. It’s also an essential skill for walking up and down stairs.
Either stay on the box or hop down. Lift on leg, keeping your hips even. Focus on using the muscles you found in the hip dip. Time yourself - try to stay on one leg for 40 seconds. Repeat on the other leg.
Which side could you stand on longer? Compare your findings with what you felt in the previous exercise.
3. Standing Marches
This may seem similar to the Single Leg Stance, but where that was about balance and stability, this one tests your ability to transfer your weight from side to side.
As you alternate the lifting of your legs, keep your hands on your frontal hip points. Keep them nice and even, making the weight shift and subtle as possible. Where do you notice the differences from side to side?
This is a throwback to the 4 Daily Exercises found in Weeks 9-10. (Still doing those 4 Daily Exercises??)
Focus on driving your heels into the ground as you stand up. Try them parallel, turned out, and turned in.
5. Side kick series / Kneeling side kicks
These are my favorites. One of the few exercises in the traditional Pilates mat series that need ZERO modifications for pregnancy (but by all means, modify if you need).
And your final assignment this week -
Throughout the day, take notice of the unbalanced postures you take and compare them to what you discovered while doing these exercises.
Do you always carry the laundry on the same hip?
When you drive, is your right hip and leg rotated forward?
When standing on 2 feet, do you sit in one hip?
Do you sit with your legs crossed, same leg always on top?
Once you know your default stances, it becomes easier to get yourself out of them and bring balance back to your body.
As always, leave any questions below and I'll be happy to support you any way I can. You've got this mama!