Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Workout Wednesday: 5 Prenatal Stretches

To all my pregnant ladies: This one's for you! Please keep in mind that every pregnancy is different. The following advice is meant to be a thought-starter, and theoretically could be easily implemented by those of you with issue-free pregnancies. But I advise you to check in with your OB or midwife before proceeding, just in case. (Oh, and...congrats on your bundle of joy!)

Pregnancy is a beautiful thing, but it can wreak havoc on your physical comfort. The baby essentially takes over your abdomen, pushing and pulling things (like organs) out of the way as it grows. The result? An off-balance center of gravity that can affect the way you sit, stand, sleep and move. Add to it a surge of hormones and an increase in blood flow, both of which can also change the way a pregnant body responds to activity, and you're bound to experience aches and pains not otherwise felt by your pre-baby body. Physical activity can help, of course. As do massages. But so can stretching.

Stretching during pregnancy is a very healthy, very good idea. (Unless, of course, you have restrictions placed upon you by your OB or midwife.) Not only will it keep your muscles loose and limber, it can alleviate some of the aforementioned aches and pains, which generally take form in the back, chest, abdomen and hips, specifically. Today, I'll walk you through five stretches that can (theoretically) relieve some of the tension in these areas.

One thing to remember: Relaxin. Otherwise known as the hormone produced during pregnancy that essentially relaxes your body in preparation for labor/deliver. Because something's gotta give so your baby fits through your pelvic bone, eh? Relaxin is a good thing, but it can provide a false sense of flexibility. Just because you're suddenly capable of doing the splits (or whatever), doesn't necessarily mean you should.

Lesson: Proceed with the following slowly and steadily, and stretch only to the point of mild discomfort so as not to pull or tear anything. You've got enough going on, right? You don't need any pulls or tears adding to your pregnancy aches and pains.

Let's get started:

1) Standing Hamstring Stretch

Low back pain can be the result of tight hamstrings whether or not you're pregnant. So keeping them loose and limber promotes less tightness in the glutes and low back. Doing a standing hamstring stretch will give you more room to bend over that belly, but if you're comfortable on the floor, by all means! Just be sure to keep your back as straight as possible throughout the entire thing. There really is no need to actually touch your toes as long as you're feeling the stretch.

2) Seated Hip/Glute Stretch

Theoretically, you can do this one standing up or sitting down on the floor, but I find that sitting in a chair or on a bench works just as well...and keeps the belly comfortable. Cross your leg like a dude, then gently push your knee down toward the floor to release tension in your hip/glute. This is a particularly good stretch if you're experiencing any sciatic pain.

3) Chest Stretch

As the, ahem...girls grow, you might find yourself hunching forward in response to the added weight. And when we hunch forward, our shoulders turn in ever so slightly. The longer this goes on, the tighter our chest muscles get as they respond to their new normal. So grab those hands behind you and open up your chest to relieve some of that tightness.

4) Standing Cat Stretch

As in, cat-cow without the cow (because we have to be gentle on the abdominals...they're getting stretched enough by the minute). If getting on all-fours is still comfortable and easy for you, by all means, but know that a standing version is a great alternative. Simply press down into whatever you're leaning against and arch the back/press the shoulders up toward the ceiling to open them up a bit. You can also bend and shift a little in the knees and hips to find further relief in your low back area.

5) Side Stretch

As your baby grows, the round ligaments that support your abdomen will make themselves known as they stretch. In addition, because the rectus and transverse abdominals are weakened, the internal and external obliques can begin to overcompensate. If you feel tightness in this area not otherwise associated with Braxton Hicks and/or regular contractions, gentle side-stretching might provide relief. Sit or stand, it's up to you.

There are, of course, a number of other stretches well-suited to a pregnant body. If you exercise regularly, you'll want to stretch all of your muscle groups, not just those affected by pregnancy specific growth and change. Again, keep in touch with your OB/midwife if any of those pains get unbearable and/or questionable.

With that I leave you:

Nine weeks to go!

Brief bumpdate: I'm on the twice-a-week plan with the OB now, which is making this journey all too real! Still feeling well, with minimal pregnancy pains myself. I ran a mile this morning, and walked another. Boy, that mile felt slow...but it was steady and I was grateful for it. And this baby, hot dang it's a mover just like it's sister! Another girl? We'll see!

Question: Pregnant or not, male or female, what is your all-time favorite stretch?

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