Pregnancy and the Aerialist

So, you’re pregnant.

Maybe this was on purpose, maybe it’s a surprise. Either way, you live, eat, and breathe aerial (or pole!) and now you’re wondering how this is going to affect your training. What’s safe? What can I do? How long can I do it for? 

I’m going to do my best to give you some general guidelines, but before we dive into that, I’m going to be clear in stating:

I am not a medical professional or doctor. I am sharing general guidelines based on my education as a pilates instructor and aerial coach, but these guidelines are not rules. Every body and every pregnancy are different, and you should absolutely, 100% discuss whether or not aerial training is safe for you during this pregnancy with your doctor or healthcare provider.

Okay, now that that’s out of the way!

The first questions any newly pregnant aerialist usually finds themselves asking is “How long is it safe for me to train for?”

The answer is: It depends! (Heads up, you’re going to hear that answer a lot in this post.)

Consider your risk factors

If you have any high risk factors in your pregnancy, or a history of miscarriage, you should stop training immediately. Even if you’re an experienced aerialist, it’s still very physically rigorous and demanding activity. Best to play it safe here, and start taking it easy so your body can focus all it’s effort and energy into your growing bundle of joy.

I also want to say that if you have miscarried and had been training, it is highly unlikely that your training caused your miscarriage. Miscarriage happens for so many different reasons, and they are things that are almost entirely out of your control. I know that if you’re struggling to get and stay pregnant that it’s really easy to start blaming yourself for things that you should or shouldn’t have done, and I just want to tell you that if this is you, it’s not your fault. I promise.

Okay, so let’s say your pregnancy is low risk, and you’ve been training aerial for a while. I’m going to arbitrarily say upwards of a year. The general recommendations for exercise during pregnancy are that you can continue doing the activities that your body is used to during pregnancy with modifications as needed. So, if aerial is part of your regular activities, there is no immediate pressing need for you to stop. 

Your training goals while pregnant will be different

Pregnancy is not the time to be trying to cultivate new skills. Instead, it’s time to work on things you’re already comfortable with, and try to maintain strength and skills that you already have for as long as you are able.

The most important thing is that you’re careful, and that you listen to your body. Things will start feeling uncomfortable pretty quickly as your pregnancy progresses. You’ll want to stop wrapping your waist, and things like a front balance aren’t going to work.  You will lose the ability to pull up or invert. You might start experiencing nausea (isn’t pregnancy fun??). How your body is going to react to pregnancy and training is highly individual, and there is no way to predict how long you will feel comfortable working in the air. I know of people who trained and performed into their 8th month, and others who had to stop immediately, either because they felt uncomfortable training or because of factors like nausea or other physical reactions to being pregnant.

Please DO tell your coach immediately, even if you’re not telling people yet. It’s important for us to know what’s going on with our students, and your coach should be given the chance to decide if they’re comfortable coaching someone during pregnancy.

Another question I hear a lot is “Can I keep training flexibility while I’m pregnant?”

The answer to this is “Kind of”, with a bit of “It depends” on the side.

Your joints change when you’re pregnant

When you are pregnant, your body starts producing a hormone called relaxin. Relaxin does kind of exactly what it sounds like- it relaxes your connective tissue in preparation for childbirth. That means that your ligaments (which connect bone to bone) and tendons (which connect muscle to bone) get softer and stretchier. You get 2 big surges of it, though you produce it through your whole pregnancy and after if you’re breastfeeding. The first big surge is in your first trimester. It’s getting your body ready for the physical changes of pregnancy. You get another surge right before birth as your body gets ready to go through the birthing process.

With all this relaxin in your body, you might find that you feel more flexible, or that you have access to ranges of motion that you hadn’t before. I had a client who started hyper extending their knees and elbows during pregnancy and this had never been a thing they’d done before! But here’s the problem: your body will have no idea how to support your joints in these new ranges of motion, AND your connective tissue becomes more vulnerable when it’s so loose and juicy. Which means that you are way more at risk of injury from flexibility skills than you would be normally. If you are already hyper mobile, this is an even bigger concern for you!

Watch the static stretching!

Static stretching, and stretching to increase your ranges of motion are pretty risky while pregnant. Ligament injuries are very hard to heal, and once a ligament is injured or damaged it won’t ever go back to normal. You’re putting a lot of strain on your ligaments when you hold static stretches or are really pushing to increase your range of motion and you can do real damage to yourself which won’t ever heal all the way.

Active flex is your friend!

Working on more active flexibility drills and strengthening in your end range can be a great way to support your body and continue your training during your pregnancy! If you’re unfamiliar with “active flexibility”, it basically means taking a body part into an end range of and asking it to work there. So, an active hamstring flexibility drill could be laying on your back and lifting one leg towards your face and then pulsing it in that end range. I would avoid drills that rely on gravity (passive) to get you to your end range, and focus on things that have you actively working through your range of motion. Basically, if you can’t get there without help, it’s too much.

The thing that’s great about this sort of training is that it’s helping you to strengthen the muscles that support your joints, and that is 100% the best sort of training to do while pregnant. Pregnancy can be incredibly stressful for your joints, both because of relaxin and also because of your increased size and weight and the strain that puts on your body. Focusing on strengthening your joints can help minimize some of the pain and discomfort that some experience during pregnancy. It is also one of the best things you can do for yourself in regards to postpartum recovery!

Which takes me to the third common question: “What kind of workouts can I do while pregnant to help me be ready to get back in the air postpartum?”

So, here’s the bad news. There is nothing you can do to avoid losing a significant amount of core strength while pregnant. It’s just not possible! Your abdominals are actually working really hard during your pregnancy, but not in the way you’d expect. While your baby is growing, your abs are under a tremendous amount of stress: they’re being stretched more and more as your baby grows, and they are working really hard just to exist and hold your baby inside your body. That’s really hard work! Adding more work to them by doing abdominal specific exercises isn’t going to keep them strong, and could cause them to separate prematurely. Abdominal separation is a normal part of pregnancy, you’ve got to make room for that baby, but you can make it worse and make it more likely to be an issue postpartum by putting a lot of strain on your abs during pregnancy. The big warning signs to be looking for are: a tugging feeling or a line of tension on the front of your belly running from your sternum to your pubic bone, or a feeling of bulging in your belly. Visually, it may look like tenting or doming around your belly button. This is a sign that you are done with that movement or exercise for the rest of your pregnancy.

Exercises that are likely to cause that are: pull ups, planks, crunches, push ups, v-sits, or anything that is putting a lot of stress on the frontline of your body.

What will help you most in the long term is focusing on strengthening your joints, as I mentioned above, and strengthening the muscles to counteract your pregnancy posture. 

During pregnancy, we often get a bit swaybacked and our upper backs get stiff and round. The hip flexors and quads can get overworked and tight, and we lose some glute and hamstring strength. Working on keeping your upper back moving and strengthening the muscles around your shoulder blades, as well as strengthening your hips, glutes and hamstrings can help minimize some of the physical discomfort of pregnancy, as well as give you a head start on your recovery. The farther you get into your pregnancy, the more your workouts should focus on these things!

Pregnancy is a crazy, wild ride, and your body goes through so many changes! It’s impossible to predict what you’ll experience, but I hope this post gives you some help in knowing what to expect, and knowing what to talk to your healthcare provider about.

I gave a whole long talk about pregnancy, postpartum recovery and aerial recently. You can check out the replay here.

Or if you don’t want to watch a video of me talking for 90 minutes (I get it, I don’t either), enter your name and email below to sign up for my mailing list to catch part 2 and 3 of this blog series, which will focus on postpartum recovery and when it’s safe to start training again after baby!

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