Pilates After Baby

In “Can a Mom Get a Break?” a Times article from earlier this month, Janice Min laments the current cultural obsession with critiquing post-partum bodies. We couldn’t agree more that getting beach-ready should hardly be a priority when you’re first experiencing the joys—and exhaustion—of motherhood. Eventually, though, you may want to indulge in some time for yourself, perhaps in a gym…or a Pilates studio. “Indulge” is a funny word for something that will make your legs shake and your abs sore enough where laughing hurts, but Karrie Adamany, expert instructor and the author of Post-Pregnancy Pilates, makes it all seem worth the burn. —Kate Guadagnino

How did you first get into Pilates and how did it change your body and outlook after having your son?
I received a gift certificate for a Pilates lesson after I had my son. I had read about Pilates but had never tried it, despite being very athletic previously. So when I took my first class at eight weeks post-partum, I was kind of a droopy mess and didn’t really know what to expect. But that first lesson got me hooked and I went back a few times a week and saw an enormous change in my body shape. It really gave me energy and made me feel great. So my personal experience informed how I went on to become a teacher, and then write a book about Pilates for new moms.

Can you talk a little bit about the importance of core strength as it relates to overall fitness and injury prevention? What about mental toughness and concentration?
Core strength is really the foundation for your body. If you have a strong core, your body moves more efficiently in your everyday life, as well as in sports or during any kind of physical activity. If you have a strong core, it protects your back, helps you to sit up straighter at your desk, stand taller, and generally feel better.

As for concentration, Pilates is really a thinking-person’s exercise. It takes focus to perform the movements accurately and with precision. And I believe that translates to everyday life. I love to go on a run and just let my mind wander and decompress. But Pilates requires you to zero in on how your body moves and that concentration builds mental sharpness.

How does post-pregnancy Pilates differ from regular Pilates?
First and foremost, I focus on the pelvic floor and finding the abdominal muscles. Many women struggle with re-learning how to fire up and contract their abs in the beginning, so I work on that until I feel confident that it’s okay to move on. I also address the assorted aches and pains associated with childbirth and caring for a newborn: lower back, neck, wrist,

etc. Then it’s open to whatever you’re ready to do. Some days you might come in really tired so we take it slow, and other days you might be super motivated to push ahead.  It’s all Pilates; it’s just a matter of how we get you up to speed and that’s very individual.

A big part of your message is about the importance of making time for yourself. Do you find that, apart from sheer time constraints, this is a challenge (emotionally, psychologically) for some women?
Absolutely. You have this tiny baby who relies on you for everything. You’re tired and have a hard time just making time to eat and shower.  So there is certainly some guilt involved with leaving the house and doing something for you. But yes, my message is that it’s okay and really beneficial to everyone if you take that time to take care of yourself. You’ll feel better physically and mentally, and since you are the glue of the family, everyone wins with a happy mom.

Do you find that new mothers who turn to Pilates not only get their pre-baby body back, but actually improve it, or are there some changes you just have to get used to?
I think that you can definitely change your body for the better. Obviously it is somewhat dependent upon the kind of shape you were in pre-baby and how much time you have to spend on fitness with a newborn at home. But I certainly changed my body for the better, and I have worked with many women who have transformed their physiques. Either way, you have to accept the fact that your body has not really been your own for a while, so you have to be patient with the results as you get back in touch with your physical self.

Is Pilates or straight cardio better for dropping pounds? What about for targeting “problem areas?”
Pilates is an amazing full body workout and you can certainly work up a sweat doing it.  There are many things we can do to target problem areas.  Specific exercises for toning arms, legs, butt, and of course, the all-important abs can be tailored to suit your individual needs.

Cardio is always a great way to jumpstart your metabolism and I definitely recommend it for helping to burn calories. But remember that if you’re nursing, you still need to hang on to some extra calories!

Do you think Pilates enhances the female form? Gwyneth Paltrow claimed that yoga was making her body too boxy, but then she switched to Pilates and got her curves back.
Yes, I agree.  Pilates enhances curves by lifting your bum, sculpting your arms and toning and tightening everything up without making you look too muscular or boyish.

What are some quick exercises new moms can do on their own when they don’t have time for a full class or workout but are still looking to rediscover their abdominal muscles?
I like to put one or two exercises a week up on my blog just to give you something different to keep in mind about your body. I also like giving “homework” to my clients so that in between Pilates sessions they can work on a particular exercise or focus on a certain body part that we have been working on in class.  I always recommend Kegels.

The Roll Back is a good way to build abdominal strength at home. Sitting up straight on a mat with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Rest your hands lightly under your thighs, contract your abdominal muscles (pull them in) and start to roll back. You should roll back, keeping the curve in your lower back, until your arms are straight but still touching your thighs. Hold for five counts. Engage your abs and come back up to a sitting position. Repeat five to eight times. For more of a challenge, extend your arms straight in front of you and go back lower.