No matter how committed you are to your gym membership, when you get pregnant, things can get complicated. The question of what you can or can’t do with a growing baby inside looms large, and many fitness clubs don’t offer a structured prenatal program.
While some gyms have certified prenatal trainers on staff, most of us end up doing our own research (nervously), then scaling back on our workouts or even quitting altogether. So we were super-excited to learn that our fave luxe fitness club Equinox is now serving the pregnant set at its Tribeca location. And even more excited that it’s open to all of us, Equinox members or not.
Called “Just the Two of Us,” the 2-hour program takes place at the Tribeca club once a month and is led by certified pre and postnatal trainer and former professional dancer Allison Kimmel. Half workout, half information session, the class combines yoga, pilates, barre burn and classic weight training, and leaves plenty of time for women to address the misconceptions around fitness and pregnancy. It's free with a suggested donation that goesto Cycle for Survival, which raises funds for Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to help fight rare cancers.
Below, Allison tells us more about Equinox’s new prenatal class, and talks about pregnancy-safe exercise for you no matter where you have a gym membership. And if you want to get your workout on like, now, make sure to read until the end for Allison’s favorite prenatal workout move you can do at home. Then check out Equinox's next prenatal class in person in Tribeca on Jan. 10!
What got you interested in prenatal fitness?
I have always had such tremendous respect for the journey of pregnancy and motherhood and feel very passionate about women's health. I am one of five children and my mother is a doula. Pregnancy was something that we all just knew a lot about growing up so when I started training to work with pregnant women, I realized that much of my instincts and knowledge of the process stemmed from things I observed and knew about as a child. My background as a professional dancer has made my training and teaching style graceful and feminine but very disciplined and strong. This style lends itself very well to working with pregnant women.
Why is working out during this time so critical?
Exercise has been proven to increase the health and well being of the growing baby, but has incredible benefits for the mother as well. I have found that exercising is a wonderful way for women to exert a little bit of control at a time in their lives when so much is out of their control. Their relationship with their bodies, their identities and their relationships with their partners is evolving and it makes such a big difference for women to continue to feel strong, sexy and capable throughout their pregnancy. Regular workouts is how we get there.
What can women gain physically by working out during pregnancy?
In my practice, I work with women to keep them strong and mobile and pain-free. We want these expectant moms to be able to climb up and down the stairs, pick something up off the floor, tie their own shoes and have energy, calm and confidence as they prepare for their new arrival. Focusing on building muscle during pregnancy not only increases their energy level during and after pregnancy but will also help them to avoid sciatica, lower back pain, and other aches and pains that can slow them down. Additionally, all the muscle and strength that we build during pregnancy serves to increase their metabolism so they can get fitter faster and more quickly regain their strength after giving birth to take care of that special little baby.
Our bodies, our pain, our strength and our self image is very closely related to how we feel. This is not just a physical process. This is not vanity. This is health both physically and mentally.
Tell us about the workout you have created for Equinox.
I have taken all of the best and most effective movements from my prenatal training regimen and have created a dynamic and challenging class that is safe for expecting mothers.
I include movements from yoga, pilates, barre burn and classic weight training to strengthen, tone and increase well being for expectant mothers.
How is it specific for pre or postnatal?
The class, while focusing on the whole body, puts emphasis on muscle groups that are particularly important to strengthen during pregnancy such as the arms and upper back, the legs, glutes and pelvic floor. It includes deep stretches designed to decrease the discomfort associated with an ever growing belly as well as prevent diastisis recti.
Are there other elements besides the physical?
The class is taught with special emphasis on breath which is used to train our moms to exert control over their blood pressure and nervous system. Exercise is a "stress" that we put on our bodies and the closest experience we have to labor. By encouraging our moms to relax excess tension and breathe deeply when their physical intensity rises, we are practicing skills that they can use during contractions and as they go into labor.
What are some of the exercises that specifically benefit a pregnant woman during pregnancy?
I love doing challenging lower body exercises with my pregnant clients that strengthen the hips and glutes like second position knee bends and leg lifts. As her belly grows, the rapid weight combined with the relaxation and stretching of the abdominals allows the pelvis to slip into and anterior tilt which is a common cause of back pain, sciatica and makes it harder to get around. By really challenging the muscles of the glues and hips, we can get ahead of this issue while enjoying the side benefit of a tighter and more toned bottom.
Another series I love are upper body exercises like rows and flies. These movements strengthen and tighten the muscles between the shoulder blades to prepare them to hold your skeleton when your breasts become more heavy and eventually when you are constantly holding an ever growing little baby in your arms. Without strength in these muscles, the shoulders will fall forward giving you back and neck soreness as well as poor posture and body language. By pulling them back we avoid all of this while enjoying a strong sexy back.
There are so many prenatal yoga, pilates and other “gentle” workouts for pregnancy--how is this experience different?
I believe so much in the importance of movement that I would say that as long as the workouts include safe movements then expecting mothers should do anything they can manage to get to. My class is different because I believe that just because you are pregnant does not mean that you need an easy workout. No, no, no. Women, pregnant or not are strong and I will challenge my class to summon their strength during this workout. Intensity needs to remain at safe and moderate levels during prenatal training, absolutely. That said, we will be challenging and burning those muscles in a safe and effective way as well as leaving time to breathe, stretch and connect with your baby. The goal during pregnancy should never be to get fitter. It is simply not the time. My clients can, however enjoy the tightening and lifting of their glutes, thighs, arms and back which will make them feel amazing and strong during and after their pregnancy.
Since most Equinox gyms don’t have a prenatal program (or other gyms for that matter) what are some ways you’d advise pregnant women to modify their current workouts?
Knowledge is power, ladies, and this is why we are holding these classes. My goal is to arm women with the information they need to navigate the fitness arena with confidence. She will want to know the dos and don’ts of working out while pregnant so while taking class, she will know when an exercise is not for her and be able to substitute a movement she knows will feel awesome, in its place.
What are some of the other elements at Equinox’s Tribeca club that enhance the experience for a pregnant woman or new mom?
Tribeca has a kids club so new moms can bring their babies to the gym and take an hour to workout, steam and take a nice hot shower knowing that their child is in safe hands for a little tummy time.
Can you give us one “do-at-home” exercise that pregnant women can try during pregnancy when they can’t get out to a class?
- Starting in a second (turned out) position with the legs standing nice and wide, start by slowly begins and straightening the knees.
- Hold at the bottom with both knees bent. Tip the torso forward and lift back to your neutral position keeping the knees bent.
- Rolling the thighs open a quarter inch, and pulse this movement. Pulling the thighs open to the back wall.
- Pulse X12
- Holding the thighs in their most open place plus the pelvis downward.
- Breathe into your burn.
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Image courtesy of Equinox.