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Prenatal Pilates: 6 stretches to relieve those nasty MOTN leg cramps

Updated: May 1, 2023

You’re in deep sleep…(if that’s even possible in the 3rd trimester, haha)….and suddenly you’re rudely awakened by a sudden spasm in your calf that jolts you awake. Argh!!! I know. It’s already tough to find a comfortable position to sleep in when the belly is this big, and these leg cramps are simply a pain (literally). It’s not entirely known what causes them – various factors explored include compression of blood vessels due to the increasing weight of the belly, a shortage of calcium/magnesium, or lack of hydration, among others. Not only do the cramps wake you up at night, but you then spend the rest of your day limping around with a feeling like you ran a marathon because of the muscle ache (depending on how bad the cramp was). Ouch. Unfortunately there aren’t any exercises I can give you to prevent leg cramps, BUT we can do these stretches to help improve blood circulation (hopefully minimising the occurrence of cramps) and also relieve the post-cramp muscle ache.

Seated calf stretch – side bend

Sit with one knee bent in internal rotation and the other leg extended out to the side, as wide as it is comfortable for you. You might already feel a stretch in your hamstrings/inner thighs in this position. To deepen the stretch and bring it into your calves, flex your foot and sidebend toward the extended leg. Do this a few times on one side, then switch legs. If you have tight hips/hamstrings, try sitting on a block/thick book for more comfort.

Seated calf stretch – forward fold

Seated calf stretch – forward fold

Sit with both legs extended in front of you. Depending on the size of your belly, you might have your legs hip width apart, or wider, like what I’m doing in the photo above (mat-width). If you are tight in the hamstrings, you might need to start off with your knees slightly bent, or sit on a block. Begin sitting up tall, with your spine straight, taking note not to slouch into the lower back. As you lean forward, continue to keep the spine lengthened, folding from your hips, and think of bringing your belly into the space between your thighs, rather than rounding the spine. Flex your feet to get the stretch deeper into your calves.

If you feel that this position is too challenging, you can also bend one knee in and go for a single-leg forward fold instead.

Kneeling toe stretch

Kneeling toe stretch

In a kneeling position with your bum resting on your heels, tuck your toes and feel a stretch in your toes & Achilles tendon. This might feel like a very uncomfortable position to be in, especially if you’re doing it for the first time. Start with a few seconds, and slowly progress to staying in this position for up to a minute. It’s a great exercise for stretching out the base of your calves/around the Achilles tendon.

Kneeling forward fold

Kneeling forward fold

A progression from the seated calf stretches, this usually requires more flexibility in the hamstrings. Have one knee directly under the hip, with a 90deg angle behind the knee as shown by my left leg in the picture above. Extend the other leg forward and while you’re in an upright position you might already feel a stretch in your hamstring. If hamstrings are tight, you might need to have a slight bend in the extended leg. To deepen the stretch, bring your hands to the floor, and flex your front foot do get the stretch into your calf. Spend a few moments breathing into the stretch to allow your muscles to relax, then switch sides.

Calf stretch against the wall

Calf stretch against the wall

Coming to a standing position, place both your hands against a wall at your shoulder height. One foot will be forward, with the knee bent, while the other leg is extended back. The movement will come from the back leg, as you tiptoe and lift the back heel off the floor; breathe out to press the heel as close to the floor as possible (it’s alright if your heel can’t touch the floor). As you lift and lower the back heel, take note to keep your weight toward the inside (big toe) side of the foot, rather than rolling out onto your ankle. Do this a 6-8 times on one side, then switch legs.

Hamstring stretch against the wall

Hamstring stretch against the wall

Walking your hands lower down the wall and your feet slightly further back, around hip width apart, fold at the hips to create a 90deg angle, allowing your sit bones to widen. This is a lovely stretch for the hamstrings & upper back muscles to end off.

Try these stretches before you go to bed at night, or periodically throughout the day if you can. And stay hydrated! The video walkthrough for these exercises are on my IGTV, and if you’d like to have more guidance in your Pilates workouts, hit me up for private/group classes (:

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