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Prenatal Pilates: My 5 favourite hip-opening moves

For most of us, more than 50% of our day is spent sitting on our butts on a chair and barely moving from it. Even while you’re not pregnant, I’m pretty sure that tight hips are a problem that most people experience as part of a sedentary lifestyle.

In pregnancy though, it is especially important to maintain flexibility in your hips for the alignment of your body, and to improve your eventual birthing experience. You probably would have noticed changes to your body as your bump starts to grow and get heavier. While it might not be as apparent in the 1st and early 2nd trimesters, as baby grows, your center of gravity starts to shift forward and the pelvis may start to pull forward at this point. This is NORMAL, and natural. You might also notice discomfort around the lower back or hip area as a result of the hormone relaxin that causes ligaments and connective tissue to relax. The slackening of these muscle groups is important for the birth to allow for the opening of the pelvis. Hence, it is important to include hip stretches in your pregnancy regime, while at the same time keeping in mind the stability of the surrounding muscles.

Here are some of my favourite Pilates hip movements for all stages of pregnancy:

Butterfly stretch/straddle split

Straddle Split

For the butterfly stretch, sit tall on a mat with both knees bent outwards and feet together. The knees might be close to the ground, or they might not, both are fine. Fold forward at the hips, focusing on hinging and keeping the back straight, instead of rounding the spine to go down. Your belly should settle comfortably in the space between your hips and feet. As your belly grows, bring your feet further away from your body to accommodate its size. This is a gentle stretch to start your hip opening practice.

A progression from the butterfly stretch is the straddle split, where you bring both legs out to the side, as far as you can still keep your back and legs straight. If you can already feel a stretch while seated, you may stay there, or walk your hands forward (again hinging rather than rounding the spine) to bring your body closer to the ground if your flexibility allows for it. You may also make this easier by taking one leg out to the side at each time, rather than bringing both legs out.

Mermaid swaps

Mermaid stretch

Sit in a Z-sit position, with one leg in internal rotation, and the other leg in external rotation. Check in with your hips to see how they feel in this position. You may or may not be able to have both sit bones grounded on the mat – as long as it is not painful/uncomfortable, this is normal. Bring your hands to the floor behind your back so that your weight shifts back slightly. Switch the rotation of your legs by flipping side to side. This is a great way to get some gentle movement into your hips – very important for the birth!

P.S. When you’ve flipped your legs to the other side, again check in with your hips to see how they feel on this side! You might notice that one side is more comfortable than the other. Spend a bit more time stretching the side that feels tighter.

Quadruped hip circles

Quadruped Hip Circles

For something a bit more active, we are now coming up to our quadruped (or all-fours) position. Imagine that you’re like a table – hands directly under the shoulders, knees directly under the hips. Spine should be in a neutral position (not overly rounding/arching), and imagine you are trying to hug your baby belly in toward your spine – this allows you to maintain core stability in this exercise.

Flex your foot and hover your knee on that same leg off the ground. Your tabletop should remain stable as you do this. Keeping a 90deg bend behind your knee, start to bring the leg up till your knee is at your hip height, then circle it out to the side and return to the original position (while still keeping the knee off the mat!). It might be challenging to keep the tabletop stable at the beginning, so start with smaller circles, and just a few repetitions. As you get stronger, you can increase the range & reps.

Remember to reverse the direction of your circles and repeat everything on the other leg too! This exercise is good for not just opening the hips in a more active manner, but also works the glutes, outer & inner thighs (I’m sure you’ll feel it the next day!) while maintaining core stability.

Low lunge with a bounce

Low lunge with a bounce

From your quadruped position in the previous exercise, step one foot forward toward your hands. You might not be able to bring it forward in one step – if you need, take a few steps, or use your hands to carry your foot forward. The front knee should be stacked directly above the ankle (do not let the knee go forward over your toes). Your hands will frame this front foot. If you find it difficult to touch the floor, use a couple of blocks/thick books under your hands to bring the floor closer to you. You might start to feel a stretch in the inner & outer thighs already in this position.

Slide the back knee further back diagonally till you can feel a stretch in the front of your hip (i.e. hip flexor). Gently bounce your hips up & down, from the base of the spine (i.e. the sacrum). I love this bouncing stretch as opposed to just static stretching in the low lunge, because the movement really helps to unstick the fascia, or connective tissues, in the body, which tends to get very stiff from hours of sitting and lack of movement.

Optional: for a deeper stretch, I like to tuck my back toes and lift the knee off the ground, keeping the back leg straight. Similarly, bounce from the sacrum, not the knee.

Switch legs and balance the lunge & bounce on the other side. Again, it might be a good time to just notice whether one side feels easier than the other – spend a bit more time on the tighter side!

The classic Asian squat

Asian squat

Ending off with my favourite! A less glamorous name would be to call this the coffeeshop uncle squat, or the toilet squat. A fond part of Singapore’s history includes squatting toilets (to be honest, I actually detest such toilets, despite loving this squat) and men squatting around chatting as they enjoy their morning kopi (coffee) and toast. We Asians are physically built to squat (not that Westerners aren’t, I’ve seen many who are great at doing this too!), but evolution and better quality of life (thank God for toilet bowls!!!) has resulted in many of us losing the ability to get into a deep squat like this.

I encourage you to do this for a few minutes each day! I’ll put it out there – you might start off feeling REALLY uncomfortable. Hold on to something to help you keep your balance if you can’t touch the floor. You may start with your heels off the ground, your bum might be quite a distance from the ground too. Don’t give up immediately! Try a minute, or even 30 seconds. And repeat it daily, till you start to notice your hips releasing – you need to give this time to happen. As you spend a bit more time in the position, your heels might be able to come closer to the ground, your bottom might also start to relax and go lower as your hips open up. This is a yummy stretch for the hips, inner & outer thighs – and is also a great birthing position! It’s never too late to start. Try it out and let me know how you feel in this position! Just a note: don’t overdo this stretch (or in fact, any of the previous movements too) – probably 5min max in this position at each time would do, otherwise you might really have difficulty standing up after!

If you find it difficult to follow the movements based on the text, check out my Instagram for a video walkthrough! Let me know which was your favourite 😀 and also, if you have any other requests for pre/post natal-related exercises, do drop me a comment below! I’d love to have more ideas. See you in my next post!

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