So, I was having a conversation not too long ago and it turned towards prenatal fitness—how much should pregnant women be modifying? Are there moves they shouldn’t do at all? For the most part, pregnant women can continue to follow the same fitness routine they engaged in prior to pregnancy. Of course, intensity levels may have to decrease as pregnancy progresses, but this is something that should be discussed with their doctor.
Generally, barre is a safe, low-impact exercise that can be continued throughout pregnancy with minimal modifications. But, sometimes it’s difficult to get pregnant women to take even those minimal modifications in class. Hey, I’ve been pregnant before—I get it. Pregnancy is not a disability and we don’t want to be treated like we can’t do something just because we’re pregnant. I felt the same way. But, from a fitness standpoint, there are certain moves you can do during pregnancy that can increase your risk of developing diastasis recti (ab separation) and other issues after pregnancy. Diastasis recti can cause a whole bunch of problems and it doesn’t always go back together without surgery.
So, why am I talking so much about prenatal fitness in a post about barre after pregnancy? Simple fact, the same rules apply during the postnatal period. The body takes some time to adjust (sometimes up to 6-12 months) and there are certain moves that can increase the risk of diastasis, prolapse, and other common postnatal issues continuing much longer than they need to. Even if someone was extremely active during pregnancy, it’s still important to focus on regaining core stability before returning to a vigorous fitness program after pregnancy.
During the prenatal period, there are a lot of physiological changes that go on in the body. Respiration + cardiac output change, the pelvic floor and deep core stabilizer muscles stretch + perform at marathon capacity during labor/delivery. Unfortunately, all of those changes don’t go back to normal right away after having the baby. It takes time for the cardio-respiratory system to respond to the hormonal changes of the postnatal period. Walking is the best thing to begin retraining cardio-respiratory endurance. On the other hand, higher impact activities like running put a huge amount of stress on the weakened pelvic floor, which is why many women who return to running too soon after pregnancy experience issues with prolapse and incontinence. How long will it take to get back to a running routine after pregnancy? There’s no hard and fast rule because we’re all different, but it’s best to stick with walking for the first several weeks and begin to add in short running intervals—slowly progressing their length/intensity over several months as tolerated.
So, back to that weakened core + pelvic floor—the best thing to do for that is diaphragmatic breathing + barre exercises. Barre focuses on training the deep transverse abdominal muscles, pelvic floor, and hip complex in coordination with the breath. We work the hip complex in all planes of motion—think forward/back, side to side, and circles to improve functional stability. There’s a strong component of using the breath (contracting the diaphragm) to activate the deep core muscles + pelvic floor, which causes these muscles to work together for a truly rock solid mid-section. I’m not talking six-pack abs, I’m talking true balance and stability, which improves the ability to use the muscles in the arms and legs more efficiently. Oh, and did I mention, that due to all those tiny isometric contractions, there’s a strong cardio component to a barre workout?
Honestly, everyone should be doing barre (whether they’ve had a baby or not)—it’s GREAT cross-training! Who wouldn’t benefit from a stronger core, better posture, more muscular endurance, and improved flexibility in the hip complex?
Which leads to the question—how often should I be doing barre? Optimally, to quickly achieve the desired effects, 3 to 5 times per week. If you’re looking to add barre as a cross-training component, then 1 to 3 times per week depending on your goals.