Pilates perks with baby in tow

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 April, 2012, 12:00am


The arrival of a baby typically overwhelms new mothers with emotion, parenting duties and fatigue. Every second of the day is devoted to the little one, with no 'me time' for mothers to relax and take care of their own post-natal health. Exercise sinks low on the to-do list.

But it doesn't have to be that way, says Heather Thomas Shalabi, a Pilates instructor and founder of Flex Studio in Wong Chuk Hang. She says new mothers should take advantage of the rush of good hormones after delivery and get right back into exercise instead of putting it off for months - by which time hormone loss and exhaustion will set in.

Pilates is the perfect post-natal workout, says Shalabi.

'Pilates strengthens the core control muscles of the lower abdominal region and pelvic floor, creating a muscular 'corset' to support the spine,' says the mother of a 10-year-old and six-year-old twins.

The exercise method, founded by German Joseph Pilates in the early 20th century, blends toning and stretching to alleviate muscular tension from repetitive movements, such as bending over, carrying and nursing.

'Pilates also helps participants rediscover pre-pregnancy body awareness by focusing on balance, posture and breath to facilitate movement,' says Shalabi. 'Also, stimulating circulation will promote the reduction of excess water weight retained after delivery.'

While Pilates is usually done alone, Shalabi has designed a series of exercises to be done with babies - ideally when they are between 10 weeks and 10 months old, as their necks must be stable. So there goes your 'I have to look after the baby and can't exercise' excuse.

Here, Flex Studio's senior Pilates instructor Victoria Nicholson and 10-month-old Annabelle Sutherland demonstrate six exercises you can do at home. Aim to do eight to 10 smooth, controlled repetitions of each move. Not only good for you, the workout also helps strengthen the baby physically - and the emotional bond with your child.

Shalabi advises you should be at least two weeks post-partum and have doctor's approval to start an exercise regime. Up until six weeks after delivery, moves that put the heart overhead (such as bridging) should be avoided.

Those new to Pilates are recommended to work with a qualified instructor before going solo at home. The instructor would also check if you have any physical conditions - separated abdominals or pelvic misalignment, for example - and fix them before starting the programme.

To learn more, sign up for Flex Studio's Hot Mama Post Natal Workshop. Workshops cost HK$450 each with a maximum eight participants per 90-minute class. Go to flexhk.com or call 2813 2212

Leg lift (left)

Lie on your side, with your elbow under your shoulder. The baby lies face up next to you. Lift your waist away from the floor and stretch your shoulder away from the ear.

What it works: external obliques (waist-slimming), lateral leg muscles, adductors and abductors (two areas that tend to slacken in pregnancy), and gluteals. Stabilises shoulder girdle muscles.

Super baby press-up

Lie face up on a mat with knees bent and heels aligned with sit bones [lower pelvis]. Sit the baby on your pelvis, either lying back against your thighs or seated upright. Roll shoulders off the ground and lift the baby slowly.

What it works: flexion of the spine establishes deep, intrinsic abdominal tone. The press-up adds shoulder girdle and arm strength.

Shin lifts

Sit with knees bent, feet flat on floor. Rest the baby on your shins. Roll back, lift your shins repeatedly, while balancing on the back of your sitting bones.

What it works: strengthens the core and stretches the erector spinae, the long muscles of the back.


The starting position is similar to the super baby press-up, but you lift the pelvis off the floor instead.

What it works: stretches the spine, hip flexors and quadriceps muscles, and engages the gluteals.

Kiss the baby

This is essentially a push-up, but modified so that you kiss your baby with each repetition.

What it works: strengthens the shoulders and mid-back muscles, and sculpts the triceps, deltoids and biceps.