Tweak your body's alignment for a pain-free pregnancy.
A tense neck, sore back, twinges in your hips, throbbing feet—when you’re pregnant, aches and pains are just part of the deal, right? Not necessarily. “These problems may be the norm in our population today, but that wasn’t always the case,” says Katy Bowman, M.S., a biomechanist in Ventura, Calif., and creator of the Aligned and Well DVD series. “Pregnant women today suffer more than they did 100 years ago.”
Our bodies are actually well-designed for pregnancy, Bowman says: “We wouldn’t have lasted very long as a species if reproduction wrecked us. But the modern woman is doing so many things that wreak havoc on our tissues. We sit too much, drive everywhere instead of walk, wear high heels and are often overweight and inflexible. Our machinery is basically out of whack.”
But you needn’t suffer unnecessarily. Bowman has designed an exquisitely quick and simple program to address the crux of today’s prenatal ailments: poor alignment. Even a mild version of that stereotypical Lucille Ball pregnancy posture—back arched, belly thrust forward, feet splayed like a duck—throws your muscles, tendons and ligaments out of whack. Spinal discs and nerves get compressed, Bowman says, compromising your body’s natural ability to withstand the physical challenges of pregnancy.
When you’re in poor alignment, as most of us are, and you add 25 to 35 pregnancy pounds or more in a mere nine months—hello, joint pain. “It’s like a car,” says Bowman. “When the alignment’s off, things wear out faster.” Bowman’s five moves shown here will help relieve back, shoulder, neck, arm, hip, knee and foot pain, and can help you power through pregnancy by getting your body into the alignment it was designed to be in. Repeat each of these exercises three times, holding moves for 30 to 60 seconds without bouncing. Feel free to do them throughout the day if you like; the idea is to increase awareness of your posture and proper alignment.
Exercise is not the only way to help minimize pregnancy aches and pains, says biomechanist Katy Bowman, M.S. “A lot of pregnant women are active, but they’re not carrying their bodies the right way, so it negates some of the benefits of working out.” These minor tweaks to your posture will take pressure off your joints and nerves, allowing your muscles to pull their weight.
Sitting Try a standing work station, or at least use the last five minutes of each hour to stand, stroll and stretch your calves. When you do sit, park your bottom directly on your sit bones. (You can find these bones by grabbing each butt cheek and moving the flesh out to the sides.) Sitting this way will get you off your tailbone and create a small curve in your lower back.
Standing Shift your pelvis back so your weight rests on your heels and you can lift your toes. Wear only flats or negative-heel shoes, like Earth shoes (earthfootwear.com), which position the toes a few degrees higher than the heels and help decompress your lower back, Bowman says.
Walking Keep your torso upright, not leaning forward. Let your arms swing naturally, with your shoulders relaxed. Don’t waddle. If your feet “duck out,” steer them forward. If they swell, make sure your shoelaces aren’t too tight; you should be able to fit a finger under them.
The Straight Scoop When you strength-train, stellar posture is a must. Good alignment protects your joints, tendons and ligaments from strain and puts more muscle into play. So keep your weight over your heels and stack your head, shoulders and hips in a straight line.