5 pilates moves to help prepare for labor

Pre/Postnatal Fitness Specialist, Andrea Speir, shares simple exercises to help you gently strengthen and prepare yourself for childbirth


As our bodies change during pregnancy, so does the focus and approach in our workouts. Organs are shifting, muscles are stretching and it’s easy to be so fascinated with what is happening in the moment, that we almost forget to think forward to the muscular strength needed for the impressive feat of labor. The good news is there are certain movements that are not only perfectly safe to do throughout each trimester of pregnancy, but they are actually going to help your body kick in with the power and strength it needs to do what it was made to do in those final moments before meeting your beautiful baby. These exercises build endurance, strength and gentle flexion in the legs and pelvic floor to help train your body to be both relaxed and powerful.

While we’re at it, let’s lengthen and stretch those out the lats, traps and chest to get rid of pesky tension that likes to rise up when we are stressed. The exercises below will build muscle memory for your body so you can relax your shoulders and neck during labor without even realizing you are, aiding in the fluidity of the process. So what do you say, ready to got strong, relaxed and svelte? Unroll your mat, turn on some music and let’s do this, mama.

Try to do these moves 4-5x/week to get maximum results.

Breakdown of Moves

Move 1: Lunge Series (front/side)

Reps: 10x/position, 3 sets Action:

  1. Begin standing with feet together with hands by your side.
  2. Step forward into deep lunge with one foot.
  3. Step back with feet together.
  4. Repeat with other leg forward.
  5. Repeat until 10x on each leg.
  6. Lunge to one side, bending the leg in action into squat and keep stable leg straight.
  7. Reverse on other side.
  8. Repeat until 10x/leg.

Focus: Focus on gentling hugging your baby with your abdominals to find balance and gentle core engagement.
Why: As we lunge, we allow the pelvic region to open slightly, then we engage that muscle to activate back – this action is preparing the strength in our bodies for labor. Different angles on the lunges target slightly different zones in the pelvic region to build the most dynamic strength.

Move 2: Core – Seated Diamond Raises

Reps: 10x/leg Action:

  1. Seat propped up on elbows on a mat or soft surface with knees bent and feet flat.
  2. Draw knees into chest and open knees out just wider than hips with heels together.
  3. Lower one leg down toward floor and slowly lift it back up.
  4. Reverse lowering other leg down toward floor, lift it back up.
  5. Repeat until 10x/leg.

Focus: Keep chest open and shoulders down back, while again gently hugging your baby with your abdominals. This will help keep that strength controlled versus being overtaken by back muscles.
Why: This move safely helps build that strength we need in our abdominals and core to push during labor. Removing extreme crunching or twisting from the workout regiment is a smart move to help not overwork already stretched muscles and risk Diastasis Recti, so this is a perfect way to get that great strength.

Move 3: Sweeping Donkey Kick

Reps: 15x/leg Action:

  1. Kneel on hands and knees with a theraband hooked around one foot and anchored under the heel of your hands. Lift the leg with the band up an inch off the mat.
  2. Extend that leg out long behind you and add a lift up toward the ceiling.
  3. Lower leg back down and back in.
  4. Repeat 15x and then reverse legs.

Focus: Lengthen leg out to a strong active leg and keep shoulders actively pulling down. Gently engage core muscles to keep back from arching.
Why: Building strength in the legs and lower body will be an important part of pushing during labor, and adding this element of stretch and lift helps to improve circulation and create space and stretch in the body for your baby and your organs. This is a full body, dynamic and feel-good exercise.

Move 4: Leg Lifts

Reps: 10x/3 Sets Action:

  1. Lie on your side with your straight legs angled somewhat in front of your body and your head resting in the hand of your bent elbow. Place the opposite hand in front of your baby bump for support.
  2. Lift leg up toward ceiling (as high as you comfortably can without hips moving).
  3. Lower leg back down.
  4. Repeat 10x and then reverse legs.

Focus: Think about reaching toes away and lengthening from top of the head- elongate and stretch that body.
Why: Strengthening the outer hip, or gluteus medius, during pregnancy is huge because they muscles are going to help support your hips and pelvic region, which is an area that helps center our balance with the growing of our belly!

Move 5: Thoracic Extension w/ band (or towel)

Reps: 10x/1 set Action:

  1. Stand with feet hip distance apart and parallel. Hold the theraband between your thumb and first finger, just wider than your shoulders and at shoulder height.
  2. Bend knees as you reach arms up overhead and gently pull out wide on band.
  3. Extend gently back while opening chest and pressing out on band.
  4. Reach back up to ceiling.
  5. Lower arms in front of chest and straighten legs.
  6. Repeat 10x.

Focus: Think about lengthening up and back versus crunching or arching back. The exercise is to lengthen out the thoracic, or middle spine while simultaneously opening up lats and traps to stretch out upper body and get rid of tension. This is a fantastic exercise to create muscle memory of releasing tension.

Why: One of the best ways to simultaneously strengthen the glute med and outer hip to support the hips, while getting movement and gentle stretching in the hip flexors and pelvic region. Great for blood floor and circulation as well.

This is my all-time favorite move, and it has become a nighttime ritual and savior for me…

Bonus Move: Theraband Cat/Cow

Reps: 15x Action:

  1. Take theraband around shoulders like a shawl then come to kneeling with hands under shoulders and knees under hips, anchoring the theraband in your hands.
  2. Gently open your chest and arch your back, looking straight ahead.
  3. Begin to curl tailbone under and articulate sequentially up disc by disc to a round back,pressing back into the resistance of the band.
  4. Repeat 15x at a slow and deliberate pace.

Focus: Make sure to take your time and really feel your body move with a slow control. Only go as big with the movement as is comfortable in your body.
Why: This is one of the most recommended moves to help with SI (sacro-illiac) pain, aka that stabbing, aching pain in your lower back. The gently flexion and extension helps to stretch out and elongate this aggravated area and get the circulation moving and flowing through this region. Additionally, this is a top recommended exercise for round ligament pain – aka the aching and sometimes stabbing pain right underneath your uterus. The same idea here, the gentle moving and extending helps the ligament to slowly stretch and release. The use of the band helps to control and improve the functionality of all of the above, so this exercise is a #1 win in my book.