The benefits of aqua natal workouts
by Susie Murphy, BSc ( Hons ) RGN RM aquanatal professional level 3 specialist pre postnatal. Medical Acupuncturist.
Keeping fit and active during pregnancy can help you to adjust to the changes your body is undergoing as you approach your due date. Staying healthy and active can also help you to cope with the demands of labour and to recover more quickly once your baby is born.
Walking, dancing, yoga and pilates are all activities that can promote fitness but without causing too much stress during pregnancy. However, there are some sports that are not advised when expecting: perhaps the most obvious are contact sports such as judo or kickboxing where there’s a risk of being hit. Here, Susie Murphy offers aquanatal exercise as a perfect way to stay on the move in pregnancy whilst also offering release to women experiencing painful PGP symptoms.
Aqua natal classes offer an holistic workout in water led by a specialist instructor. They can offer an enjoyable way to remain active in pregnancy and are really beneficial in the following ways to pregnant women who also experiencing PGP symptoms:
Buoyancy. Uniquely, water can provide reliable support and stability for a pregnant woman to enable her to move freely where this ability may be compromised on dry land. Moving in water can strengthen the supporting muscles around the pelvis both above and below. All muscle movement in water is concentric (shortening) so post-exercise soreness doesn’t occur in the same way as it would on dry land.
Pelvic Floor. A suitably experienced and trained teacher will include guidance during the gentle aerobic workout about how to maintain a healthy and strong pelvic floor. This will include movements to promote muscular strength and endurance of the pelvic floor which will help to keep the integrity of the muscles as well as maintain continence.
Tummy muscles. Frontal resistance of the wall of water can help to strengthen tummy muscles and this occurs naturally as the woman moves through the water, carrying out the exercises included in the workout. The natural resistance of the water can also support the pelvis and strengthen the adductor and quadricep muscles.
Pelvic rocking. A common movement within an aqua natal workout is pelvic rocking which is supported safely by the buoyancy of the water and can help to work both the back extensors and the abdominals.
Wellbeing and stress relief. The aquatic environment can bring temporary but immense relief from stress and pain. Evidence suggests moving through water can release four times the endorphins (the body’s natural opiates, designed to relieve stress and pain while enhancing pleasure) than are normally released from movement on dry land. This is because movement in water causes the water molecules (which resemble a ‘v’ shape), to tumble over each other, sticking to the skin, the largest organ of the body, and stimulating it.
Relieving trigger points. Women with PGP often experience painful trigger points (small contraction knots within muscle) in the gluteus muscles resulting from tension caused by pubic pain. In aqua natal sessions there is always a static stretching phase to prepare the muscles for the next exercise. This can be of great relief because the muscles benefit from moving rather than remaining in a jarring, tense state (acupuncture and manual therapy can be very useful in releasing these triggers or knots).
Appropriate movements. Aqua natal workouts under the supervision of a properly trained teacher, will include only those exercises that are appropriate during pregnancy. For example, deep squats, wide leg side step, ply metric jumps and twists are not considered appropriate because they could cause strain or injury.
NB Susie Murphy and colleague, Sue Baines have written a book on this topic which is aimed at healthcare professionals but would also be suitable for women interested in learning more. See: Aquatic Exercise for Pregnancy by Baines & Murphy S M&K publishing 2010.