Before you even think about movement selection for your pregnant (and non-pregnant) clients, it’s essential to ensure their bodies are in proper neutral alignment. When the body is out of neutral alignment, it places excessive stress on muscles — especially the core muscles — which can lead to discomfort, pain, or injury. Neutral alignment is important for ANY client, but it’s especially critical during pregnancy due to the degree to which the growing belly and breasts pull the body further out of alignment. Read on to learn how pregnancy alters a woman’s alignment and what to focus on to help her counteract these shifts.
Pregnancy Alignment Shifts
The key alignment shifts of pregnancy include:
- Excessive anterior pelvic tilt from the growing belly
- Shift in center of gravity up and out, from the growing belly
- Wider pelvis from the effects of the hormone, relaxin
- Rounded shoulders from the growing breasts
The more weight a woman gains outside the healthy weight gain guidelines, the greater her alignment shifts will be, and the greater chance she will have of experiencing pain and injuries like diastasis recti, pelvic floor dysfunction, lower back pain, SI joint pain, sciatica, pelvic girdle pain, carpal tunnel….the list goes on.
Finding Neutral Alignment
Neutral alignment occurs when there is a straight line from ear-shoulder-hip-knee-ankle, and the rib cage is stacked directly above the pelvis. Watch the video below to learn a few techniques you can use with clients to help them find their own neutral alignment (which is different for every person).
Staying in Neutral
Once your client is able to find her own neutral alignment, the key will be coaching her to remain in this posture as much as possible throughout her workout, and importantly, throughout her daily activities. Muscles and bones conform to the way we move, so if we move improperly in everyday life, our bones will shape accordingly. The three biggest areas to focus on with your clients are the following (in priority order):
- Seated alignment: This is #1 because of how much time our population spends seated all day, and the fact that most people have such poor seated alignment. Sitting hunched over at a desk places excessive stress on the core muscles (which have enough stress on them from the belly during pregnancy), and it prevents the critical “Core Canister” muscles from functioning properly as a pump. If you can train your client to naturally sit in proper neutral alignment (avoiding hunching and rib flaring), you have pretty much earned your paycheck right there!
- Bending Over Alignment: This is #2 again because of the number of times people bend over a day, and how poor their alignment typically is when doing so (rounding at the spine vs. hinging from the hips and remaining neutral). You may spend forever with your client mastering a perfect deadlift, but the second she leaves your session, she drops her keys on the floor and hunches over (placing all that stress on her abdominal wall and lower back) to pick them up. Teach your client to hinge properly when bending over — like in this Ground Pickup movement — not just when she’s deadlifting during your session, but every single time she bends over in her daily activities.
- Standing Alignment: Once your client masters seated and hinging alignment, have her pay attention to her standing alignment as well. Remember during pregnancy, she will have the tendency to stand with that anterior pelvic tilt, which places excess stress on her abdominal wall and lower back. She may even need to think of tilting her pelvis a bit posteriorly to achieve neutral. The key is to continuously watch her during your sessions and correct and coach her so she truly understands what neutral feels like.
Once your client is in optimal alignment, you can move onto the next most critical technique — helping her find and activate the deep core muscles of her “Core Canister.”