By safely incorporating myofascial release into your pregnant client’s training, you can help her stay fit and feel fabulous, both during and after her pregnancy.
As a fitness professional, it’s likely that you’re familiar with the benefits of myofascial therapy for clients who run and who strength train. But have you considered the benefits that foam rolling and other myofascial releases can deliver for your pregnant clients? Myofascial release not only plays an important role during pregnancy, it can also kick start ‘getting back’ to pre-baby workout levels.
When it comes to training pregnant clients, we often recommend gentle exercises such as Pilates and yoga. However, there are many other alternatives available.
Research shows that strength training is not only beneficial for keeping the mum-to-be fit and healthy, but also for gaining postural and physical strength. Another positive outcome is that women also cope better during labour when they are fit, strong and healthy. Myofascial release can assist in keeping this training option open.
As the baby grows and the mother’s shape changes, lordosis in the lower spine causes increased levels of discomfort in the lower back region and hips. Using the foam roller on the hips can result in better sleep, a better training outcome and significantly less discomfort in the lower back. It must be noted, though, that the foam roller should never be applied on the lumbar spine, tailbone, glutes or around the sacroiliac (SI) joints, as this pressure may induce labour.
To begin with, I recommend 10 minutes of foam roller exercises before commencing any cardio, warm up exercises or weight training, and progressively you should only need to release spasms as needed.
Let’s explore a few key recommendations for using myofascial release with this population.
Muscle spasm releases
Perform the following ‘muscle spasm releases’ before cardio or weight training exercises. Choose the most appropriate exercises for your client, followed by a stretch for that area. You should aim to do ‘muscle spasm release’ and quick stretches just prior to each workout for a maximum of five to 10 minutes.
Many pregnant women seek relief from the experience of pain in their feet caused by extended periods of standing or walking. Myofascial release can provide relaxing, therapeutic care that relieves the painful area and reduces stress. It is very soothing to apply gentle, massage-like pressure to the fascia of the feet. For example, the use of a golf or tennis ball to release smaller areas such as the feet is very effective.
The best way to perform this for large muscle groups, such as the quadriceps, hamstrings, latissiumus dorsi and calves, is to use a foam roller.
Empowering clients to self-release
As a practicing trigger point therapist, I perform releases manually, helping pregnant women release tight hips and lower back. However, the beauty of the foam roller is that I can teach them how to self-manage and maintain their training. When they come to my pregnancy personal training sessions, they are able to stabilise the pelvis, while also contracting their pelvic floor and connecting their core muscles effectively.
I ensure that each client squats properly, instead of twisting to one side or having their torso come into forward flexion. I also make sure their four-point kneeling or other core-based exercises are performed with fluid movement. If they have a tight hip flexor and/or external rotator, their brain sends a message to the tight spots saying ‘tight’ or ‘painful’ – hence the movement is compromised and the exercise is performed incorrectly.
The release of muscle spasms will initially cause some degree of discomfort, however if you keep the pressure on a scale of 7/10, the muscle or fascia will release (1 being no pain and 10 being the highest pain threshold).
In most people, the iliotibial band (ITB) – the long fibrous tissue on the side of each thigh, glutes/hips, latissimus dorsi (long back muscles) and calves – tends to be tight and require pressure to release the spasms. Performing myofascial release helps to release tight spasms (e.g. side of the thigh). It’s similar to the way in which, when you run freezing cold fingers under warm water, they soon become mobile again.
Practicing the self-myofascial release prior to a cardio or weights program assists with the mobility of a muscle or joint. As the muscle releases the tightness, it is not pulling on a joint – hence a movement becomes more fluid, instead of restrictive and painful.
For instance, as a runner you may find your knees or hips can become sore or stiff. Releasing the trigger points in the ITB (side of the leg), glutes and calves before you go for a run will make your run much easier, and you will have better form, run farther and generally feel free in the knees and hips.
The benefits of correctly performed myofascial release for pregnant women are many, not the least of which is the fact that the normal levels of discomfort due to physiological and hormonal changes in her body can be significantly reduced, or in some cases even removed altogether. This leads to a happier, better adjusted client who is able to maintain an exercise routine both when training with you, and at home. She can stay fit and feel fabulous throughout her pregnancy, experience better labour and return to her pre-pregnancy shape sooner after delivery.
Mary Bacon is a pregnancy expert and author of Pregnant, Fit and Fabulous. In her book, available online and in bookstores, she shows women how to care therapeutically for their bodies during pregnancy. marybacon.com