Full disclosure: I’m not a mad fan of the term ‘stretching’, especially when it comes to the pregnant client. For most people, it sets alarm bells ringing and in general fitness education for this population, it sometimes ends up feeling and looking a little limited, fear driven and not really fit for purpose. General protocols tend to underplay the huge potential and possibilities when aiming to mobilize, free and help pregnant women move well and stay pain-free throughout the trimesters. General protocols also tend to underplay that moving well and without pain as the trimesters progress is something that most pregnant women really value help with and appreciate tremendously.

For many years in the world of pregnancy exercise education, ‘stretching’ has almost been put in the ‘contraindication’ box and approached with trepidation for fear of harming the pregnant woman, who is automatically considered to be unstable and full of destabilizing hormones, such as progesterone and relaxin, but THERE IS ANOTHER WAY! Stretching and mobilization has moved on a lot in recent years and the progress and thought-space has also filtered through to the world of pregnancy exercise.

So, are pregnant women inherently unstable? Should ‘stretching’ be avoided or applied with extreme caution? My answer after a decade and a half of working with pregnant women is a resounding NO! As professionals serving this client population, we need to ‘rule the tool’ as they say. It’s not the activity but the application of the activity ... ultimately, ‘stretching’ has moved on and, instead of being limited to the golden oldies (shown in pic below), which are basically adaptations of standard stretching protocols carried out until the bump gets in the way, let’s go wider and think about using a variety of modalities to aid the ‘releasing’ of stuck soft-tissue that occurs alongside the changing center of mass and the associated postural/alignment changes. Let’s focus on freeing the client from the almost inevitable discomfort caused by the musculoskeletal and biomechanical changes that occur during AND post pregnancy. Let’s go wider and think about the application of the biotensegrity theory and dynamic ‘mobilization’ along the myofascial lines and muscular sling systems in multiple planes with multiple height and depths of reach. Let’s go wider and think about the ‘releasing’ part of our sessions turning into the STAR TURN of our sessions and something that our client positively anticipates instead of something that feels like penance! Let’s go wider and apply strategies while the client is standing and moving rhythmically. Let’s go wider and help the client to move away from ‘stretching so they are not stiff’ to them gifting themselves the ultimate self-care present. Ultimately, there is beauty and deliciousness to be had in this part of programming and I’d love to share what I do and teach with you.

Diagram of pregnancy stretches

Ante/postnatal soft tissue ‘hotspots’

I’m so thankful for the 15 years of both clients and students who I have been honored to serve and who have helped me to hone my ‘aaaaaah’ skills. It’s not a scientific term but if ever there was a part of your practice that was truly experiential, this is it: soothing and salving the pregnant client on both a physical and psychological level is paramount and paying attention to what she ‘feels’ is simply of utmost but often neglected importance. How your pregnant client ‘feels’ after you’ve helped her with her ‘hotspots’ is the MOST IMPORTANT indicator of your success. What the client ‘feels’ afterwards is what will keep her returning as a raving fan, what the client ‘feels’ will have her refer you to all her pregnant friends – that ‘aaaaaah’ is unscientific but client-retention GOLD! That unscientific aaaaaah is an essential indicator that ‘freeing soft-tissue skills’ have hit the mark, relieved pain and discomfort, up-regulated the client’s parasympathetic nervous system and helped restore the precious but elusive reconnection to the pain-free ‘self’. Every pregnancy is unique but, without fail (ish), there are areas of ‘universal soft-tissue stuckness’ (illustrated by the stars on the diagram below) that you will find on most pregnant women, especially past the second trimester and for sure still making their presence felt in the postnatal period. In my personal experience, get a pregnant or postnatal woman out of pain in these areas and you have a one-woman referral machine for life! The key ‘hotspots’ are global and you’ll need to be a detective going nose to toes, scalp fascia to the plantarfascia, taking in all element of the kinetic chain, myofascial lines and activity of daily life movement patterns while rhythmically mobilizing all the major joint terminals (ankles, knees, hips, shoulder girdle). It’s deep work but your client will adore your thoroughness. 

Female body map

Dynamic integrated mobilization (DIM) for the pregnant client using ViPR

ViPR bridges the gap between movement/mobilization and strength training. It acts as an additional ‘driver’, combining full-body movement with load, greatly enhancing the mobilization potential of the activity. ViPR introduces a fresh concept in mobility, fitness and sports conditioning –Loaded Movement Training, task-oriented, loaded movement patterning which incidentally looks very much like the activities of daily life of a typical mom: functional, hugely useful and utterly powerful at transforming soft tissue. 

I could say so much more about this tool but, instead, just watch the video below. You’ll see me and wonderful pregnant women moving in the most delicious manner, rhythmically, through multiple planes, listening, luxuriating and honoring the wisdom of the body. The body is hungry to move as nature intended: DIM and ViPR truly feed and facilitate this desire. I’ve talked over this film so that you get the why’s of my thought process also. I hope it helps you out.

Loaded Movement, Mobiization, Flexibility During Pregnancy from Jenny Burrell on Vimeo.

With huge thanks to the models Laura Dietz, ViPR master trainer, and Elizabeth Kamm.

See the full range of Burrell Education pregnancy, postnatal and third age courses by visiting burrelleducation.com