Top 5 Prenatal Pilates Exercises

Exercising during pregnancy can be confusing. There is so much conflicting information around what is safe and appropriate for women to do at each stage. Prenatal Pilates is such a wonderful way to maintain your strength and mobility so it’s no wonder that it’s recommended during pregnancy.

However, standard Pilates classes are not always suitable when you’re pregnant. We need to avoid:

  • Abdominal crunches
  • Abdominal twists
  • Full planks
  • Side planks
  • Laying on the belly
  • Working to exhaustion

So, Which Prenatal Pilates Exercises Are Best?

Below you will find 5 exercises that are safe for all 3 trimesters of pregnancy. They will help you maintain strength, increase mobility and prepare you for birth.

All-Fours Kneeling

This exercise targets pelvic stability, core strength and shoulder strength. Begin by placing your hands under your shoulders and knees under your hips. Find a neutral spine. Gently engage your core and pelvic floor muscles. Inhale to prepare, then exhale to extend one leg straight back behind you. Inhale to return the leg then swap to the other side. Repeat 10 x on each side.

Remember: Keep the hips square (avoid twisting), lift the leg no higher than hip height and the spine should always remain stable.

Progression: Add the opposite arm reach forward for more challenge.

Cat and Cow Stretch

This is a wonderful spinal mobility exercise that you can practice any time you’re feeling tight in your lower back. Begin on all fours kneeling. Place hands directly under the shoulders and the knees under the hips. Start with an inhale to prepare, then as you exhale round the spine into flexion. Tuck the tailbone under, draw the baby up and in towards you and look down between your legs. As you inhale, reverse this position into spinal extension. Here we lift the chest and the tailbone. Look gently up in front of you. Repeat x 10.

Remember: Keep the shoulders stable (think of pressing away from the floor) and always keep the weight evenly between the hands and knees.

Mermaid Stretch

This is a simple Prenatal Pilates exercise but it’s effective in releasing tight hips, stiff shoulders, and upper back muscles. Begin by sitting with one leg crossed in front of you, the other leg folded back in the opposite direction. Inhale and reach one arm up to the ceiling, exhale to side bed over to the mat. Inhale come back up to sitting and reach the other arm above you, exhale bend to the opposite side. Complete x 5 each side then change the legs over to repeat.

Remember: Keep both sit bones equally weighted into the mat. Relax the gluteal (bottom) muscles and focus on your breathing.

Side Lying Clamshell

This exercise is great for strengthening the hips and stabilizing the pelvis. Begin by laying on your side (you can place a pillow under your head for comfort). Bend your knees in front of you but ensure your feet, hips and shoulders are all in line with the back of your mat. Keep the feet down on the mat and together. Take an inhale to prepare, exhale to lift your top knee towards the ceiling. Practice 20 x each side.

Remember: Keep the pelvis stable. Avoid rolling the top hip backwards as you lift the knee. Keep core and pelvic floor muscles gently engaged throughout.

Progression: Elevate the feet throughout to increase the range of movement (as per picture shown).

Supported Shell Stretch

This calming rest position is a great way to release tension from your lower back and pelvic floor muscles. Find a large pillow or bolster. Place it in front of you on the mat. Separate your knees as wide as the mat, keeping your big toes together. Fold forward, resting the pillow underneath the chest. Focus on deep, slow breaths. Hold up to 5 minutes.

Remember: Turn the head to the opposite side halfway through the pose.


The 5 exercises listed here are a fantastic start to your Prenatal Pilates program. They will help to support your pregnancy and prepare your body for birth. There are many other Prenatal Pilates exercises which are suitable to practice. However, it’s important you find a qualified instructor to guide you.

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