Stretching During Pregnancy
Pregnant people work on flexibility thinking it will help create more space for baby to come out. Mobility and increased range strength training should be the goal instead.
Stretching is by far one of the most common recommendations during pregnancy for both pain relief and general maintenance. All you need to do is search “pregnancy stretches” and you’ll get a lot of hits, videos, blogs and more!
The popular line of thinking is: stretching makes us more flexible and more flexibility is ideal. If we stretch a lot and become more flexible, we will feel better and we will prevent injury. Additionally, flexibility is often touted as something that can create / foster space for baby to come down and out. While it can feel good to stretch, having more flexibility is not in fact “better”, does not create “more space” and it certainly will not prevent injury or pain during pregnancy.
Let’s dive deeper into flexibility. In addition to the reasons above, another reason that pregnant people work on flexibility is because they think that it will help create more space for baby to come out.
What is flexibility?
Flexibility is passive mobility. Basically, how far you can passively stretch a tissue. Like with dropping into a split pose, a pigeon position, any position where you “hang out” into a stretch.
With flexibility, no control is needed. It is simply how far / deep you can get into a particular stretch or pose. Flexibility does not teach the body to utilize the range of motion, it just uses what is already there or uses gravity or even an external force to get us into the shape. Therefore, it’s not usable to the nervous / muscular system as a means of getting stronger or making long term changes.
Take the extreme example of a split. I can drop down into one, but do I have strength at that end range? Can I control my body there? No. I can just drop down into one. So that range is pretty useless in terms of offering me strength. Yes, great for Instagram. Not great for much more.
Stretching while pregnant
During pregnancy, a lot of people have an increased amount of passive mobility/flexibility due to relaxing and that relaxing is absolutely fanning the flame. When we increase our passive range of motion, but not our active range of motion - we can actually predispose injury and we won’t increase movement potential in a way that translates into birth or life, at all.
I am not flexible, what should I do?
Instead of flexibility as the goal, consider mobility and increased range strength training. Mobility training is the ability to actively control ranges of motion. Increased range strength training is when we strengthen our muscles in multiple range of motion. The combination of mobility and increased strength training actually leads to increased ranges and people often feel both stronger and more mobile.
For the prenatal client who perhaps already has a large passive range of motion (ROM), the goal may not be to increase ROM, but to increase the ability to control the range of motion that they already have. I am not saying, do not stretch. I am simply educating on the myths around flexibility and stretching. Many of us are taught that stretching makes us more flexible but in fact - mobility training plus increased range of motion strength training is what works best!
Our “stretching” routine should be done in a way that creates stability and greater ranges of motion. Otherwise not only is it useless, it can actually cause injury. This is especially the case when you take a pregnant person, already more flexible, and add in a bunch of stretching.
If your pregnant client has pain, please don’t tell them to stretch it away. Most likely, they need to learn how to control their ranges of motion properly! Want to know more? Reach out to us, follow us on Facebook and Instagram, and check out our Body Ready Method course, where we teach birth and fitness pros how to work with the prenatal population.