A pregnant woman with dark hair and a blue shirt performs a Scorpion Reach in a gym.
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Healthy, Fit, Pregnant: Preparing for Motherhood With Animal Flow

Building strength, endurance and stability through pregnancy
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Late on March 17th 2021, Animal Flow Certified Instructor and Regional Leader, Kerry Murdoch went into labor with her twins, Louis and Robyn. Less than two days prior, she had been soaking up the mid-Spring sun in Scotland as she performed some Animal Flow in the hopes of getting the babies moving.

Despite being fit, active and healthy, Kerry’s age (nearing 40) and the fact she was carrying twins instantly put her pregnancy in the high-risk category.

“I was really nervous about the labor but trying to stay calm and positive,” said Kerry. “Doing this Flow made me feel so much better about it all! Animal Flow can be so empowering; it always lifts my mood and headspace.”

Having begun a consistent Animal Flow practice in September 2018, Kerry continued throughout her whole pregnancy.

“I feel it benefited me hugely, more than I even appreciated at the time,” Kerry explained. “My prior practice set me up so well for carrying the babies and birthing them, too.”

Watch the video below of Kerry practicing Animal Flow just two days prior to giving birth to twins, Robyn and Louis.

The benefits of pre-natal movement

It’s well documented that regular physical activity is of undeniable benefit to both mother and baby in any uncomplicated pregnancy. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists asserts that ”observational studies of women who exercise during pregnancy have shown benefits such as decreased gestational diabetes mellitus, cesarean birth and operative vaginal delivery, and postpartum recovery time. Physical activity also can be an essential factor in the prevention of depressive disorders of women in the postpartum period.”

Gabi Bradley, Certified Instructor and Regional Leader from Indiana, USA, had been practicing Animal Flow for a year before becoming pregnant with her second child. It was a mixture of FOMO (“I didn’t want to miss out!”) and seeing an opportunity to role model the benefits of movement through pregnancy that kept Gabi Flowing throughout the three trimesters.

“Animal Flow was a great low-impact, low-intensity workout for me during that time,” she explained. “It always felt good to move my body on the days I had the energy to do so.

“All the benefits of AF are still there: strength, endurance, mobility, brain-body connection. Just now, with a pregnant body, you’re moving more load, some joints and ligaments might be more ‘bound down’ while others might be more lax than usual.

“If there’s no medical reason not to do it, then do it,” encouraged Gabi. “The same AF movements that are the foundation for many postpartum training plans can be done during pregnancy to help prepare your body for birth, and keep your body strong before and after.”

Check out Gabi in the video below as she uses regressions or “Deconstructed” Animal Flow movements.

Preparing for the demands of labor and motherhood

It’s not only Animal Flow instructors who see the practice of quadrupedal movement training as beneficial to expectant mothers. Pre- and post-natal exercise educator, Jen Dugard from Safe Return to Exercise says that maintaining bodyweight movement through pregnancy is highly valuable.

“The ability for a woman to spend time in a squat position or on all-fours is going to support them through labor,” Jen said. “Even people that have done a lot of weight training are potentially not as equipped for the positions of birth as people who have practiced natural positions like in Animal Flow.

“That’s not to say strength training isn’t beneficial––it definitely is a great idea––but they’re potentially going to birth in more Animal Flow-like positions.”

Additionally, Jen explains, many women move from more desk-bound lifestyles into the most physically-demanding job they’ve ever done (motherhood) while in the most deconditioned state they’ve ever been in.

With that in mind, incorporating ground-based, bodyweight exercise such as Animal Flow can be a great way to gradually and safely build strength and endurance as you approach birth.

Exercising while pregnant at a glance

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) makes the following two recommendations:

  1. Women without contraindications should participate in regular aerobic and strength conditioning exercise during pregnancy.
  2. Women should be advised that there is no evidence that regular exercise during an uncomplicated pregnancy is detrimental to the woman or fetus.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that pregnant women should ideally complete 150 minutes or more of moderate aerobic activity each week. Moderate-intensity refers to exercise that raises your heart rate and induces sweating while still allowing you to talk normally.

The US Department of Health and Human Services advises that two sessions of muscle-strengthening exercise are also recommended each week.

While there’s no specific upper limit to exercise volume each week, RANZCOG’s Exercise in Pregnancy guidelines advise restricting an individual exercise session to no more than 60 minutes to manage temperature safely.

As with all forms of physical exercise, continuing to practice Animal Flow is highly dependent on the individual circumstances of the mother-to-be. There’s a measure of controversy surrounding all forms of exercise, even from the first trimester, so Jen recommends working with a trained professional such as a pre-and post-natal exercise-certified personal trainer or a pelvic health physical therapist.

Provided you’ve got the green light to start or continue your quadrupedal movement training practice through pregnancy, Jen recommends the following guidelines.

Maintain a conscious connection with your breath

If you have not only seen but also heard someone practicing Animal Flow, you may associate it with an audible style of breathing. While it represents a larger concept of breath mobility, at an entry-level, we simply tell Flowists to ‘just breathe’. When it comes to pre-natal exercisers, Jen agrees with this philosophy.

“Some movement styles can get obsessed with [specific styles of] breath,” she said. “My approach is that if you can do something with the breath and it’s not stressful for you, that’s fine, but if it is stressful, then just breathe.

“If you find yourself in any position where you’re breath-holding or it’s hard to be conscious of your breath, then regress the exercise to something that creates less intra-abdominal pressure.”

Regress your movements to manage abdominal doming

Intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) is the amount of pressure contained in your abdominal cavity. An increase in IAP is a normal part of pregnancy but if there’s too much pressure relative to the amount of control your abdominal muscles can manage, you might experience ‘doming’.

When your abdominal muscles dome (also known as ‘coning’ or ‘peaking’), you’ll typically notice the midline of your abdomen poking upwards. Continued doming puts more pressure on the linea alba and may contribute toward increased abdominal separation as the pregnancy progresses so should be avoided where possible”.

“As soon as a pregnant person gets to the point where a movement is creating a peak or dome, then it’s a good idea to reduce the intensity,” said Jen.

Regressing Animal Flow can often be as simple as adding more points of contact by lowering your knees or hips to the ground, which provides more support.

Throughout Gabi’s pregnancy, regressions were a staple, with deconstructed versions of Scorpion Reach and Wave Unload proving valuable.

“Anytime I practiced, I felt good,” she said, “and the key to that was knowing the regressions and then being able to perform regressed Flows.”

Regional Leader, Gabi Bradley, found that Crab Reach (pictured) and regressed versions of Wave Unload and Scorpion Reach were great during pregnancy as well as after.

Stay pain-free during and after exercise

While this article is not intended to replace medical advice from a qualified health professional, a good rule of thumb is to avoid physical activity and seek medical assistance if you experience any of the following.

Further to that, Jen highlights that anything causing wrist or pelvic pain during exercise or the next day should be adjusted.

If you experience any pain in your wrists or thumbs during pregnancy (which can be a sign of carpal tunnel syndrome or DeQuervain’s Tenosynovitis), then it’s good practice to avoid creases in your wrists, too. This means that you’ll either want to hold off on your Animal Flow practice until you’re pain-free and cleared to do so, or you could try adding wrist wraps or performing some movements on forearms or knuckles.

Kerry made some modifications to her usual practice in order to accommodate her changing body.

“I had some issues with my pelvis so I avoided any speedy movements and stuck to what felt good for me,” she said. “I felt good doing movements like Full Scorpion, Underswitch to Scorpion Reach, Bear, and Crab Reach.”

Kerry also adapted positions such as Side Kickthrough by sliding her leg along the ground, giving her more contact points and more support for her pelvis.

Focus on alignment

If you’ve ever practiced AF with a certified instructor or by following along with a Master Instructor via Animal Flow On Demand, you’ll know that alignment is always important. As your body changes, anything that causes you to substantially change your alignment should be regressed.

While there are certainly some considerations to keep in mind, Animal Flow can be an excellent way to develop strength and endurance during pregnancy.

“It gave me more core stability and strength than I realised,” said Kerry, “and I truly believe it helped me greatly throughout the pregnancy, both physically and mentally. I’m so grateful that I had Animal Flow in my life during this time and could turn to it whenever I needed it. It was always there for me.”

If you’re considering taking up Animal Flow before, during or after pregnancy, and your medical professional has given you the all clear, we recommend working with a Certified Instructor. Head to the Animal Flow Instructor Directory to find an instructor in your region or work with one online from anywhere in the world. Visit animalflow.com/instructor-directory/