Guest Column - May/June 2005
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Creating Programs That Deliver New Patrons

Pilates for post-pregnancy benefits brand-new moms

By Ken Endelman

To stay vital, recreation and community centers, like any business, always must be on the lookout for fresh ways to serve new groups and specialized populations. Targeting and tailoring programming to an underserved population not only extends a facility's reach into the community but can bolster its bottom line as well.

The birth of a new-found market is always a good thing, and a prime example is new moms.

The time when women were told not to exercise before and after having a baby is long gone. Many of today's expectant mothers are extremely active. They continue to work, manage families and exercise late into their pregnancies and soon after they've given birth. And they've never been healthier.

Forward-thinking fitness facilities have capitalized on this trend by adding postnatal exercise classes. One exercise program in particular is gaining momentum. Pilates is the fastest growing fitness activity in the United States and Canada. The Sporting Goods Manufacturer's Association reports that Pilates participation in North America has grown from 2.1 million people in 2001 to 9.4 million in 2003—an increase of 445 percent.

Pilates and the postnatal body

How does Pilates benefit postnatal women? While the most visible aspect of post-pregnancy is weight gain, a new mom's body has undergone a tremendous—and invisible—internal transformation. The abdomen, pelvic floor and inner thigh muscles have all been stretched and desensitized.

The low-impact movement, stretching and focused breathing of Pilates helps regain muscle balance. It shortens muscles that have stretched during pregnancy (the abdomen) and lengthens muscles that have shortened (the lower back). Pilates can also help strengthen the pelvic floor, restore its sensation, and improve a new mother's mental health.

"After pregnancy your body really feels like it is not your own because it is serving the needs of the baby," says Stacy Sims, owner of Pendleton Pilates in Cincinnati. "Pilates helps women reclaim their bodies as well as a sense of self."

The parks and recreation department in Boulder, Colo., offers a postnatal Pilates class as part of its Pilates programming.

"We understand what our community wants, and we felt it was important to create a postpartum program," says Louann Harlow, a recreational coordinator for the city. "Pilates was a perfect fit."

Kerry Lewis Walker has taught the mat and prop-based postnatal Pilates class at the East Boulder Community Center for nearly three years. Her classes meet weekly and include up to 10 women per session—along with their babies. Walker, who also has her own Pilates studio in Boulder, says the program has been successful since its onset.

"These moms are hungry for the social interaction with each other and to get back control of their bodies," she says.

She points out that many mothers are limited in finding postnatal exercise options because of child-care and economic limitations. However, because her center offers affordable group prices and allows babies to be alongside mothers during the class, both issues are eliminated.