I know, it's been a few weeks since I last posted - very sorry about that. I had my mom, aunt, and in-laws all come to visit for 10 days and though it was a very laid-back visit, I also spent as much of my spare time with them as possible.
A day after I posted my last update (so around the 15 week mark) I sustained a hip injury; this is a recurring injury for me so was not at all pregnancy-induced, but it absolutely had the potential to be worsened by pregnancy with changes such as widening hips and loosening ligaments taking place. The injury was so bad that it was difficult to walk for the first week (my poor dog didn't get out much), but I'm almost back to 100% now. As a result of the injury, I backed right off training my legs for almost two weeks, though I did manage to train my upper body by hobbling around the gym to various (seated) exercise machines. More importantly, I started each workout with a VERY thorough warmup, then finished each session with a ton of stretching.
That brings me to the main focus of today's post, which is the importance of stretching your hips on days you are training your lower body. By stretching before and after your workouts, you increase your range of motion (ROM) which translates into better lifts as you're able to recruit more muscle fibres at the bottom of each movement. You also lubricate your joints, helping them to absorb and recover from the demands you put on them throughout your workout. And finally, you increase blood flow to and from the muscles you are working, which helps to reduce muscle soreness.
Specifically stretching your hips is especially important during pregnancy: as your belly gets bigger and heavier it will pull the front of your body forward. Your back will respond by tilting your hips forward (anterior pelvic tilt), thus tightening your hip flexors. By keeping those hip flexors nice and loose, you help your body keep its correct posture which in turn helps to alleviate lower back pain and sciatic nerve pain (two really big complaints during pregnancy!). It also helps loosen up your hips in preparation for the childbirth ahead.
For warmup, you want to stick to dynamic stretches - controlled movements that take you through a full range of motion (ROM). Why dynamic? Because at this point (before a workout) you are just trying to prepare your muscles for the work ahead - the actual "stretching" of the muscle will be done afterwards, when your muscles are nice and warm. A few dynamic hip stretches I really like are:
Start in a pushup position, with a neutral spine and hands under shoulders. Bring your right foot forward and plant it just outside of your right hand. Keeping your right arm inside your right leg, lift your left hand up towards the ceiling to open your chest. Hold briefly, then lower your hand and return to starting position. Repeat on the left side.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and toes pointed slightly out. Fold forward at the hips and touch the ground or grab your toes, keeping your legs as straight as possible. Bend your knees and lower your hips into a full squat, keeping your back flat and neck neutral. Your knees should be outside your arms. Reverse the movement to return to the starting position. You can also add a little back bend at the top to really maximize the movement :)
With your left hand on a wall, stand on your right foot and swing your left leg backward and forward as far as it will comfortably go. Do 10 swings then change sides. You can also face the wall and do a side-to-side motion.
Knee-to-chest Stretch/Psoas March
Lie on your back and draw your left knee toward your chest. Pull it closer with both hands as far as it will comfortably go. Release the leg and lower. Repeat on right side.
For cool down you can go to your static stretches - a stationary stretch that you hold for 30+ seconds. This is a good time for static stretches as your muscles are all warmed up, and will be very receptive to lengthening. Here are a few gems:
Sit up tall with the soles of your feet pressed together, knees naturally falling to the side. Grasp your feet with your hands. Keeping your core engaged, fold forward from your hips (not your upper back). You can deepen the stretch by pulling your feet closer in towards your body.
From a lunge position, lower your back knee onto a padded mat (for comfort). Your back shin and foot should be resting on the mat while your front leg is bent at a 90 degree angle. Shift your weight forward until you feel a stretch in the front of your back thigh and hip. Hold, then repeat on other side.
Happy Baby Pose
Lying on your back, hug your knees to your chest. You can grab the soles of the feet, ankles, or back of the legs - whichever is most comfortable. Open your feet so that they are above your knees, then pull the knees towards the floor alongside your chest. Keep your head and shoulders on the floor.
Here is a vide of me demonstrating the Spider-Man Reach and the Squat-to-Stand.
And here is another great site that lists some good hip flexor stretches and provides videos for each:
Stay happy and healthy!