By Samantha Hickey
As a 5th Dan Karate instructor who has practised the art for over 20 years and taught it for over 10 years, I have trained with and taught many pregnant and post-natal women. Similarly, as a pre and post-natal exercise specialist I have seen many pregnant and post-natal women train and be taught incorrectly for their condition.
Pregnancy has a huge impact on the body, not only do we carry more weight in the front of our bodies due to carrying a child but there are many hormone changes which affect our joints, ligaments and muscles. Muscles will be weaker, posture and alignment will be shifted and core temperature will be higher than usual. After birth you may have abdominal separation, your pelvic floor will be weak, core muscles will be weak, your alignment will be out and you may have back, neck or shoulder pain.
As you can probably now imagine, training incorrectly with all or even some of this going on can cause some serious injuries down the line, hinder recovery and also cause issues during pregnancy.
Although Karate is a non-combative, self-defence sport there are many aspects (like all sports) that should be avoided or adapted during and after pregnancy.
DO’s and DON’TS
While pregnantyou should not be raising your core temperature too high. You should be given adaptations throughout the session which are less strenuous and less intense on the cardiovascular system e.g. marching on the spot instead of jogging.
You should not be doing an exercise supine (laying on your back) so adaptations to exercises such as sit ups and leg raises should be given or in some cases exercises that do not require you to go down to the floor at all.
While pregnant, you should not be doing anything that involves potential contact or falling to the floor. Not only because of the potential accidental impact issues but after trimester 1 you should not be doing any exercises supine (see previous point) and a lot of self-defences end up on the floor.
If you are going to take part in self-defence it is really important you know how to roll out of a fall and get up off the floor safely. You should roll to one side, and gently push your upper body off the floor from the sideways position. You can then move on to all fours, tuck your toes underneath, bring yourself to a crouched position and slowly stand yourself up.
Sparring and pad-work is also out of the question. These techniques will increase core temperature and there will also be contact risk with your bump!
Learning other techniques such as combinations and katas which consist of stances, punches and kicks are perfectly ok as long as you feel comfortable. If you feel unstable then using an aid such as a chair or a fixed back will help to keep balance.
After birth (as discussed further above) posture and alignment will be way out so it’s important that exercises are given during the warm ups which will help to correct this rather than just basic adaptations to general exercises. Marching instead of jogging, making sure that glute activation is being focused on during specific karate techniques and correct breathing is being used through the session.
Breathing to enhance power in punches and kicks is a big part of karate so is a great way to connect the body and mind and focus on engaging the pelvic floor during sessions.
When performing kicks be careful not to kick too high as with the increased level of Relaxin hormone, ligaments will be much stretchier and over stretching can cause later problems.
What exercises should I avoid?
High impact exercises (jump squats/burpees)
Pad holding (because of impact)
Falling to the floor
Is Karate safe?
Karate is safe as long as you know your body’s limits and you understand what your body is going through or has gone through. I believe the most important thing is that you have a coach who understands this and knows how to adapt exercises correctly for pregnancy or postnatally.