Pre and Postnatal Fitness is a topic that - when googled - shows varying results of very gentle movement with a lot of breath work. On the other hand there are professional athletes such as Kerri Walsh (who I am a HUGE fan of) who competed in and won the Olympics during her early stages of pregnancy and her open way of discussing it, earned her quite a bit of criticism. One of the first people that I started working with earlier this year was 4 months pregnant when we started and she stopped 2 weeks before her due date. Over the course of 4-5 months, we worked out up to 3 times a week, always according to how she felt, early in her pregnancy we did some running and later on we kept her heart rate up with fast walks with weights in hand. Each session included yoga and that portion increased over time. Every so often she would join my group workout in which the exercises often involved working with other expectant moms. Because I saw her so much, I got a really good glimpse into how the body changes, the mood changes and the muscoskeletal disposition can be affected by pregnancy. It was fascinating.
Mood wise, there were days when the feeling of heaviness and sciatic pain made her consider not working out but after a few times during which we saw the positive effects of gentle exercise on her mood, it usually took only the first minutes and a fun anecdote of my work week to get her spirits up and by the end of the session she would feel much better than before. Regarding the changes of her body, because she carried a girl, she said the felt different than carrying a boy the first time around: heavier around the hips (I'm looking forward to reading some comments from mothers whether they agree or disagree) and an earlier onset of more weight. Towards the end of her pregnancy we were presented with a different problem. Her pelvis had shifted to one side so now it was pressing on the veins that ran down her leg, causing it to swell to almost an inch more in diameter than the other. Her doctor ran tests to see if it was dangerous and it wasn't but we did an increased number of exercises to stabilize the pelvis (like in this video) and luckily the imbalance subsided immediately after the birth.
This pregnant woman and others have shown me a wide range of fitness levels and motivation. Regardless of what they are they are usually accompanied by a high level of insecurity of what to do and what to avoid. The safest bet is to take advantage of the many prenatal yoga classes that exist now. But there are many other exercise forms that are safe for women to do during and after pregnancy. So in my approach I have focused the first part of the class on getting the women's heart rate up, through walking, slow running, cardio exercises with resistance bands and in some instances light boxing work (it is intensely gratifying to punch those boxing mitts and it is stationary so there is no jumping or running involved). The second part of my workout includes strength. Usually it's focused on the main weight bearing areas such as the hips and legs. But a pregnant woman also wants to maintain a beautiful appearance which is why toning the legs, glutes and arms and shoulders is an essential component too. I do some core work but often the yoga with which I end the session, involves some of that as well.
Postpartum exercise is often similar especially in the early stages post baby, i.e. 6 weeks and later. Women who have given birth are usually very eager to return to a regular exercise routine quickly. But the body needs time. And during that time I have found variety to be the most important component. Just as for people who want to lose excess weight, keeping the exercises fun and diverse is key to making the workout routine a habit and therefore sustainable.
It makes me really happy to see women leave the class glowing. Not only are they doing something healthy for themselves and their baby by maintaining a good cardio-vascular level during pregnancy but after delivery they also take an hour for themselves, they laugh and talk and get things off their chest. Having mixed classes has been beneficial for both groups.
I hope whether you are a new mom or currently pregnant, that you find a way for yourself to maintain or get back to exercising. And if you have any questions, concerns, comments or just want to say hello, please do so in the comments box below!