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First of all, I love high impact exercise. I am a big fan of running and plyometrics (jumping). A long time ago I used to think that you couldn’t a good workout in if you didn’t go full on high impact.. I know now that high impact just isn’t appropriate for everyone and particularly in pregnancy and in the postnatal period it is sensible to protect your weakened pelvic floor and core by switching to low impact strength work. After years of teaching pregnancy and postnatal exercise classes, it’s become second nature to offer low-impact, safe variations of the “normal” types of exercises we do. I should also add here that if you ever attend an exercise class and the instructor can’t (or even worse won’t) give you a modification to an exercise then please don’t attend that class again! And continue reading to arm yourself with the knowledge to adapt the exercises yourself..

Anyone who has done one of my “low impact” classes knows that they are JUST as challenging, yet much kinder and more appropriate for the body, especially  during pregnancy, after having a baby, recovering from injury, or those who just want to avoid jumping/impact in general.  Mama on the Move’s strength and fitness online programmes are ALL low impact.

Here are some (video) examples of modifications of your beloved impact exercises without taking down the intensity:

Burpee

Star Jump

Squat Jump

Jump Lunge

Push ups

Plank

Side Plank

High Knees

NOTE: Please make sure you get the all clear from your midwife/doctor before commencing on any exercise programme. We would not advise doing the “step out” burpees or frontal plank if you are suffering from diastasis recti or in the 3rd trimester. In addition if you suffer from Pelvic Girdle Pain you may find some of these exercises (even the modified ones) not appropriate so as always listen to your body and stop if you feel any pain/discomfort.

Tips on how to decrease impact and modify exercises:

  1. Keep at least one foot on the floor. If you want to change a traditional jumping movement, keep one foot on the floor at all times.  For example – see our star jump alternatives..
  2. Step it out…. Break the exercise out into separate segents… See our burpee variation

3)  Arms up! By raising your arms above your head, your heart rate will increase. If you’re keeping the moves low-impact, try to think of some ways to add in controlled arm movements to increase your intensity (light weights can also be added..)

4) Instead of jumping, rise up onto your toes. See our squat jump alternative -  Come down into a squat and rise up onto your toes (getting calf workout in too), reaching your arms up. Move quickly and your heart rate will soon start pumping!

5) Pulse it out…. Instead of jumping, add a pulse to ramp up the intensity  -see our jump lunge variation, you will really feel the burn with small movements but without the impact..

6) Decrease the range of motion.. For example, don’t go so low in the squats/lunges, start with small movements and build up from there.

7) For planks and push ups try using a wall or slight incline (like the back of a sofa) to avoid excessive pressure on your core. If you have no diastasis recti after having your baby then you can start to build up to floor work for side planks and push ups but always start on your knees..

Laura x

Women are increasingly aware that exercising during pregnancy has a huge range of benefits for both mum and baby. Although I exercised throughout my first 2 pregnancies, I still suffered with the back pain that most pregnant women get. During my most recent 3rd pregnancy I practiced Pilates regularly and as a result I was amazed that I didn't experience ANY back pain - my core was much stronger and I can honestly say it was my easiest pregnancy.

Pilates focuses on training the core abdominal, pelvic floor and back muscles (see our blog about them here), which are all important for good posture, balance and strength. As a result it can help prevent a number of common problems associated with pregnancy.

Here are 6 reasons why you should consider practicing Pilates during your pregnancy:

  1. Pilates can reduce pelvic girdle pain.

The pelvic girdle is a ring of bones at the base of your spine connected by strong ligaments. Hormones released during pregnancy soften these ligaments increasing their elasticity. This helps the pelvis to expand during labour, but for some women it can sometimes result in severe pain in the pelvic area. Pilates strengthens your pelvic floor, stomach, back and hip muscles. This takes the pressure off your joints, which may help to reduce pelvic girdle pain.

 

  1. Pilates helps to decrease back pain.

A recent study suggested that over 68% of women suffer from back pain during pregnancy. One of the biggest changes during pregnancy is in your posture as your baby grows. Common changes include a rounding of the upper spine due to the increased weight of the beasts and either a forward or backward tilt in the lower spine. This shift in your posture can increase tension in the muscles, which may in turn lead to back pain. Pilates can help with this by improving your postural awareness, muscular control and core strength.

 

  1. Pilates may help prevent a diastasis recti

During pregnancy your outer stomach muscles, the rectus abdominus, divides along the central line, the linea alba so that the uterus can grow. The divide will usually close again after birth. However, in some cases it will not improve which can lead to that hard to shift ‘mummy tummy’. Pilates focuses on strengthening the deepest stomach muscle, the transverse abdominis, which will help relieve pressure on the linea alba and prevent the divide from becoming too wide.

 

  1. Pilates strengthens your pelvic floor.

As the weight of the baby increases it puts pressure on the pelvic floor muscles. These muscles support all the pelvic contents, uterus, bladder and bowels so pregnancy can commonly lead to pelvic floor problems including incontinence and prolapse. Pilates enables you to connect with your pelvic floor so that you can improve the tone and function of these muscles, helping prevent the dreaded ‘sneeze pee’.

 

  1. Pilates can help you have an easier labour and delivery

The transverse abdominis is one of the main muscles that is involved in the delivery of your baby. During labour it compresses the stomach and helps you push more effectively. Pilates also encourages deep lateral thoracic breathing and a connection between mind and body, which may help you relax(!) during labour.

 

 

  1. Pilates helps with balance

As your baby increases in size your center of gravity changes, which may make you feel clumsier. Pilates strengthens the deep core muscles that help stabilize you so that you can feel more secure.

If these reasons have inspired you to practice Pilates then check out our Mama on the Move pregnancy programmes, which include 5 different Pilates workouts, suitable for the various stages of pregnancy.

 

Laura x

One of the most common questions I get asked by new mums is when they can start running again after having their baby. Of all the exercise options available to new mums, running definitely seems to be the most popular and I can completely understand why:

  • It’s free, which after shelling out for a lot of new kit for the baby is an important consideration.
  • It’s convenient, no need to worry about scheduling childcare or booking into a crèche, you can fit in your exercise as soon as the opportunity arises.
  • It’s easy, when you are living in a sleep deprived fog you just want to be able to do something that does not require a lot of brainpower.
  • It’s uplifting, even a quick run provides a surge of endorphins and some much needed headspace.

However, probably a lot of mums would also say that part of their reasons for running were to help lose the baby weight and to improve their cardiovascular health. Sadly, running is probably one of the least effective forms of exercise for achieving these goals and that is especially true for new mums.

In terms of weight loss, running is not a particularly effective form of exercise for a number of reasons. Studies have consistently shown that strength training is far more effective at targeting fat and boosting metabolism than running. An exception to this is if the running is done in the form of short sprints in interval training. (This would be completely inadvisable for postnatal women for reasons I will come onto later.)

One of the reasons why strength training is so much more effective than running is that the average person gains 1 pound of fat and loses 1 pound of muscle every year after 30.  We tend to lose muscle each year because we aren’t showing the body that it is necessary to maintain it (by doing things like strength training). This decreases our metabolism and reduces our daily calorie expenditure (body fat burns 2-4 calories per pound per day compared to 6-10 for muscle). We have included low impact strength training in our postnatal programme to help you tone up and safely lose weight. You do not need to worry about ‘bulking up’ - women naturally have higher oestrogen levels that prevents bulky muscles.

Regular cardiovascular exercise may actually cause the body to drop muscle in order to become more efficient, as the lighter you are the faster you can run. It could also cause extra calorie consumption (your body tries to maintain homeostasis so if you burn more energy your hormones tell your brain your body needs more energy so it increases your hunger signals – this is quite often why a trip to the gym is accompanied by an increase in appetite!  This is fine if you are maintaining a regular exercise schedule, but quite often this is tricky during the early postnatal period in particular. Also, studies have shown that most people tend to overestimate the calories they have burned through exercise; yet underestimate the calories they have consumed.

So, running does not score great points in terms of weight loss. For new mums in particular it is also one of the worst ways that you can improve your cardiovascular health. During pregnancy a hormone called relaxin is released which helps make your ligaments stretchy and elastic in preparation for childbirth. Relaxin affects every joint in the body and it can take up to five months for your ligaments to get back into their original positions and stabilise. As a result, your joints may be weaker than usual, increasing the risk of your ankles, knees, hips, pelvis and spine weakening under impact. Therefore you are at much greater risk of injury then previously, particularly for high impact sports such as running.

Another reason to be cautious about running is that any high impact activities increase intra-abdominal pressure. This pressure needs to be contained within the abdomen by the coordinated action of the core muscles – the pelvic floor, diaphragm, deep abdominal and multifidus. These muscles have been weakened during pregnancy, meaning that the increased intra-abdominal pressure often leads to increased stresses on the linea alba, the connective tissue running down the centre of the abdomen. This can exacerbate a condition known as diastasis recti (see our blog about it here).

One of the main muscles that has taken a hammering during pregnancy and delivery is the pelvic floor. Even if you had a caesarean section these muscles will still have had to support the increasing weight of your baby over the last nine months. Your pelvic floor muscles stretch up to 3 times their normal length during birth, and you may have sustained deep muscle tears, particularly if you had a surgical delivery. Running places huge stresses on these already weakened muscles. To put it into perspective you could think about the g forces involved. Standing is a 1-G activity, walking is a 1.5-1.75 G activity, whilst running is a 2-3 G activity. If you load these lengthened tissues too early, you will damage them further leading to pelvic organ prolapse (POP), stress urinary incontinence (SUI) and low back  and pelvic girdle pain. It is NEVER ‘normal’ to leak and this is a very clear sign that you should reduce the intensity and start focusing on improving your core strength.

At this stage I should admit that I love running and completely sympathise with those of you who cannot wait to get back to it. If this is the case here are Mama on the Move’s guidelines on returning to exercise:

Firstly, it is important to check with your doctor, midwife, physiotherapist or continence professional before returning to sport or exercise after the birth.

0-3 weeks postnatal

  • Walking
  • Postnatal abdominal hollowing
  • Pelvic floor exercises

3-8 weeks postnatal

  • It is recommended you wait until your six-week postnatal check before starting a group exercise program or going back to the gym
  • Walking
  • Low impact aerobics or postnatal class
  • Low intensity water aerobics class and swimming (once bleeding has stopped)
  • Gym program (maintain posture, light weights, no breath holding)
  • Postnatal abdominal hollowing
  • Pelvic floor exercises

8-12 weeks postnatal

  • Follow the guidelines for 3-8 weeks, gradually increasing your intensity and weights
  • Progress your postnatal abdominal hollowing

12-16 weeks postnatal

  • Consider visiting a physiotherapist for a postnatal abdominal muscle check and pelvic floor muscle testing before returning to high-impact exercise, running, sport or abdominal exercise programs.

After 16 weeks postnatal

  • You can return to previous activity levels provided your pelvic floor muscles have returned to normal and you are not experiencing any back pain, vaginal heaviness, or urine loss during or after exercise.
  • Seek further advice from a health professional if your symptoms persist

Other factors to consider

You may feel more tired in the first few months after having a baby due to interrupted sleep, the extra demands of motherhood and breastfeeding. Fatigue and over exertion during exercise can increase the risk of injury. It is important to listen to your body and how you are feeling. Be aware of any warning signs of pain or discomfort and, slow down if necessary to allow this to subside, rather than pushing through the pain.

While you are learning to breastfeed (if you are breastfeeding) and looking after your baby, you may not have the desire to exercise in the first few weeks or months. During this time you can still be strengthening your abdominal and pelvic floor muscles in preparation for when you do feel ready to return to exercise. You may find that walking is an exercise that will get you out of the house and one that you can do with your baby, and maybe your partner or a friend.

Tamsin x

 

Diastasis Recti - “Diastasis” means separation. “Recti” refers to your ab muscles called the “rectus abdominis.” These two muscles run down the front of the abdominals and they are joined in the centre by the linea alba. During pregnancy, when the linea alba is softened, it is stretched by the increasing size of the baby and the abdomen. This causes the muscles to stretch and weaken as they lengthen. Eventually, the linea alba may split, and when this happens it is called diastasis. The split tends to start around the belly button area and then moves upwards or downwards depending on how the mum to be affected is carrying her baby.

So basically, it’s a separation of the abdominal muscles, allowing your tummy to literally bulge out, making it difficult postnatally to lose the “mummy tummy”.

It is important to know if you have DR both in pregnancy and postnatally and sadly it’s something that is not always checked by your midwife or doctor. I see many women in my postnatal classes and many have never had their tummies checked before. Therefore many women are unsure or unaware they have it and can unintentionally make the condition worse. Women with an untreated DR can suffer poor posture, back pain, pelvic floor dysfunction, digestion problems and an inability to lose their “mummy tummy” despite their best exercise efforts!

So how do I know I have diastasis recti?

If you have never heard of diastasis recti and have never had your tummy checked then before you take part in any exercise it is important you self test using our guidance below. We would suggest you only check from 6 weeks post birth (when your uterus has shrunk, you have less fluid retention and abdominal discomfort). It makes for a more accurate test and it’s important to test your separation so you can measure progress.

  • Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor
  • Place 2-3 fingers above your tummy button with your palm facing you
  • Take a deep breath in, then slowly raise your head and shoulders slightly off the floor as in an ab curl
  • Breath slowly out as you raise up and press your fingers into your tummy
  • The two sides of the rectus abdominus should close together on your fingers – a 1-2 finger width gap or less is fine, but don’t panic if it’s much bigger at first
  • You want to continue to feel for the width (and depth – how far in your fingers go) all the way along the length of your tummy, into your tummy button and below it. The width and depth may vary… it’s common to have a diastasis around the belly button area but can be above or below.
  • If the gap is greater than 2.5-3 fingers then the diastasis recti is present and doming may occur
  • Remember, you are also testing for the condition of the connective tissue (the Linea Alba). The further your fingers go into your belly, the weaker the connective tissue.

 

What exercises should I avoid doing if I have diastasis recti?

If you suffer from this condition there are many exercises that you should avoid altogether until your tummy separation has knitted back together.

  • Exercises that require lying backward over a large exercise ball.image showing diastasis recti
  • Yoga postures that stretch the abs, such as “cow pose,” “up-dog,” and all backbends
  • Abdominal exercises that flex the upper spine off the floor or against the force of gravity such as: as crunches, oblique curls,
    “bicycles,” roll ups/roll downs, etc.
  • Pilates mat and reformer exercises that utilize the “head float” position, upper body flexion, or double leg extension. Pilates 100s are a definite no-no.
  • Any exercise that causes your abdominal wall to bulge out upon exertion.
  • Lifting and carrying very heavy objects.
  • The full frontal plank and press ups (side planks ok) as the core muscles have to work against gravity, which puts great pressure on the abdominal wall.

transverse-abdominisWith regards to every day movements, try not to sit straight up from a lying position –  roll to your side and  push up from there (like when you are pregnant) and try and always engage your core muscles whenever you lift (babies, toddlers, car seats, whatever!), twist or get up from lying or crouching.

We would always recommend exercising with an instructor who is qualified in postnatal exercise who will be able to make modifications so that you can exercise safely. Our Mama on the Move postnatal programmes have been specially designed for postnatal women to help repair a diastasis recti and improve core function.

 

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