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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

At Mama on the Move you will never read anything about how doing our programmes will make you “bounce back” to your pre baby body, how following our programmes will get you “beach body ready” or any of that rubbish. Because, quite honestly that is NOT what we are about. Yes, you will lose weight following our postnatal programmes and nutrition guidelines BUT you will also feel stronger, healthier and fitter during your pregnancy and in the postnatal period and THAT is more important than focusing on the weight loss. In our opinion. So if a “body shred” (what does that even mean!?) or a “bikini body programme” (we fully support the – have a body, wear a bikini approach) is your thing, then you won’t find it here….. Mainly because most of those types of training are NOT suitable for someone who has just had a baby and can do more harm than good..

However before you dismiss us, I’d like to talk you through our postnatal programme and what it IS about:

  • Holistic, SAFE Postnatal Pilates AND Fitness programmes that will help you recover from the birth of your baby and start to strengthen your core and pelvic floor, work on your alignment and posture and are also diastasis recti (tummy separation safe)
  • Don’t be fooled into thinking the above programmes will be easy because they are postnatally safe and low impact….. they will absolutely challenge you whatever your fitness level and you can make them harder or easier by changing the repetitions and sets… they are also all suitable to be done in the comfort of your own home or garden as they don’t require equipment.
  • Healthy snacks and recipes and meal planners suitable for breastfeeding mothers

I’m aware that as co-founder of Mama on the Move my review of the programmes is slightly biased(!) however, I just wanted to share with you my personal postnatal fitness and weight loss journey after having my 3rd child in late September last year.

I started the Strength and Fitness programmes around 6 weeks postnatally, prior to that I had been walking a lot (my daughters are at school so school runs were compulsory!) and following the Pilates programme such as activating my TVA and pelvic floor – pelvic tilts, leg slides, and focusing on my breathing – which I found really helpful in re-connecting with my core.

As a personal trainer and fitness professional, I don’t mind telling you I felt incredibly weak when I first started the strength programmes and although they looked “easy” on paper, they really challenged me and I felt the effects the next few days! But in a good way! Like I had woken up my muscles! I found the programmes great to fit around when my baby was sleeping as they are pretty short – 20-30 minutes maximum. I would often do the school run in the morning and then come back and do a workout so it was done for the day before the endless feeding and changing would take-over!

I didn’t really feel my strength returning until around 3 months postnatally, by 4 months I was feeling much more like my old self. The photo is taken at 4 ½ months postnatally and whilst I never weigh myself, I am back into my pre pregnancy clothes comfortably although not as toned as I was… but that’s ok! It’s still early days! I did NOT follow any restrictive silly diet, I did eat healthily and followed the nutritional guidelines on the programme.

I’m now back doing more high intensity training as I am feeling strong, I have good core and pelvic floor function and I know how to exercise safely. I still do the Mama on the Move programmes, they are still challenging – I just increase the reps!

Clients often ask how long it takes to get back to their pre pregnancy weight and fitness and the answer is it’s just so different for everyone. It really depends on how active you were in pregnancy, how much weight you put on, what you pregnancy and birth were like and how well you have recovered from it. For some, they may lose weight and be fit and active again relatively quickly, for others it may take much longer. It’s important not to put any pressure on yourself, to focus on healing from the birth, address any issues such as disastais recti and pelvic floor problems by seeing a women’s health physio and just enjoy your gorgeous new bundle. When the time is ready and you want to start to safely working on restoring you core and building up your fitness again then check out Mama on the Move’s online postnatal programme (they are low impact and DR and pelvic floor safe!)

Laura x

While I was having coffee and <ahem> eating cake with my lovely Pregnancy Pilates group the other day we were discussing the subject of the “mum bum”. How during or post pregnancy many of us find that our bottoms feel rather soft and lacking in muscle tone! It’s expected to have a squishy tummy post baby but the bottom too?! Why is this? Well, during pregnancy your centre of gravity shifts and as a result, many women try to counterbalance that shift by tucking their tailbone.  This means that you end up underusing your glute muscles and overusing the posterior pelvic floor muscles. This results in a flattened backside that can’t fill up or hold up a pair of jeans.

While it might seem a bit odd, the next time you are with your mum friends... check out their derrieres (surreptitiously of course!) – what do you see?  Chances are you will see a lot of flat bums, flat backs and jeans that are continuously being pulled up. The ‘mum bum’ epidemic is out of control; if you want to avoid it then read on for some advice and exercises to help keep your bottom bootylicious, and, as an added benefit your pelvic floor will thank you too!

1.Sit Less

Sitting does nothing to build the glutes and everything to make your bum as flat as a pancake. This is tricky in the early postnatal weeks as we are often glued to the sofa feeding our little ones. However, in between those feeds minimizing the amount of time spent sitting is critical to maintaining a healthy backside!

  1. Walk

One of the best exercises out there is walking, and something that all new mums and mums to be can and should do as often as possible. It is a low impact form of exercise, so kind to the pelvic floor as well as a good way of getting the endorphins flowing. Hill walking is particularly beneficial, as when you add in the incline of a hill, it really blasts those glutes into high gear along with elevating your heart rate.

  1. Glute Bridges

The simple route to a perfect posterior is to master the glute bridge.  As well as helping your bum look fabulous this exercise will also help improve your hip flexibility and mobility. To increase the challenge, try raising one leg off the ground and keeping it steady as you bridge, or move both feet on top of a table or box.

Action

  1. Lie on your back on an exercise mat or the floor in a bent-knee position with your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Place your feet hip-width apart with the toes facing away from you. Gently contract your abdominal muscles to flatten your low back into the floor. Attempt to maintain this TVA activation throughout the exercise.
  3. Gently exhale. Keep the abdominals engaged and lift your hips up off the floor. Press your heels into the floor for added stability.
  4. Inhale and slowly lower yourself back to your starting position.

Watch points: Avoid pushing your hips too high, which can cause hyperextension (arching) in your low back. Keeping your abdominals strong helps to prevent excessive arching in the low back.

During pregnancy you should be cautious if you choose to exercise while lying on your back due to supine hypotensive syndrome, particularly after 16 weeks. Exercise on the back for short durations only and watch out for feelings of dizziness. If you experience dizziness, stop exercising immediately.

 

  1. Squats

Squatting is a great bum builder and is also a functional movement as you will be always bending down to pick up the little ones or the paraphernalia that comes with motherhood. Squatting can be done (and should be done) during pregnancy and within a few weeks postnatally.  The range of motion can be modified but you want to aim for a nice deep squat with the tailbone un-tucked and your pelvis in neutral (keeping the small curve in your low back). Squats are one of my favourite exercises and there are many variations that can be done to keep things interesting.

Action

  1. Stand with feet slightly wider than hips. Keep your back straight, with your neutral spine, and your chest and shoulders up. Keep looking straight ahead
  2. Toes should be slightly pointed outwards and engage your core by sucking your tummy button into your spine to work your transverse abdominals. (The girdle that holds everything in your abdominals together.)
  3. Slowly bend your knees and lower yourself to the ground as if to sit in a chair position – pushing your bottom back and down. As you squat down, focus on keeping your knees in line with your feet.
  4. Stop when your thighs are parallel with the floor.
  5. Push back up through your heels, exhaling at the same time.

Watch points:

Inhale when lowering body, exhae when pushing back up. Keep your toes pointed forward. Don't allow your chest to drop and sink onto the tops of your thighs.

During pregnancy there are times though when squats are not beneficial. You should avoid squatting when baby is not in an optimal position after 30 weeks, as squats help descend a baby deeper down into the pelvis. If there is any pain when you perform a squat then you may need to have your technique assessed to correct your form or you can choose from different variations to reduce any discomfort. There are some scenarios when you don’t want to induce early labour, a couple of examples might be Vasa Previa and multiple pregnancies under 35 weeks.

 

  1. The Oyster

The oyster helps to open up the hip joint, as well as strengthening the glutes and stabilising your pelvis. The opening and closing of the leg are also a great way of working your pelvic floor muscles.

Action

  1. Lie on your right side with your shoulders and hips aligned on top of each other. If you are pregnancy you may wish to use a pillow under your head and bump for comfort.
  2. Place your left hand on the mat in front of you and bend both knees so that your heels are in a line with the back of your pelvis.
  3. Inhale to prepare and then exhale and keeping the feet connected lift up your top knee. Keep the pelvis still and stable and move from the hip joint.
  4. Inhale and control the leg back to the start position.

Watch Points

Only open the top leg as far as you can whilst keeping the pelvis still. Keep your core engaged and your waist lifted off the mat throughout the exercise. Try and place as little pressure through the top arm as possible

  1. The Glute Pulse

This exercise focuses on building strength in the glutes and hamstrings. Completing the move in four point position will also challenge the core muscles as you work to keep the torso stabilised and the spine in neutral against the movement of your leg.

Action

  1. Start in four point kneeling position with wrists under shoulders and knees under hip joints.
  2. Inhale to prepare. Then exhale and keeping the core muscles engaged, slowly lift the left leg.
  3. Your knee should stay bent as you press your foot up toward the ceiling.
  4. Inhale and lower the leg back to start position.

Watch Points

Keep your spine in neutral by engaging your core muscles, and avoid rotating your hip s by keeping the shoulders and hips squared to the floor during the entire exercise.

We've created some short tabata workouts to get those glutes working:

Pregnancy:

Postnatal:

One thing clients are often surprised about is that they can and should be working their core muscles during pregnancy. As Tamsin talked about in her blog, most people are not really sure what their core muscles are or how to properly engage them. Many think they are your abdominals (the “six pack muscle”) and whilst women may be aware in pregnancy that exercises such as crunches and sit ups are not suitable (Correct!), they are unaware that there are some essential core exercises you should be doing.

Magic Disappearing Bump Trick

An effective and safe core exercise to do in pregnancy is called “hugging the baby in” and the great thing about this simple exercise is you can do it standing, sitting (on the ball is good but on a chair fine) or on all fours. You just fit this in around your day and practice it whenever you have some spare time. It’s also a great “party trick” as you can amaze your other half/friends as you hug your baby in and make your bump disappear a little! This exercise is also safe for all 3 trimesters and can be done postnatally (even after a c section).

PLEASE NOTE – THIS DOES NOT HURT YOUR BABY IN ANYWAY!!

Hugging the baby in (engaging your pregnancy core) promotes good posture during pregnancy by strengthening the deep core muscles, the TVA and pelvic floor, which helps support the weight of your growing baby.

By learning to ‘HUG THE BABY,’ you are strengthening your TVA and pelvic floor which in turn:

  1. Decreases susceptibility to Diastasis Recti
  2. Prevents and alleviates lower back pain
  3. Promotes good posture
  4. Help with pushing the baby out during delivery
  5. Postnatally it helps your tummy return back to its pre pregnancy state quicker

How to Hug the Baby and Release the Baby

  1. Stand up tall, lengthening the spine to the ceiling, like you have a string on the top of your head.
  2. Inhale deeply, allowing the air to fill down the sides and back of the ribs, (Lateral Thoracic Breathing).
  3. EXHALE as you gently lift up on the pelvic floor and you hug your baby (pulling baby or tummy in towards the spine activating the TVA). Keep the pelvis neutral (don’t tuck your bottom under).
  4. Feel equal weight on your feet pressing down into the floor and keep the shoulders relaxed and down away from the ears.
  5. INHALE as you relax the TVA and pelvic floor, releasing the Hug the Baby posture.

The ability to completely relax the TVA and pelvic floor allows for flexible, strong muscles rather than tight, inflexible muscles, and it is very important to remember to relax completely on the inhale.

In the video I am hugging the baby in on all fours. Mare sure your hands are directly under your shoulders (and shoulder width apart) and that your knees are directly under your hips and hip width apart. You spine should be in “neutral” position, which a flat back and un-tucked bottom.

During my third pregnancy I followed Mama in the Move’s Fitness and Pilates programmes, which include lots of safe deep core exercises and I can honestly say it was my easiest pregnancy and I had no back pain at all. I was also able to activate my deep core muscles much earlier postnatally because I had been working them throughout my pregnancy.

Laura x

Whatever your fitness goals are, you'll hear a lot about the "core." This weekend I attended a fitness class at my local gym. Throughout the class the instructor kept repeating the phrase “Engage your core!” But at no point did she actually explain what that meant or how you should go about doing it! You may have some vague understanding that your core is somewhere in the middle of your body, or that it is important if you want to get a toned stomach. However, there is so much more to this group of muscles, so at Mama on the Move we decided to create an infographic to help you understand what your core muscles are and why they are important.

 

There is no universal definition of what ‘the core’ is but it is generally agreed that it consists of the deep abdominal muscles as well as the muscles closest to the spine. To understand how the core muscles work it is important to understand that muscles perform different roles within the body as either ‘mobilisers’ or ‘stabilisers’

 

‘Mobilisers’ are closer to the surface of the body and are responsible for performing fast, powerful movements. They tend to work at between 40 and 100% of their maximum capacity and tire quite quickly. In order for the mobilisers to function effectively other muscles need to act as stabilisers. These muscles need to work for extended periods of time so tend to work at 20%-30% of their maximum. One of the main characteristics of the core muscles is that they help to keep your torso still whilst movement occurs at the limbs.

 

For pregnant and postnatal women the process of carrying and delivering a baby can place a significant strain on your core muscles, meaning that we often suffer from conditions such as pelvic floor dysfunction, hernias, diastasis recti and low back pain. Quite often it is not just the case that these muscles have been weakened but our brain may also have forgotten how to connect with and communicate with them. This is one reason why it is so important to return to exercise gradually after having a baby, as you will be much more prone to injury or making any pre-existing conditions worse. Our pregnancy and postnatal programmes include Pilates workouts that will help you reconnect with and strengthen your core.

 

At Mama on the Move we tend to focus on the ‘Power Four’ as the main muscles of the core. The transverse abdominis, the pelvic floor, multifidus and the diaphragm. The location and the roles of each of these are explained in the infographic. Watch out for our upcoming blogs where we will discuss how you can connect with and strengthen these deep core muscles both during and after your pregnancy.

Tamsin x

 

Core Muscles Infographic

Core Muscles Infographic

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