How to choose a safe pre and postnatal exercise for YOU

Dr Joanna Helcké is a leading specialist in pregnancy and postnatal fitness and founder of FitBumpBox.

I always feel really sorry when mums who find me postnatally say “I stopped exercising when I fell pregnant because I didn’t know what was safe”. What a wasted opportunity and all because no one was around or able to advise. At the other end of the spectrum, there are those who are absolutely determined to carry on doing what they’ve been doing, regardless of how they feel during and after the workout – all because there’s that little voice in their head saying “If you don’t carry on you’ll lose everything that you’ve worked towards”.

Ok, so let’s get things straight here:

First of all, nothing is ever lost. One of the annoying things about fitness is, of course, that when you stop exercising your fitness levels start to drop. Frustrating but having said this, the moment you start up again, lo and behold, your fitness levels build up again like magic. So scaling things down if and when it is necessary to do so, should never be seen as some sort of an irredeemable curse but simply as a phase.

By ignoring the tell-tale signs, you risk injury

This takes me neatly to the second point which is that you do need to listen to your body as it is usually rather good at telling you when to give it a break. Take a long, hard look at what you are doing and how it feels. Are you performing the exercise with effortless grace? Or is it all so tough that muscles are shaking uncontrollably? Have you lost that perfect posture when performing the exercise? Are you feeling the wrong muscles – for example a twanging back when you are doing an abdominal exercise?  By ignoring the tell-tale signs, you risk injury.

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What about after exercising? Even when pregnant, there’s nothing wrong with having a few aching muscles where you’ve done a good workout but do you feel utterly drained? Do you feel as though you are running on empty? Have you developed aches in joints or weird pulling sensations in all the wrong places? These are all indications that you weren’t doing the right exercise for you.

A really excellent teacher will tailor the class for you accordingly

Now let’s take a look at the exercise class format. Although I work in fitness, I absolutely love going to other people’s classes, and what always stands out to me is the difference between those teachers who take the time to care for every individual in the class by modifying, adapting or even progressing exercises and also by correcting, as opposed to those instructors who deliver a one-size-fits-all class. Or even worse, there are some teachers who clearly think that the class is their own workout of the day, oblivious to the sea of poor technique facing them.

Perhaps you have one stand-out teacher who individualises teaching? We all bring to a class our own set of restrictions, limitations and goals – all the more the case in pregnancy and early motherhood – and a really excellent teacher will tailor for you accordingly. So ask yourself this: do the classes you attend have instructors who simply go through the motions? If so, I’d be thinking again about whether these are safe options for you in pregnancy and postnatally.

The body is going through immense change and this needs to be taken into account.

Finally, pregnancy is not an illness – as we often hear people say – and nor is being postnatal. Nevertheless, the body is going through immense change and this needs to be taken into account when choosing your pregnancy and postnatal exercise. Be sure to read up on the dos and don’ts of pregnancy and postnatal exercise but also – and I think this is crucial – find a specialist in this field. It’s always going to be so much safer and more effective to work with someone who has trained in pre/postnatal fitness. You’ll find a national list of fully qualified, up to date trainers on the Guild of Pregnancy and Postnatal Exercise Instructors website.

Dr Joanna Helcké is a leading specialist in pregnancy and postnatal fitness and founder of FitBumpBox. As a mother of three boys she knows how fundamental regular safe exercise is to both physical and emotional wellbeing in motherhood. www.fitbumpbox.com

She will be speaking at The Baby Show which returns to the NEC in Birmingham this weekend (9.30-5pm) in the panel called ‘Body after Baby’ with expert dietician Dr Sarah Schenker and icelolly Celebrity mum of the year, vlogger and author, Giovanna Fletcher. Visit www.thebabyshow.co.uk.

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