Could this be one of the million dollar questions in the fitness industry …….?! What do you think the best exercise is for you? Is it core exercise? Is it running a marathon? How about lifting weights? The answer is going to surprise you! But first, lets explore what others are saying – and what is NOT the best exercise for Mums.
Every magazine, mummy blog, motherhood instagram page and fitness guru promote many different opinions, (which are usually either endorsed or biased) and largely promote high intensity exercise such as tabata or HIIT as the best choice.
Sure, this type of training can be short in duration which suits and appeals to time poor mums. “Get fit in 7minutes a day!”, ” Tone your abs and lose the baby weight in 6 weeks!” are very attractive sentences to mums. In my experience, The first thing my client’s want to do is ‘smash’ their body after they have a baby, because they think that is what is going to make them “get their body back” and contribute to their sanity and self confidence. BUT – their bodies are already “smashed” due to sleep debt, pregnancy and breastfeeding hormones, birth trauma and other stresses of life. The last thing they should be doing is smashing it in the gym. (I’ve written plenty of posts about this regarding pelvic floor health, but this post is going on a slightly different tangent).
Most would agree (whether your’e a mum or not) that being a mum is stressful. That we’re often already running on high levels of cortisol and are in constant fight or flight syndrome. This is due largely to sleep debt, and the constant role of looking after a newborn and / or older kids. Money is often a big concern and relationship issues can also develop due to the lack of time and energy needed to devote to each other.
My problem with chronic high intensity exercise with little focus on restorative and aerobic (low intensity, longer duration) exercise is that it over uses the anerobic energy system. This energy system is basically an emergency system for when we are (or were) in danger and it is the same as the Fight or Flight system. When this system is overly taxed, it puts an extra strain on the nervous system, joints and muscles, encourages fat storage, muscle loss, sleep problems, and injuries.
This Chronic strain on the nervous system contribute to increased cortisol (stress hormone) levels. Cortisol promotes fat storage, increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other things. A 2017 study published in the American Journal of Medicine found instances of a condition called rhabdomyolysis – the breakdown of muscle – among new High Intensity Interval Training fans.
If you are a new mum, or sedentary (and what new mum doesn’t spend the majority of her life sitting or lying down with a little one in her arms) the strain on the joints and muscles are increased. Your joints and muscles are weakened during pregnancy due to hormones and posture changes, not to mention again birth trauma (forceps delivery and c-sections are the worst for ligament and nerve damage). If you are breastfeeding this risk is increased again.
Finally, there there is not a lot emphasis on quality of movement, mobility, activation, or internal balance in high intensity exercise programming. This leads to injuries. It’s all about doing a move as heavy and/or as quickly as you can. Activation and mobility are extremely important elements in anyone’s fitness program but MOST importantly, in Mums’ programming. After pregnancy and birth, women need to retrain the brain using their breathing to re- activate the deep core and the pelvic floor muscles. They also need a degree of pelvic floor mobility, as well as hip, spine and so on. And quality of movement I think speaks for itself?!
This internal balance (Homeostasis) mentioned above is the steady state of equilibrium in the body, between all internal conditions and elements such as temperature, fluid/electrolyte balance, energy production and utilisation and so on. When an already overstressed and under rested person undertakes regular high intensity exercise, they often make it harder for the processes in the body to achieve this balance. Think of the term “wellness”. Homeostasis is also important for the natural onset and progression of labour.
So the Million Dollar question – What is the best exercise for you, Mumma?
Answer: ” The best exercise is one that you enjoy”. – Dr Robert Sapolsky.
Why is this?
If you enjoy your exercise choice, without over stressing your anerobic system you will produce endorphins, benefit your nervous system, sleep better, improve your immune system (gut bacteria is increased via exercise), and achieve a steady state of homestatsis (internal balance). Whether you prefer outdoor group fitness, personal training, gym memberships or online/home workouts, I have options for all these on my web site.
a body transformation is only a great one if it is sustainable long term!
Read more here on how stress affects the body: https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress-body.aspx
And on how to know if your’e overtraining or stuck in fight or flight syndrome: