So if you type search this sentence into google search engine, you will see
Where do you start? The first 10 pages are mainstream news articles and celebrity fitness trainers who now have a worldwide platform to exploit the anxieties and fears of the Mums.
The problem with these articles is the thought that a specific exercise is the solution to getting our pre baby bodies back or fixing Disatasis recti, pelvic floor weakness, incontinence, and back pain etc.
The other problem is that many view exercising as a means to an end, (usually an aesthetic goal) rather than enhancing their quality of life.
The fitness industry has become obsessed with aesthetics, supplements and trends. Social media is evolving the fitness industry right before our eyes with fake influencers, endorsements & fame-hungry fitness “stars”. So what do you think? Is there a specific exercise or exercise modality that will fix your postpartum body or keep you looking sexy during pregnancy?
The first answer to this question reminds me of one of the themes that is floating around in the pelvic health world is not which exercise is best, but how it’s being done. As Julie Wiebe puts it, “Which strategy are you using?” These strategies encompass analysing things like:
- How are you controlling internal pressures?
- Are you holding your breath?
- What is your posture like during the exercise?
- Have you reconnected with your pelvic floor and TA or are you keeping that connection strong during pregnancy?
- Are your glutes functioning well?
- Are you gripping your pelvic floor or obliques?
- What other compensation patterns are you using?
- What is your exercise history?
What is being said here is that there is no one size fits all approach. I have seen this many times in the Pilates world. Pilates is often promoted as a “safe” postnatal exercise modality, however Pilates is an intense abdominal workout, and if you’re someone who holds their breath, has poor posture and can’t connect well with their TA muscle then you are probably bearing down on your pelvic organs (can lead to pelvic organ prolapse and incontinence), or over straining your abdominal wall (ending in a hernia) then Pilates is not going to be for you! (yet).
Pelvic floor exercises or Kegels are another popular recommendation. But should we really be recommending these to anyone if we do not have the consent from her pelvic physiotherapist? Something that may surprise you is that pelvic floor exercises may actually make some women’s symptoms worse. Non relaxing pelvic floor disorder is not widely recognised yet. These women need to “down train” the pelvic floor which involves relaxation of the pelvic floor muscles rather than contracting them.
Secondly, by believing there is a magic exercise we forget the point of why we need to exercise. When I started in the fitness industry, there was no such thing as smart phones or social media. Heck it was so uncool to wear your gym clothes outside of the gym! Now it’s practically a luxury fashion statement!
So what should be the reason we exercise during pregnancy and after birth? Is to land a insta famous fitness contract? or be featured in the body transformation page on Kayla Istines? No. It should enhance our life and health, not hinder it.
How do we enhance our precious energy and health during these chapters of life?
In recent years, Aerobic workouts have been given a bad rap. But they are extremely important for overall fitness for everyone from a sedentary stay at home mum to your powerlifting fit mum. Aerobic exercise is moderate intensity exercise that uses oxygen as its primary fuel source. The aerobic system is our life system. We are predominantly (99%) in this system throughout our life! It is the system that keeps us going and breathing and living day in day out.
Aerobic exercise increases cardiovascular fitness, increases the time to fatigue, burns fat, and promotes recovery in muscle tissue. But something is happening at an even deeper level than that. Have you every wondered why you feel like you have more energy the more you exercise? It’s because aerobic training helps our cells (mitochondria) make energy (ATP) more efficiently. Aerobic exercise uses oxygen, which directly relates to how the mitochondria function. The more oxygen you pump to your muscle cells and their mitochondria through aerobic workouts, the faster and better they work to produce energy.
And… we don’t just get these benefits in our muscles. We have mitochondria in our brain, liver, heart and so on. So aerobic exercise improves our overall health, our energy, and even our mood as a pose to high intensity exercise – that which is particularly stressful to the body. The production of energy (ATP) via the anaerobic system (it is the same as the fight or flight system) causes high levels of fatigue and cortisol. As a new or pregnant mum, would more stress in your life during pregnancy and postpartum be a good thing?
Aerobic exercise is also linked with slowing down the ageing process. (Mitochondria decay that occurs with age cannot be counteracted unless physical activity is enhanced.)
So, what is aerobic exercise?
Without getting too nerdy on you, It should be moderate intensity long duration (longer than 30 mins) exercise that you are still able to hold a conversation during , however your breathing, body temp and heart rate must be elevated. For aerobic exercise to beneficial in the ways mentioned above, it should be undertaken 2- 3 or more times per week during these chapters of life. Some great forms for pregnancy and postpartum are:
- cycling (flat road, light gears, seated)
- elliptical trainer
- hill walking
- For more on why I don’t recommend running during this time of life see this post.
And remember, its how you’re doing these exercises too! What strategies are you using?