In the fog of the early postnatal days, it can be challenging to even know where to begin in rediscovering you and repairing the body that has gone through so much to bring your baby into the world. Here Ashley Verma from Bizzimumzi gives her advice on where to start in finding a new, stronger you.
I wear many hats in my household but at the end of the day, I’m a Mum. A sandwich making, high waisted jean loving, dance ‘till I drop to ‘The Wheels on the Bus Go Round’, Mum. Fitness is and has always been a huge part of my life. My career was built around it. I was a Broadway performer and then went on to start my own fitness business.
But I did not want to start my Mum journey with losing weight as my top priority. I have trained those clients where skinny is all that matters. I have been there myself, beating myself up physically and mentally. It’s not healthy and it’s definitely not something I wanted for my daughter. Like many new Mums, I struggled with my mental health after my daughter was born, so I had to focus on that before I worried about getting physically back into shape. Physical activity had to happen at a much slower pace. There is a healthy balance, and it is important to find it. So how do you create a strong, healthy post baby body?
My most important piece of advice is not to think about this as ‘going back to your pre baby body’ – rather think of this as finding a ‘new strong you’. Your body has been through a lot and it’s time to think about healing and strengthening and creating a strong body for what’s ahead.
Here are a few tips to get you started before you even think about exercise. Yes, exercise is important, and we’ll come to that. But get the foundations right first:
Turn off the noise
If social media or TV is becoming triggering and making you feel less than perfect - switch it off. Yes, easier said than done as we all are hiding behind a pillow with one eye peering over to see what the Kardashians will come up with next, but sorry, this is just Not Helpful. Not Relatable. And Not Real! Well, unless you are a billionaire too. Yes, it is fun to hope and dream but please be mindful you just grew a human in your body. You grew a new organ (the placenta), your ribs, hips and pelvis shifted! It’s beyond bananas what your body has just done. So, focus on generating a little gratitude and relaxation for your body – it’s an important part of the healing process.
Yes, proper breathing pre/post natal is one of the ultimate ways to find you and your body again. Focusing on strengthening your breath connection creates a stabilised and better supported overall wellbeing. Here is a gentle reminder of what has happened in your body while carrying a child. As baby grows, all of your internals get shifted, squished and jumbled around in your body. This is why many new moms experience leaking urine, abdominal separation and severe lower back pain. Focusing back in on your breath will help to heal your internals and calm your nervous system that has been and is still overly stimulated.
Aim for 360 degree full, deep inhales and exhales to truly fulfil your lungs to capacity. You want your entire midsection to breathe, opening like an umbrella and then closing back up. There are several core and floor conditions (including incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse and diastasis recti) that may be managed using this technique. It is incredibly effective at activating and strengthening your inner core i.e., your diaphragm, pelvic floor, and innermost abs (transverse abdominals) during pregnancy and it is one of the first exercises you can do after childbirth to begin retraining your core muscles. Do not be shocked when focusing on your breathing is a huge task and very challenging.
Make your home your gym
While working out at home is the new phenomena in our post COVID world, it is absolutely a perfect fit for a new mum. It’s a great fit for the entire household. Starting out simply, with no equipment, is great and then over time you can invest in resistance bands, hand weights, a kettle bell and one of my personal favourites… a pilates playground ball.
Here are my favourite quick and highly effective workout moves that require no equipment. Please note: If you do have any concerns with your pelvic floor, prolapse, or are early postpartum, you should definitely check in with your Women’s Health Physiotherapist before beginning any exercise routine.
Lunging is an amazingly functional movement. We frequently lunge in the lounge room to grab things on or near the floor, in the kitchen to get to the lower cupboards, picking up the washing, picking things up from the floor - You are most likely lunging incidentally daily.
How To Master the Lunge: Take a nice, generous step back with one leg and bend both knees. You will drop low into your best 90 degree angle bend. If balance is not on your side, hold onto a sturdy piece of furniture. You can start with a simple hold in the lunge. Posture and engagement is key as you want to feel an elongated spine, a lift up from your pelvic floor to the tippy top of your abs. Your ribs are soft down the front of the body, and you are breathing. Adding pulses will intensify the deep burn. I used to hold my daughter in my arms and do 20-30 pulses on each side during my early postpartum recovery. Remember what chosen sequence you do on one side, you most do on the other to balance the body.
A glorious pilates move that really sizzles into the glutes, inner/outer thighs, and switches your abs on as a bonus.
How to Master the Clam: Lay down on one side, bend both knees just shy of 90 degree angle bend, press your top hand into the floor to help support yourself. You will lift both shins/feet/ankles off the floor as if you have a ski slope from the toes down to the knee. The bottom knee will stay on the floor as an anchor while you lift the top leg up and down. Each lift is a squeeze at the top and a control/resistance down to the bottom. Once you master the single lift up and down, you can add three beats; up, hold for three, then down. I dive further into Clam choreography on my Bizzimumzi Youtube channel.
I’m a huge lover and advocate of all Barre moves. They truly get into the nitty-gritty of your body. The traditional standing kick-back gives you a full body burn by switching on so many muscles all over.
How to Master the Standing Kick-Back: You will need a sturdy piece of furniture or a clear wall space. Face your sturdy piece of furniture, both feet parallel together and bend both knees. Allow a small incline of the body forward while tucking the tailbone down and under, pulling up through abs. Bend and bring your right heel up towards your butt. Your supporting knee is bent as well.
When you look down to check the positioning of your legs, notice that the right leg lifted is ever so slightly back behind the left to start. You will then begin pressing the entire right leg back sustaining the bend of the leg. Imagine you are squeezing an orange between your calf and hamstring. This will create deeper resistance to really switch on your hamstring up into the glute muscle. Aim for 10-20 reps to start, as you gain strength simply add more reps. You can also play with three beat push and a press hold for 5-10 seconds. Playing with different choreography within the position keeps the muscles guessing, engaged and deeper burn.
This movement is a wonderful way to strengthen the hamstrings and glutes while increasing the flexibility of the front of the leg. Also, when activated properly you will feel support from your pelvic floor.
How to Master the Bridge: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet hip width distance apart. Lift your tailbone and lower spine off the mat to create a straight line from your shoulders to knees. Press down through your feet will create a tense sensation into your hamstrings and butt. Slowly lower with control back down. You want to avoid arching the back and not allowing the ribs to flare. Essentially you are too high up if this happens. This movement is all about lower body engagement.
Don’t be afraid to split up your workouts during the day or even schedule it in a way that it incorporates the kids. Your walk to the playground pushing the stroller or chasing after your toddler on their scooter is part of the fitness plan. It counts! If you pass a bench on your walk, add some incline press-ups or tricep dips. These little burst of movements play a huge part in your recovery and strengthen your body to find a ‘New Strong You’.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ashley is a mum, founder of the Bizzimumzi podcast, and Define London fitness studio. She is a former Broadway performer and celebrity trainer. Through Bizzimumzi Ashley has created a welcoming community to share the highs and lows of parenting, and inspire others to feel empowered in their journey. Ashely believes the most perfect picture of parenting is simply when you are trying your best. Bizzimumzi is a safe space that helps parents to inspire, educate and support each other to be the best parent they can be.