It’s not so much about looking your best, although it’s something we all think about, but also about feeling as good as possible so you can enjoy this wonderful time to the max. So here, former professional athlete turned personal trainer Veera Stannard, who specialises in pre and postnatal fitness, explains what to do, when and why…
We live in the modern world and we have a lot of problems with weight. I don’t think people understand how fertility can be impacted a lot of the time. I have clients come to me wanting to get pregnant, and I advise they start by balancing their hormones with the right diet.
For example, women who want to get pregnant should not be scared of eating fat, it’s a natural hormone regulator. Meanwhile, caffeine can reduce fertility and alcohol also puts stress on the liver. So I start by looking at nutrition as well as getting clients physically fit and healthy to help conception and have a happy pregnancy.
Exercise wise I use a combination of cardio and resistance training. If you want to get pregnant you can really help yourself by getting fit first, then you can stay fit throughout pregnancy and recover more quickly afterwards.
If someone comes to me when they are already pregnant but they haven’t exercised before, then I can start with them as a beginner. If you have exercised before then you may be able to carry on doing similar things for first 12 weeks.
Stress is also a big thing to consider. If someone is training very hard six times a week then I might suggest bringing in yoga instead some of the time. You don’t need to be pushing yourself all the time, relaxation is just as important, take time out and have spa treatments as well.
For someone who has not exercised before, pregnancy is a crucial time – everything’s very delicate. I would suggest that if you haven’t exercised before then wait until you have had your 12-week scan and then start as a beginner.
For someone who has been training four times a week or so, the first 12 weeks should be enjoyable and you need to carry on because that’s what your body is used to. After week eight I might reduce repetitions on strength training a little. You need to listen to your own body to know what’s right for you at that time, but don’t start introducing new things.
After 12 weeks you need to be careful of things like lying flat on the floor – shoulders should be elevated a couple of inches because it affects blood flow. I wouldn’t do planks over 15 seconds or any asymmetric exercises when you’re holding your breath – you always need to be breathing in and out.
You shouldn’t do anything that causes spine stress such as sit ups and crunches because it puts a lot of pressure on the abdominal wall and it’s not good for the spine. I would reduce press ups and anything that affects the belly directly. Instead we would do a lot of floor exercises.
A lot depends on how you feel in the second trimester, by now you probably have a better idea of what you’re ok with. If anything feels uncomfortable you should stop. A lot of glute work needs to be introduced because your posture can be affected – make sure you’re not leaning forward or back too much, often women don’t realise they’re doing it and it can cause other problems like sciatica.
I would also suggest bodyweight exercises such as squats and lunges. There are plenty of exercises you can still do, and it’s important to remember that this is something you’re doing for yourself, which mentally is important.
If you’re active during pregnancy you will recover so much quicker afterwards. There are lots of other health benefits, but the main thing is to be strong and fit. I had a client who exercised up to week 34, others up to week 30. In the last 10 weeks some people find it too much and just want to walk and start preparing mentally. It’s very personal and it’s all about how you feel.
Everyone wants to start doing crunches and planking after pregnancy, but it’s not that simple. After a caesarian you need to wait at least eight weeks to make sure you’re ok before doing anything.
After normal birth it’s about six weeks. The key thing is to bring back the tension in between the abdominals. I would always assess people by getting them to lie down on floor and start lifting head and neck a tiny bit while I see how many fingers fit between the different points in the stomach muscles.
You can see the gap between the abdominals, but I also go on the feeling of how tense they are. I then re-check it every four weeks because they can heal normally. You can be strong at the top and not at the lower abs, or vice versa – everyone’s different.
The first six weeks is just a crazy time, all a big shock. I don’t think any mother thinks about exercise then. I would take that time to try to breathe and adjust. The body will naturally be trying to heal itself, so give it a little bit of time. If you start exercising too early you can also affect your recovery.
Now’s the time to focus on nutrition and make sure you eat to support your body. Maybe increase supplementation because your body has given a lot during birth. Then introduce exercise gradually. It will start with weight loss rather than planks.
Focus on core healing as you won’t be able to do typical core exercises for a while – some women can’t even hold their knees up for a while. Cardio is really interesting. I had an online client and six weeks after her baby was born she was desperate to run. The average person would need to hold on for up to six months before running because it’s very high impact on the pelvic floor muscles.
You’re never completely on your feet when you run, so a lot of weight goes onto the pelvic floor. However, if you were into it before pregnancy it is addictive and if you are after that buzz from cardio I would recommend interval training. Walking is great with the buggy. I would change the tempo – fast and slow – 60 seconds fast, 60 seconds slow.
If you’re fine after four weeks then find a hill and do the same there – up fast, down to rest. Then I would get you to jog a little and rest walking. You get the same feeling but in a safe way. If you do it too quickly you might find that years down the line you still have a problem doing things like jumping jacks. You need to be very fit and strong to run, you often don’t realise how strong you need to be. If you really want to run just make sure you’re strong again before you hit the road.
Postnatal clients often love exercise because it’s something for themselves. It can help with Post Natal Depression and helps you to make better nutrition choices which in turn make you feel better about yourselves, so it affects everything. It can also help with tiredness.
Also, focus on the positives. New mums can put a lot of pressure on themselves to get back into their jeans, but focus on what a wonderful thing you’ve achieved; there will be a time to get back into your clothes. There’s a lot of pressure on mums from social media and celebs, and that’s fine, but everyone’s different so be happy and try not to pressurise yourself.
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