It’s no secret that I struggled to return to exercise postpartum.
Exercise was a huge part of my life before I became pregnant, and even throughout my pregnancy, so it was hard to come to terms with my struggling body and major lack of motivation due to sleep deprivation.
Early mornings had never been my strong point and they were now taking their toll more than ever.
Besides my daily walks, which helped to keep me active, it wasn’t until around 5 months postpartum that I finally plucked up the courage, and the energy, to attend a fitness class (and in all honesty, I’m glad I didn’t rush back into it).
My friend and fellow Mum, Liz, started her own Fit Mum business after having her baby Samson, and it seemed like the perfect fit. A Crossfit inspired class which would support my return to fitness and work with my new ‘Mum bod’, whilst helping to build up my confidence under the bar again.
So in honour of my return to fitness, this weeks #fitmum interview is with the lovely, super fit – Liz. We met at the very start of our Crossfit journeys around four years ago in Manchester. I was a newbie to the fitness world but Liz was already a professional Dancer, teacher, and all round fitty!
Your son, Samson, is two years old now – can you remember what it was like returning to exercise after giving birth?
After having Samson I was desperate to get back to working out and exercising. Training was a huge part of who I was and I suppose I was trying to prove something to myself. I did my first workout 12 days after labour following an app which involved some core work and press-ups and by day 25 I was clean and jerking heavy-ish weights during weightlifting classes!
The fact that I was even taking part in a weightlifting class 3 weeks after birth is ridiculous. Looking back, and knowing what I know now, I was so lucky I didn’t hurt myself. I was trying to bounce back way too soon. I felt weak, frustrated and was constantly pee-ing. Throughout the first few weeks I would go from huge highs to crying whilst working out. Frustrated that my body wouldn’t do what it could and that I didn’t look the same.
Did becoming a Mum change your attitude to exercise and your body?
100%. Firstly I appreciated being able to workout. Any new mum will know the overwhelming feeling of ‘holy crap my whole life has changed,’ so an hour of normality and ‘me time’ was brilliant and needed.
And also the reason and focus for exercising changed. Pre-baby I spent a lot of time frustrated at what my body couldn’t do as opposed to now, where I am in awe of what it can do, especially after having a baby. I have taken the pressure off myself and it’s resulted in becoming fitter and stronger than before. I am more body confident than I have ever been. Don’t get me wrong, I have days where I miss my pre-baby boobs and sometimes complain about my lose skin, but I love my body. I eat well (mostly) and train roughly 3 times a week. This is how my body is supposed to be and I am happy with that.
Tell us a bit about your new business venture…
I run BreakThrough Fitness, taking the usual fitness classes and PT sessions, but we specialise in FitMum classes. Mums can come and train whilst their babies and children nap, watch and play.
And what led you to set up your business after having a baby?
I originally started the FitMum classes as a way to keep busy during my maternity leave (I was a full time teacher at a college at the time but also coached CrossFit classes on the side). When planning for a baby I really worried with how I would cope on maternity. I knew I wouldn’t do well stuck in the house full time and so FitMum was a project to keep me active and focused. It was brilliant. I managed to miss the baby blues and rarely felt low or down. It meant I was surrounded by like-minded mums and it helped me feel like me. I enjoyed coaching these classes and continued doing so when I went back to work.
Unfortunately, just after my son’s 1st birthday my partner and I split up. This meant everything was turned upside down. This was an extremely sad time, however, after a low there is always a high, a silver lining. Being a single mum (with the support of some amazing people of course), I decided to go for it, quit my job and launch into my new passion full time. I started BreakThrough Fitness. I chose the name as it represented a Break from the normal mum image, a Break from mum life, and a Break from the pressure to give up ‘you’ when becoming a mum. I wanted to be a strong female role model for my son and to help others feel the same.
How do you structure your classes to ensure they are suitable for women at different stages of motherhood?
My own training and background is CrossFit (constantly varied, functional movement at high intensity). Within this training every move is scaled up or down depending on a members ability. This lends itself perfectly to mum classes. For example if the program has squats in it, a new mum would do body weights squats by sitting onto a box and standing up, whilst focusing on developing the pelvic floor/core strength and hitting the correct movement patterns. Whereas a mum with older children would have a heavy barbell on their backs and hitting several reps.
Each class consists of a fun group warm up, a skill/strength section tailored to each individual and finished with a sweaty workout. Everyone works at their own pace, no scores taken and NO competition. The class goals are simple: move well, stay safe and get sweaty!
The babies and toddlers watch on and mums tend to them when needed. It’s not unusual for a mum to be feeding in between exercises or for me to be running round with a pram and toddler on my hip. The group helps each other to get the best workout possible. And one of the added bonuses is the children grow up seeing this. They copy us. We have toddlers performing burpees and perfect squats and wanting to learn more.
So, how long after having a baby, should a woman wait to work out?
The general rule is to start the classes or light exercises 6 weeks after birth (as long as there haven’t been any complications). I always advise Mums to ask for a 6 week check-up. At this point the focus is on building core and pelvic strength and being aware that your muscles and joints are looser (due to the hormone Relaxin) so heavy weight should be avoided. Also you should be checked for ab separation (diastasis recti) as this would mean some exercises should be adapted.
Are there particular exercises you recommend to most new Mums?
Squats, lunges and hip raises! Through pregnancy you often lose strength around your core and butt. It is vital to regain this to help improve posture, reduce back pain and to look good naked!!
What three tips would you give to any Mum returning to exercise after giving birth?
1. Time is a healer. Do not expect or want to get into your pre-pregnancy jeans quickly – it’s biology (unless you’re one of the lucky few who ‘bounce back’). Your body has just grown a person. Your hips have widened, you ribs have moved further apart, your nose may have even grown (yes that’s a thing). Give your self time to recover! At the beginning ensure you see exercise as a healer and a way of building strength rather than fast track to slim.
2. Take a picture in your underwear before you start! This may seem odd but you’ll have days when you need to see how far you have come. Remind yourself what you have achieved.
3. Find a class / sport that you enjoy. Mum life is hectic, unpredictable and exhausting. You need to find your love of exercise or it will easily become last in your priority list. If you feel your motivation lacking, try something else. Do not stop moving. You may find a love for running, an hour by yourself letting your mind wander. You might, like me, enjoy throwing heavy barbells around in a busy class whilst listening to The Greatest Showman soundtrack – too distracted to think about what else I have to do that day. There are so many options……but try FitMum first obviously!
If you live in the Greater Manchester area and are looking to start working out again post birth, don’t forget to check out Breakthrough Fitness’ Fit Mum classes.