Are you fit to be a Mum?
Mum fitness is a popular topic. How to recover postpartum, how to heal your diastasis, how to ‘lose baby weight’… But did we ever stop and ask the question “Are our Mums fit enough to be Mums?” If your a Mum you know that its a physically and emotionally challenging role! Have you recognised that even if you haven’t returned to an exercise program per say, that ‘Being a Mum’ is actually exercise in itself? (especially if you have multiple children!) Our day to day tasks can be taxing on our bodies. We lift, we run, we bend, we carry… oh boy can we carry! Seriously, my pram is for decoration!… Wouldn’t it be nice if we could perform these day to day tasks more efficiently, without pain, and without becoming so fatigued? Perhaps we need to reconsider the way in which we perceive exercise for new Mums so that they can do just that! There is SO much information out there regarding
I called upon Clare for ‘Into You Health and Fitness Studio’ who’s passion is exploring how to best train New Mums.
I have been following Clare on social media for a little while now, particularly on Instagram. I fell in love with Calre’s account and her message that she sends to Mums and others that work within the health and fitness industry. I will be honest ladies, I didn’t fall in love with her account because it’s full of beautiful crisp clean photos of places I’d rather be, or sexy ‘fashion photos’ or the like. I fell in love with her account because it shows the reality of being a Mum. Clare shares some awesome videos that challenge our thoughts on what we perceive as functional exercise for Mums, and gives fantastic examples as to why we need to consider changing the way in which we train as Mums.
Challenging your perspective on ‘Mum Fitness’
Clare is an Australian Strength and Conditioning Coach and owner of Into You Fitness Studio. Before becoming a Mum Clare used to write strength and conditioning programs for the Australian Sailing Team and Youth Squads. Clare now runs a successful practice that specialises in postnatal training and deep core restoration for women. Her practise today uses the same logic that she once used with athletes at NSW Institute of Sport. She now applies the same principals to Mums who are returning to health postpartum.
When I asked Clare if she would contribute to my blog she kindly agreed, no questions asked. When she sent me her ‘draft’ I was like “OMG This girl ‘gets it’ Clare and I share very similar thoughts and ideas when it comes to training new Mums. She writes:
There is plenty of articles and advice out there for mums and athletes on their own; how to train for your sport, how to rehabilitate after childbirth, how to get your “pre baby” body back, and more. However, I find there’s a gaping hole in the industry for training mums for the task of mothering. We train swimmers to swim, sprinters to sprint, triathletes to swim, ride, and run, so why is there not more emphasis on training mums to mother?
Part of the problem is that there is not a set of “moves” that every mum does. After all, some mums are ‘stay-at-home’, some are corporates, some are triathletes, etc. It would be offensive to assume that all mums vacuum and are primary carers for their kids, but there are two major common factors that we must remember:
- They all gave birth (in some shape or form);
- They will all perform repetitive movements in their daily life that may or may not have an impact on their well being.
Every women has a different birth story to tell, and there will be various degrees of injury as a result. Whether you had a full term “natural” delivery with no intervention, or if you required an epesiotomy, or if you required an emergency C-Section, this story will have a major impact on the rehabilitation that is required post partum and will influence your ability to return to exercise within particular timeframes.
Think of it like this. If you sustained a shoulder injury from swimming for example, would you not modify your training program to rehabilitate and prevent further injury to the shoulder? How would you achieve this?
As Mums we are very good at being ‘invisible’. Mums work 24/7, often ‘behind-the-scenes’ making sure that everyone is immunised, exercised, fed, and healthy. Everyone except themselves. When they do come to the gym they are often given 2 options:
- Train super conservative. Train only using ‘safe’ exercises that disallow certain movements because “you have had a baby!”. This unfortunately leads to women being unable to realise their full potential and leads them in fear. Fear of pelvic floor injury, back pain, etc.
This ‘category of training’ defines a Mum purely as a Mum and nothing else. Mums are forced to train according to a “what if” scenario of avoiding anything and everything that could be harmful to anyone, regardless of their story. For sure, this approach is important when there is severe injury, but what comes afterwards?
A footballer with a knee injury will usually return to football eventually. Do they go straight from their rehab in a physio consult room to playing a full game of football? Or is there an exercise progression that takes them from their leg extension with an elastic band to playing an international game?
So, when it comes to training ‘New Mums’…
We need to view the pelvic floor and core in the same way that we do other muscles and ligaments in the body. We understand that there is potential for recovery and we rehabilitate these injuries. Unfortunately the message that a lot of Mothers are hearing is that:
- You have had a baby, your pelvic floor is now weakened and you are at risk of leakage and prolapse.
- You need to be very careful not to lift anything too heavy
- Avoid running, jumping and any high impact exercises because you are ‘at risk of injury’
Are these not activities of everyday life that Mums need to engage in to ‘Mother’? We need to lift our children into the car, we run after them to play ‘chasey’ – or to stop them being run over by a car as they chase a bird out of the shopping centre…. So, it would be ignorant of us to assume that Mums can simply stop engaging in these activities. Of course, there is a recovery and rehabilitation period that needs to be considered and respected, but the health and fitness industry should be aiming to help Mums progress to return to these activities with progressive exercise and rehabilitation.
The other option that Mums are presented with is to ignore the pelvic floor and deep core and “flog” them until they die or get their body “back”. This category ignores the potential injury lurking inside the postnatal woman, and goes from zero to 100%. The issue with this approach is that any ‘weakness’ within the postnatal body will be highly vulnerable.
Whether the weakness is due to a stretched pelvic floor, an umbilical hernia, or a rotator cuff tear, you can bet on that weakness failing before the rest of the body does! There is a cliché in my gym, and it goes like this: “You can only train as hard as you weakest point”.
What is the message we want to tell ‘New Mums’ regarding exercise?
We need to find a balance! We need to understand that the postnatal woman’s body is not invincible, but we also need to understand that it isn’t so delicate that its going ‘break’. Women are being sent extreme messages, but the one that is often missing is the one that encourages rehabilitation (as we would any other injury) with the expectation of returning to physical activity in time. Most women want to return to health after baby, and this includes returning to exercise. Even if they don’t articulate a goal of running a 5k or even a marathon, all Mums will engage in tasks that require core ‘stability’, because part of their role as a Mum will be lifting, running, jumping etc.
We also need to spreading the word that incontinence or leakage during exercise and or every day tasks is NOT normal. As Clare mentioned earlier Mums can be ‘invisible’ at times. We ‘just get on with it’. Unfortunately there are health professionals and other influential people like ‘public figures’ on Instagram etc that ignore these concerns. They either portray the message that incontinence or a ‘small leak’ is normal after you’ve had children, or they don’t speak about it at all because it’s not a ‘sexy’ topic!
Both in her studio and in her social media presence Clare shares a message that many of us are hoping to spread. Programs for postpartum women need to be based on individualised assessment, and according to the goals of that woman. She states:
Once you understand the individual story and have set a starting point according to their limitations, then we can approach their programming from two positions:
- What is the task(s) that we need to strengthen them for? If your mum is a stay-at-home mum and she does all the housework, how can we strengthen those exact movement patterns to prevent injury and increase the ease with which she performs those tasks?
- What are the repetitive movements that we need to unwind? In my experience, mums do a lot of ‘deadlifts’ (or “bend to extend”). For example when oicking up baby, changing bed sheets, doing laundry etc. We need to know ‘what is the opposite movement to a deadlift that can be used to “unwind” this woman? Let me give you an example from a sports perspective. If your swimmer is a freestyler, they have to rotate their shoulders backwards to “unwind” the freestyle movement, and prevent injury that would possibly occur as a result of chronic forward rotation (for example, backstroke or external rotation exercises in the gym). We can apply the same logic to a mum that carries their baby on one hip, to unwind her we have to use the other hip!
It is in the luxury of Clare’s studio that she spends a precious 30 minutes one on one with her mums every week, helping them to ‘strengthening and lengthen’ muscle groups according to the specific tasks and movement patterns that these women undertake.
Clare affirms that it is also possible in a group environment.
Just by knowing each woman’s story and situation you can modify a set of exercises to match where they are. One thing that we can all do to lift the standard of training, is to be aware of the deep core (no more ignoring it) and progress women from their conservative starting point to functional, specific, and logical movements that will impact their life in a positive way.
How do you choose the best personal trainer for you as a New Mum?
When it comes to choosing a personal trainer or therapist, I would encourage that you find one that has a similar approach to Clare. One that understands that the postpartum body needs to be respected, but also rehabilitated in such a way that you can return to the activities that you love and enjoy without ‘hiding’ or ignoring any pelvic health concerns.
Your personal trainer should:
- Ask you questions about your birth and recovery
- Understand your pelvic health
- Be able to modify a range of exercises accordingly
- Know how to challenge your body, without putting it under unnecessary strain.
- Advocate for you to seek a Women’s Health Physiotherapist for any pelvic health or ‘core’ concerns.
- Know when to refer to a Women’s Health Physiotherapist for further assessment and treatment.
Overall, Clare and I wish to advocate that postpartum health and exercise is NOT about getting your ‘pre-baby body back’. It’s about rehabilitating, maintaining and improving your health and enjoying and celebrating your body. We believe that as Mum you deserve to feel fit and strong from the inside and out, and we are both here to help you do just that! If you would like to know more about Clare and her studio head to www.into-you.com.au. Find here on Facebook or follow her awesome videos on Instagram on her personal page or business page
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