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Sleep: an essential component of your exercise routine

Sleep definitely feels like something from a past life right now. With a 3-year-old in the family, a busy husband and a Pilates studio to run, it was not a plentiful resource anyway. But add our new-born into the mix and sleep seems like a scarce commodity at the moment. I am painfully aware that good quality shut-eye is essential to any exercise routine and as I continue my postpartum fitness journey, it is something I have been thinking about a lot. I would go as far as to say that a good night’s sleep is as important as your workouts. If your body can’t recover from training, there is no point in training.

I appreciate I am not alone in being sleep deprived, there are many new mums out there feeling exactly like I do, and plenty more people besides. But I have learnt to be mindful in the way I think of sleep now; I try not to see it as a luxury but as an essential part of my return to fitness.

Why sleep is so important

Regularly getting enough high-quality sleep is a core component of any exercise program. When you are sleeping, your body releases hormones such as Human Growth Hormone (HGH), which help your muscles recover and get stronger. Without sleep, your body not only produces less growth hormone, but the levels of stress hormones such as Cortisol remain high, reducing your body’s ability to recover. In addition, low levels of sleep can play havoc with the hormones related to appetite, leading to overeating and weight gain.

Discover how much sleep feels right for you

Conventional wisdom suggests that eight hours sleep is the perfect amount, but this is not always true for everyone. Our sleep needs and routines are individual and it is really important to find out what works best for you. Even pre-children, I have always needed a good amount of sleep. At the moment it is a given that I will not get the amount I need in one solid stretch. But rather than getting hung up on the number of hours my body craves, I find concentrating on how I feel is a much more helpful guide to ensuring I get some good quality sleep. And if that means a mini power nap when Angus sleeps, then so be it!

Adapting your exercise routine

I have found it very helpful to stop worrying about sleep and accept the situation. I am almost certainly going to be sleep deprived for a few months yet. Worrying that I am lacking in sleep just made things worse and the key for me has been to adapt. If I don’t feel up to exercising, I let my body recover and do my workout the next day. I have learnt to be a little bit kinder to myself through thinking more about the importance of my sleep.

Keep a regular bedtime

In the same way I have my exercise plan and routines for my children, I have found that being fairly strict about the time I go to bed really helps. There will always be more jobs to do, I will always feel like I need more time to myself in the evenings and there will always be another box set to finish watching. But the thing that makes me feel the best version of me in the morning is sticking to my regular bedtime of 10pm as much as I can.

Thinking of sleep as a key component of your exercise routine? Feel free to share any tips you have discovered to improve your sleep health, as always we would love to hear from you.

Advice from an expert

March 16, 2018

Postpartum Exercise advice from one of our CONTOUR Instructors, Claire.

One of the best things about our studio is the quality of our Pilates’ trainers and at CONTOUR we are very lucky to have an instructor who specialises in pre and postnatal Pilates. Claire has been with us since we opened and has been teaching Pilates for over 6 years. Naturally, with her Pilates specialism, she was one of the first people I consulted as I began my return to fitness after the birth of my son Angus.

Claire is also a mum herself and understands that returning to exercise, and more importantly, sticking with it can be hard for many reasons. “It can be quite intimidating coming back to the studio after time away and I want to make sure all my clients, especially our new mums, leave their workouts feeling better than when they walked in” says Claire.

Claire’s top tips for your postpartum exercise journey

First exercises

Don’t be over keen to get straight back into exercise. Your body has been through a marathon so give it time to rest and recover, especially as you will be very tired during those early weeks. Once you have received your six to eight week postnatal check-up (ten weeks for a C-section), you can then safely return to exercise. But prior to this plenty of walking and basic exercises, such as femur arcs and single leg raises which start to engage the tummy muscles, can be done at home.

Extra care for your abdominals

As your abdominal muscles split apart when you are pregnant, it is important to examine your tummy to ensure the healing process has begun. When returning to a ‘normal’ exercise programme make sure that you have a gap of no more than two fingers in width between either side of your abdominal muscles. Your instructor should be able to check your abdominals for Diastasis Recti and make sure you are good to go.

Match effort with second trimester effort

When you return to exercise your programme should be similar to the one you were undertaking during your second trimester. Try to stay away from flexion exercises as this will put a lot of pressure on the abdominal muscles and pelvic floor. Instead, choose exercises such as planks and abdominal hollowing to engage the core muscles.

Low impact exercise

Stay away from high impact exercises and choose low impact versions instead. This is why Pilates is a perfect postpartum exercise because it gives you a whole-body workout without impact. In addition, your exercise journey should incorporate lots of walking, especially in the early days. This can be progressed to jogging as you get fitter and stronger. Take note that Relaxin, the pregnancy hormone which makes joints more elastic and unstable, can stay in your body for up to six months after birth and even longer if you choose to breast feed.

Rest is just as important

Try to incorporate some rest and relaxation into the end of your workout. Babies feed off our energy and a happy relaxed mum will lead to a happy relaxed baby after your exercise session.

Claire has helped remind me that postpartum exercise, especially the early parts of your programme, should really focus on recovery and slow strength building. If you would like to chat with Claire about any part of your post baby exercise routine, just drop into the studio and have a chat with her or leave us a comment below and we will get back to you.

Claire teaches the following sessions at CONTOUR:

· Tuesday evenings at 19:00 (Barre Class) and 20:00 (Cardio Jump).

· Friday mornings at 09:30 (Barre Class), 10:30 (Barre Class), 11:30 (Mixed Ability Reformer Pilates).

· Saturday mornings 10:00 (Dynamic Power Pilates), 11:00 (Barre).

What I have learned

March 9, 2018


One of the things we hear most often at the studio is how difficult it is to return to exercise after having a baby. I hear you! Returning to exercise, for whatever reason, after a significant break can be tough. It is about finding a way to re-create a habit that was previously well established but accepting that this is a new chapter and the new routines you establish will be different.

Before your baby arrives it can be easy to start imagining how your new exercise regime will pan out once you have given birth, but this kind of planning can often put a lot of pressure on new mums. In your new baby filled world, where tiredness and physical exhaustion prevent even the simplest things being achieved. It is easy to begin to feel like a failure if you are not keeping up with where you thought you would be. It just adds to a feeling of overwhelm.

After my first child I struggled mentally to accept that things take time, but this time I have planned my return to exercise with a clearly defined goal which is to help my body get stronger and move better. This goal is so important to me, that it also happens to be our motto at the studio! I plan to be stronger by the end of the year than I was before I was pregnant. By defining  what I want it has helped me more clearly lay out how I can get there and a few simple changes in attitude have made my postpartum exercise routine more manageable. I wanted to share these with anyone who is struggling to return to exercise after an extended break as they are three simple things that can make the difference between quitting and returning to fitness.

Make exercise a habit
My first aim is create a new habit. However it fits into your new life, you need to make exercise a routine. Schedule your time for exercise in the same way you would schedule in feeding the baby, it’s non negotiable! By treating the post baby part of my life as a new chapter. I find it easier to start afresh with my routine and drop the comparisons with my previous exercise routine. In the same way I know Angus will need feeding, I know my body needs exercise for both my physical and mental health. I know by making myself stronger physically I will be better able to cope with everything. Scheduling your workouts in this way means it’s a non negotiable time, it’s a need rather than a luxury

Monitor Progress
The second thing I have found very helpful is to monitor my progress. Keep going. Find a buddy, record your activities or take measurements of how your body is changing! However you do it, I find making yourself accountable can be a really positive and encouraging thing. Whether your exercise buddy is there to support you in real life or is there online encouraging you, the comradery of an exercise buddy can be a massive help. For me I find recording my activities and noting my progress is a huge boost that keeps me going.

Have Fun!
And the third is to enjoy, to appreciate that this is my time, alone and doing what I love. It’s my few moments peace in a hectic schedule and it’s so important that I look after myself both mentally and physically. It’s a chance for me to clear my head and for me to work towards my own goal of getting stronger.

The lack of time and a lack of energy are definitely the two biggest things I struggle with. But by having my schedule and goals I find I am making better progress this time around and finding it easier to stick with it. What’s the biggest thing you are wrestling with in your return to exercise, whether it be post baby, post injury and of just after a break? Share your thoughts in the comments below and let me know what has worked for you.


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