Nearly 4 months ago I was lying in a hospital bed giving birth to my second son Angus. Only a few months on, that moment feels like a lifetime ago! The sleepless nights and the frequent feeds are not behind us yet, but I feel much better than I did at this stage after the birth of my first child. And one of the reasons is because I have focussed some of my time post-birth on my own recovery.

I have come to realise that it is not selfish to take a little time out. As a new mum you need to be kind to yourself, give yourself a little break and don’t feel guilty. Our role can be completely overwhelming at times and it’s so important to carve out some time that is yours. This will probably seem impossible at the beginning but as you and your little one get into your routine together, small pockets of time will start to appear. Grab them and make them yours!

For me my favourite release is to come to the studio and get stuck into a Pilates class, be it with one of our lovely groups or on my own. Over the last six weeks I have been documenting my postpartum exercise journey as I regain my strength and fitness through Pilates. I can’t pretend it hasn’t been tough at times, but by making a plan and finding ways to stick with it has really helped. In the last of our postpartum exercise series, I wanted to share the things that have helped me to keep on track.

Make exercise a habit

The first time I got back to the studio to start exercising again, I was more than a little excited. My body was ready and I felt mentally prepared to get going. But it’s all too easy to ride this wave of enthusiasm and then crash and burn a few weeks down the line.

At the beginning of my journey I chatted with Claire, our CONTOUR instructor with a specialist interest in pre and post-natal Pilates. Together we made a sensible and achievable exercise plan. At the start of each week, I work out what sessions I need to do and how they are going to fit in. Most importantly I have started to treat my Pilates time as non-negotiable, in the same way I would an appointment or a feed for Angus. This helps me, and also my family, and means I am less likely to skip it. Having an overall plan with a goal has made it much easier to make my exercise routine a habit again.

Listen to your body

If something doesn’t feel right your body is telling you something. Stop and slow down. Although you have a schedule, be flexible about how you achieve it, and think about alternate ways to reach your goals for the week. For me, if I have missed a daytime class, I try to stretch at home and do some core work when both boys are in bed. Returning to exercise is journey and one that you need to take at your own pace.

Support exercise with a healthy diet and good sleep

Work on the things that help to support a healthy exercise routine. In the past I have concentrated much more on the exercise part when trying to regain fitness, but I have come to realise the importance of sleep and diet as core components of my journey. If I don’t get these right it is hard to exercise well and my body doesn’t get the maximum benefit or have what it needs to recover. In my last blog post I shared one of my favourite healthy snack recipes. These super-easy-to-make energy balls are helping me avoid the cake that seems to fill a lot of the first few months of motherhood and provide a much more nutritious snack for my body!

As you know, Pilates is my passion and I believe it is has been essential to my postpartum recovery. I am really pleased with where I am after 3 months, but more importantly I am sticking with my exercise plan and slowly regaining my strength and fitness. What do the next few months hold? More of the same I hope in terms of Pilates! My motto for 2018 is ‘Get Stronger, Move Better’ and I am determined to keep going.

We would love to hear how you are getting on. Have you just returned to exercise? Are you a little further on with your journey? Feel free to share what you have learnt or struggled with in the comments below and we can help support each other. If you are returning to exercise after giving birth and want to come talk to us, drop by the studio anytime and myself or Claire our pre and post-natal Pilates instructor would love to chat more!

What you eat makes all the difference to how you feel, and just like sleep, diet is an essential part of your exercise journey. I have always been a big fan of food! I don’t function well without it and I like to eat at regular intervals throughout the day. Everyone is different however. Not every way of eating will suit everyone. In my postpartum return to exercise, I have learnt that the most important thing is to listen to your body. By listening and being mindful about what, and how you eat, you will find your own optimal fuelling which suits your journey and recovery best.

There are a lot of complicated diet plans out there and there is always a new food fad just around the corner. But the basics of a good diet haven’t really changed in decades and science consistently shows the best thing for your body, especially when exercising, is to eat real food. A diet high in wholefoods, with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, beans, nuts and grains is optimal. On the flipside, it’s also a good idea to avoid highly processed foods and take it easy on sugar and red meat. But don’t forget to include the odd treat, I find a relaxed approach rather than strict rules help me the most.

Make time for food

Time is something I think most of wish we had more of. I’m very guilty of eating at my desk or rushing a meal, but a few simple changes have really helped me make sure that even if I’m struggling for time, I am eating well. By re-framing how I think about my diet; as an essential part of my goal of regaining fitness, rather than a separate part of my life, it has become easier. As a result, I have been aiming to block out time to plan, shop and prepare nutritious meals and I find batch cooking at the weekend really helps. This way, if I have to eat at my desk, at least I am eating a nutritious meal rather than a hastily bought sandwich.

Hydration

Keeping hydrated is just as important as maintaining a healthy diet. When you exercise you lose fluid as sweat so it’s important to consider your needs, and just like food, being well hydrated not only improves your workout but also your recovery.

The current government guidelines suggest aiming for between six to eight glasses of water per day. But remember to listen to your own body. If you are thirsty, your body is telling you that it is not fully hydrated and so I find drinking to thirst is one of the best things you can do.

Pre and post workout

When you eat is almost as important as what you eat, and this is something I have been keen to take more notice of in my postpartum journey. I try to spread out my calories throughout the day and have started thinking more about what I eat before and after my work outs to get the maximum benefit.

Eating too much, too close to your class can result in bloating as your body has to divert energy away from digestion and towards your workout muscles. If I am booked into an evening class, I aim to have a good meal (including protein, fats and lots of veggies) two hours before. The protein and fat are slow burning energy and by having them two hours before your workout, you are ensuring your body can use the energy effectively.

If you are looking for a quick pick me up in the run up to your class, I find a snack around thirty minutes before really helps. My favourite snack at the moment is a couple of energy balls. These nutritious nibbles are super easy to make and are packed with goodness to help you with your work out. In case you want to make your own, here’s my own recipe, they provide a healthy mix of carbohydrate and protein, along with useful vitamins and minerals such iron and B-vitamins. The balls will last for a few days in an airtight container in the fridge but can also be frozen for up to three months, ensuring you always have a healthy snack at hand.

Amy’s utterly nutterly cocoa energy balls

Ingredients:

125g Soft dates

100g Chopped almonds

75g Rolled oats

2tsp Nut butter (almond or peanut work well)

1tbsp Cocoa powder

To coat:

Pick your favourites! I love finely chopped pistachios, dried fruit, desiccated coconut, cocoa powder or dark chocolate chips.

Method:

Put the dates, chopped almonds, oats, almond butter and cocoa powder into a food processor and blend until the nuts are crushed and the mixture is fully blended.

Take a small amount of the mixture and roll it between your hands to make bite sized balls. (This recipe makes between 12-15 energy balls).

Once rolled, choose your coating. Place the coating in a bowl and roll the ball around until covered.

Enjoy!

Let me know if you have any favourite recipes for fuelling and re-fuelling or how you get on if you try my energy balls, we would love to hear from you.

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.

Returning to exercise after having a baby can be a daunting prospect. Even for those who can’t wait to get out there, it can still be a difficult thing to achieve. Your body has been through so much, it often feels like it doesn’t belong to you anymore and the idea of getting it to do anything other than sleep can be tough!

After giving birth nine weeks ago to my second son, Angus, I find myself ready to begin my journey back into exercise. For the last two weeks I have been gradually increasing the amount of walking I am doing which is helping to build some strength back. But it’s time now to get back into the studio which I’m really excited about and I wanted to share my journey with you, to help and encourage anyone returning to exercise after a break.

I’ll be sharing tips for postpartum exercising, the best Pilates routines to get your body back, and other little tips and pointers on how to keep healthy and help your body recover and regain its strength. As you start exercising again you’ll start to get stronger and move better and feel more like your old self!

Pilates is one of the best postpartum exercises you can do because every exercise focuses on strengthening either the abdominals, the pelvic floor muscles or the back, all three of which are affected by pregnancy and child birth.

Here are seven reasons why Pilates is a great choice for your postpartum exercise journey:

1. Slowly does it!

Pilates is something you can take completely at your own pace. If something doesn’t feel right, just stop and reduce the stretch or alternate to another one. At the studio our instructors are here to help, they’ll make sure you’re doing the exercises correctly and at the right intensity for your body, wherever you are on your exercise journey.

2. Build Core Strength

After childbirth it’s really important to try and gradually build up your core strength again. Your core supports your back and helps strengthen your abdominals and pelvic floor muscles, both of which have often been under intense strain during pregnancy and child birth. Building up core strength is one of the best ways to make your recovery easier.

3. Improve your Pelvic Floor Muscles

It’s one of those unfortunate side affects of giving birth, but it happens to the best of us! Pilates is an ideal way to help regain control of those pelvic floor muscles.

4. Love your body again

It’s sometimes hard to regain a sense of ownership of your body after childbirth. You may still be breast feeding, you may still not recognise parts of your body after all it’s been through. Pilates allows you time to focus on your amazing body, to listen and understand as you recover and to re-connect with yourself as you begin exercising again.

5. Feel Great

Pilates, as with any exercise, will help boost your mood through the release of endorphins- the happy hormones produced by your body as you exercise.

6. Feel Stronger

Pilates allows you to focus on strengthening your body. You’ll feel refreshed at the end of a workout and re-energised, rather than too exhausted to do all the things you need to do!

7. Social

We are a very friendly bunch down at Contour Pilates. Joining a class for a post baby workout can give you a chance to meet others in a similar situation. And you might even get a little smile from my son, Angus who often joins me in the mornings at the studio!

Come join me on my journey back to fitness! If you have any questions or would like to share your own stories please do comment below, I would love to hear from you. Or pop down to the studio and have a chat with me or one of our instructors about the best exercises for you post-baby, let’s do this together!

UNLIMITED PASS

November 11, 2016

 

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Why do Pilates?

‘In 20 sessions you will see the difference if you do it regularly’ – Joseph Pilates 

A Pilates class, is a class like no other. It will zip you up inside, you’ll use muscles you never even knew you had and leave feeling like your whole body has been worked hard. Regular classes with us will give you a stronger core, stabilise your spine, improve your posture, work your arms and tighten those areas that some of us don’t like very much – legs, bums and tums. You will also get a cardio workout in all the classes, particularly the barre and DANCE (different style every week – Salsa, Samba, Merengue).

What happens at my first class?

In your first class here at the studio, the instructor will take you through the Pilates technique, get you familiar with the bit of equipment (barre, reformer, small equipment for mat) you will be using and you will get a whole body workout. You will learn about engaging your core, alignment and the breathing. PLEASE COME 5 MINUTES BEFORE the class so that we can give you a health statement to fill out.

All the instructors are very experienced and have at least 5 years experience of teaching Pilates. All levels are very welcome. If you are new to the studio we would encourage you to attend at least 2 beginner classes before moving onto the dynamic classes. 

After my first class?

After a few classes you’ll become more familiar with the reformer, the springs, your core muscles and you’ll begin to see improvements in your posture and flexibility. 

Unlimited Pass

The more you do it, the quicker you will see the results. So, the unlimited pass has been created for this reason. Bring your new years resolution forwards! The pass will allow you to attend all our classes – barre, dance, reformer, and small equipment mat class. Each will challenge your body in different ways.

TO PURCHASE 

The Cadillac

October 6, 2016

Why the Cadillac?

The Cadillac was created by Joseph Pilates for bed ridden patients to help them in their rehab. It does offer more range of movement than the Reformer.
There are over 80 exercises that work the core, develop flexibility, strengthen back and shoulders, and stretch the entire body.You can either work the whole body , or isolate your workout to each part of your body.
The springs give you a slightly different tension to the reformer ropes. With the Cadillac comes more standing work, which is a great challenge for your balance and coordination.

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The trapeze gives it that slightly frightening element of adventure and challenge because you can dangle in the air,which the reformer does not have.
If you are looking to enhance your pilates programme, challenge your body in different ways then the Cadillac is ready for you.

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Private classes with Helen and Sarah are available. Please do email Amy with a time and day that suits you – amy@reformerpilatesbrentwood.co.uk. Give it a go, it is great fun!

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