My most important piece of advice for new mothers wanting to create a strong, healthy post-baby body is not to think about this as “going back to your pre-baby body”. Instead, see this as finding a ‘new strong you’. The body has been through a lot and it’s time to think about healing and strengthening and creating a strong body for what’s ahead.
Here are a few tips to get you started.
Turn off the noise
If social media or TV is becoming triggering and making you feel less than perfect, switch it off. The Kardashians, Love Island, et al are just not helpful, not relatable, and not real! Please be mindful that you just grew a human in your body. You grew a new organ (the placenta), and your ribs, hips and pelvis shifted! It’s beyond bananas what your body has just done. So, focus on generating a little gratitude and relaxation for your body – it’s an important part of the healing process.
Proper breathing pre/postnatal is one of the ultimate ways to find you and your body again. Focusing on strengthening your breath connection creates a stabilised and better-supported overall well-being. Here is a gentle reminder of what has happened in your body while carrying a child. As a baby grows, all of your internals get shifted, squished and jumbled around in your body. This is why many new mothers experience leaking urine, abdominal separation and severe lower back pain. Focusing back in on your breath will help to heal your internals and calm your nervous system that has been and is still overly stimulated.
Aim for full, deep inhales and exhales to truly fill your lungs to capacity. You want your entire midsection to breathe, opening like an umbrella and then closing back up. There are several core and floor conditions (including incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse and diastasis recti) that may be managed using this technique. It is incredibly effective at activating and strengthening your inner core – your diaphragm, innermost abs (transverse abdominals) and pelvic floor – during pregnancy and it is one of the first exercises you can do after childbirth to begin retraining your core muscles. Be aware that focusing on your breathing is a huge task and very challenging.
Make your home your gym
One consequence of the pandemic restrictions is that working out at home is bigger than ever, and it is absolutely a perfect fit for a new mother, a full-time mother, or a full-time mother/full-time working mother. It’s a great fit for the entire household. You can start out simply, with no equipment, and then over time invest in resistance bands, hand weights, a kettlebell and one of my personal favourites, a pilates playground ball. I have some fab, quick, effective workouts on my Bizzimumzi YouTube channel and you will find some of my favourite moves listed further below.
If you’re wondering how a home gym with no equipment looks, here are my favourite quick and highly effective workout moves that require no apparatus.
Please note that if you do have any concerns with your pelvic floor, or prolapse, or are early postpartum, you should definitely check in with your Women’s Health Physiotherapist before beginning any exercise routine.
This movement is a wonderful way to strengthen the hamstrings and glutes while increasing the flexibility of the front of the leg. Also, when activated properly you will feel support from your pelvic floor.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet hip-width distance apart. Lift your tailbone and lower spine off the mat to create a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Press down through your feet – this will create a tense sensation in your hamstrings and butt. Slowly lower with control back down. You want to avoid arching the back and not allowing the ribs to flare. Essentially you are too high up if this happens. This movement is all about lower body engagement.
A glorious pilates move that really sizzles into the glutes, and inner/outer thighs, and switches your abs on as a bonus.
Lay down on one side, bend both knees just shy of a 90-degree angle bend, and press your top hand into the floor to help support yourself. You will lift both shins/feet/ankles off the floor as if you have a ski slope from the toes down to the knee. The bottom knee will stay on the floor as an anchor while you lift the top leg up and down. Each lift is a squeeze at the top and a control/resistance down to the bottom. Once you master the single lift up and down, you can add three beats; up, hold for three, then down. I dive further into Clam choreography on my Bizzimumzi Youtube channel.
Lunging is an amazingly functional movement. We frequently lunge in the lounge room to grab things on or near the floor, in the kitchen to get to the lower cupboards, pick up the washing, picking things up from the floor. You are most likely lunging incidentally daily.
Take a nice, generous step back with one leg and bend both knees. You will drop low into your best 90-degree angle bend. If the balance is not on your side, hold onto a sturdy piece of furniture. You can start with a simple hold in the lunge. Posture and engagement are key as you want to feel an elongated spine, a lift up from your pelvic floor to the tippy top of your abs. Your ribs are soft down the front of the body, and you are breathing. Adding pulses will intensify the deep burn. I used to hold my daughter in my arms and do 20–30 pulses on each side during my early postpartum recovery. Remember what chosen sequence you do on one side, you must do on the other to balance the body.
I’m a huge lover and advocate of all Barre moves. They truly get into the nitty-gritty of your body. The traditional standing kick-back gives you a full body burn by switching on so many muscles all over.
You will need a sturdy piece of furniture or a clear wall space. Face your sturdy piece of furniture, both feet parallel together and bend both knees. Allow a small incline of the body forward while tucking the tailbone down and under, pulling up through the abs. Bend and bring your right heel up towards your butt. Your supporting knee is bent as well. When you look down to check the positioning of your legs, notice that the right leg lifted is ever so slightly back behind the left to start. You will then begin pressing the entire right leg back sustaining the bend of the leg. Imagine you are squeezing an orange between your calf and hamstring. This will create deeper resistance to really switch on your hamstring up into the glute muscle. Aim for 10-20 reps to start, as you gain strength simply add more reps. You can also play with a three-beat push and a press hold for 5-10 seconds. Playing with different choreography within the position keeps the muscles guessing, engaged and deeper burn.
Ashley Verma is the founder of the Bizzimumzi podcast, and Define London fitness studio. She is a former Broadway performer and celebrity trainer.