Post Natal & A Fitness Instructor

About a month ago I wrote a blog about how periods affect my teaching of group ex classes.  Turned out I’m not alone in this, it’s just we don’t really talk about it.

The blog also bought to attention the numerous other changes the female body goes through that also affect how we train, how we teach classes and how we feel about our bodies.

I decided I wanted to explore this a little more, because I do believe that the first step to improving understanding on issues which are rarely spoken about is to start talking about them.  I have no personal experience in some of these changes however, and this blog has always been about my personal experiences.

So I reached out to a friend who is both a group exercise instructor and a new mother to try and understand what effects on training and teaching giving birth has had.

Jo gave birth to Jasper in October.  She remained active throughout pregnancy, still teaching Pump until close to the birth and continuing to lift weights and train in Crossfit during pregnancy.  She returned to teaching last week (Pump again to begin with).

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I know from conversations throughout her pregnancy she was very realistic about getting back into training and teaching after the birth, she wasn’t expecting to be back to pre – pregnancy shape within days or weeks and was always going to approach things sensibly.  Her experiences post birth are therefore helpful in appreciating how, no matter our knowledge and realism, there are numerous effects which impact instructors returning after giving birth that we might not give a second though to.

Physical Effects:

“Your alignment is WAY out and no muscles are connecting or firing up so your joints hurt”.  Effectively a new mother has to start again in terms of movement, re-learning how to walk is a reality for some mothers.  No matter how much someone might want to get straight back to teaching within a few weeks, giving birth isn’t something your body can just bounce back from.

“When you can walk for 30 minutes and your insides don’t hurt it could be time to start to exercise again. Meanwhile all your pregnant fitness, despite training to the end, has gone because it’s taken 8 weeks for your wedding cake sized uterus to shrink down to the size of a marble again”.

Many of use have had injuries and then had to regain our fitness following some time out.  Post birth you’re adding time where you cannot train on top of recovering from the physical trauma the body goes though giving birth.

This is of course true for all new mums, but for those who need to bounce about as part of their job, the task of getting your body moving in even a basic way again must be daunting, and having the patience to allow yourself to heal when your income is dependent on you needing to move again must add an extra layer of stress for some.

Jo highlighted the core in particular as a physical challenge post birth.  Now how often do you tell your class to brace their core in the average 45 minute class?

“Training can begin. Only nothing connects. So life is banded muscle activation. Body weight. No impact. And all the core… All you want is intensity but rowing 200 m cuts you in half – literally no core”

As instructors most of us are aware of what to advise our members: check with your doctor / midwife, wait until after you 6 week check up, lower back and core will feel weak, joints are still more supple than normal so injury is still a greater risk.

I’ll be honest until I spoke to Jo about this I don’t think I realised HOW weak someone’s core could feel to them (I’ve limited experience within my classes of members who are post natal).  Every woman is different of course but I for one feel like if I have a recently post natal member in my class having a deeper understanding from someone’s real experience will help me be a better coach.

Mental Effects:

“There’s me thinking I would be teaching at 12 weeks”

Jo was sensible and listened to her body, rebuilding her fitness over time, re- adding in new skills week upon week to build up to a point she could train confidently again.

But the side that probably gets less attention (because we all tend to focus on the physical – our jobs being to train people’s bodies) is how you feel teaching post pregnancy.

“You have no brain. Your brain has been solely focused on building a new human for 40 weeks… You can’t even think straight. Why are you in this room? Who are these people? Not to mention your mini human is here and you’ve never had one before so keeping it alive is now your sole purpose… Researching EVERYTHING 24/7. You forget to eat. You can’t even get out. You have to plan 6 hours in advance to take a new born out.”

Most people, whether they have had kids or not, probably understand to a degree that having a young baby is exhausting.  I cannot imagine learning Body Pump whilst my brain felt like this.  My brain almost explodes during new release time anyway so the pressure of learning and retaining chorey at a time when you don’t feel mentally sharp anyway must be exceptionally tough.

“Then there’s the…. I hate my body. It hurts. I look shit. I’m not me. I’m a human incubator that will never be me again depression”. 

I discussed in my recent post about periods that feeling of standing in front of people wen you are on your period and that yucky feeling that makes you want to fade into the background – not have 30 sets of eyes on you (someone described it well as feeling exposed).  Again here, this is another time when even once you feel fit enough to teach you also have to re- find the confidence to lead despite not feeling confident at all.

Practical Effects:

Apart from who will look after the baby whilst you train, prepare to teach (even teach in the early months before child care is arranged!)

Sleep has a big impact.

More specifically – You don’t get any.

“No rest in the day.  No rest at the night.  So you’re always under fatigue.  So classses seem daunting … and you can’t remember any choreo”

I don’t want to pain a negative picture of training or teaching after giving birth, personally I felt like Jo took to motherhood like a duck to water and nailed it!

As Jo says:

“Train at home . Order food to be delivered online. Join a gym to take baby with you. Gather your support network. Express milk so you can rest and partner feed. Take one hour everyday away from your baby. Plan your meals. Have a routine. Be consistent. And most importantly TALK ABOUT YOUR FEELINGS”

This plan meant that when Jo came back to teaching she loved it and felt great about it, so it’s not all doom and gloom at all, but by understanding the stresses and emotions surrounding training and teaching in the months after giving birth we make the fitness community more supportive and inclusive and allow us to also potentially understand our members better.  We can also understand so help to provide support to those who may not necessarily seem like they need much encouragement.

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There is so much more that could be written in relation to periods, pregnancy and post pregnancy and our understanding of these effects (beyond the standard what modification can I give to a pregnant lady in Pump understanding).  I’m also aware that there are PTs who specialise in pre and postnatal training and some PTs who understand the effect of the menstrual cycle extremely well on training.

What you don’t see very often is discussions of the real effects of these natural physical processes- both physical and mental.  How they affect the more mundane aspects of training or teaching.

We can all rectify that. By talking about experiences we can empower others, both showing them they are not alone in feeling a certain way and also by educating each other in a way that we might be able to better understand both our fellow instructors and also female members.

Thank you to Jo Brickell- Haggan for providing the content for this blog and allowing me to share her honest experiences so freely.

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