Coming Back From Pregnancy as a Fitness Instructor: Re- Blog

I wrote this blog one year ago.  At the time I’d just written a blog about periods and teaching group exercise and it had highlighted that there are plenty of topics out there that affect lots of us but never get talked about. Talking about these things can help us, whether that be by letting us know we aren’t alone or by teaching us how other people have dealt with experiences either giving us tips or reassuring us that what we feel isn’t unusual.

As part of this I then wrote this blog in collaboration with Jo Brickell- Haggen.  This was one of the blogs (along with ones of period and smear tests) that made me really want to write about topics that are often ignored overlooked to try and encourage conversation which will hopefully help people who are experiencing the same things.

Because of this I’m really proud of this blog and one year later I thought it was a great time to republish it.  I know it’s a strange time at the moment and really the current health crisis is at the forefront of most of our minds but that doesn’t mean we can’t still talk about other aspects of life (and sometimes a break from CoronaVirus is welcome right?). 

So below is the blog all over again… 

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 2018.  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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Be A Lady

International Women’s Day. A day that conjures up lots of ‘Strong Women’ quotes and equally lots of why should we be designated just one day or surely there’s equality now why is it even needed.

If anything sums up why even in 2020 women’s rights still need to be campaigned for this video does.

https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/www.independent.co.uk/life-style/women/cynthia-nixon-be-a-lady-video-they-say-girls-magazine-feminism-a9359611.html%3famp

Whilst women in the majority of the western world have equality on paper, there’s still an awful lot of double standards we are exposed to.

So today is a day to celebrate female achievements but it’s also a day to campaign for continued change.

This years campaign theme is #EachforEqual

The website states

“An equal world is an enabled world.

Individually, we’re all responsible for our own thoughts and actions – all day, every day.

We can actively choose to challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, improve situations and celebrate women’s achievements.

Collectively, each one of us can help create a gender equal world.

Let’s all be #EachforEqual.”

The crux of the campaign is that gender equality isn’t just a nice idea it’s an important issue in business and society as a whole and that our own individual actions can all add up together to create collective change.

So today, and in the spirit of this not just being one day. What can you do to promote gender equality (whether you are male or female), whether that idea be small or grand, work related or personal. To take today beyond the realm of ‘just another one of those special days’ requires taking some action.

Me?

One thing I want to continue to promote is the notion that not all women want to be skinny, some women want to be strong and enjoy lifting weights in the gym and the amazing feelings that come from finding your strength. The idea of strong and healthy and fit being more desirable as a goal than just being thin before all else has definitely grown in recent years and this is an area I think as a PT I can help develop and make a positive change in other females perception of themselves.

Periods – What A Pain

Periods are utterly crap. I mean I know that not having them can sometimes also be a negative and sign of various health issues so having a regular period is actually a positive but still.

I have very regular periods, I track and so can predict when I will come on and when they will end. I know what symptoms I’m likely to get and when.  This does not make the current agony I am feeling today any better.  Some months always feel a bit more severe and this month I was particularly clumsy in the days running up to my period – words mixed up, talking even less sense than normal and tripping up over my own feet.  It’s not like I felt sad or even grumpy but the brain fog was severe.  As if that was a prophecy of what was to come the stomach cramps over the last two days have been awful.  Painkillers haven’t helped, nor has exercise or staying hydrated.

I started writing this blog with no idea of what the actual point of it would be.  Maybe that’s the brain fog, maybe that’s just that the pain today is all I can think about so when I sat down to write it was the only thing I could think about writing about (I was initially going to write about calories today, that can wait until later in the week).  Concentrating is hard when you have stomach cramps!

The strange thing about periods is that, despite the fact that the side effects can be really quite extreme at times, we are expected to just carry on with life as normal and, apart from the odd moan, we actually never really discuss how hard it can be to work through the side effects  some days, which is ridiculous really when we ae probably dealing with this for a quarter of every year.

Can you train when you’re on your period? of course you can (and actually sometimes it does help ease cramps).  Exercise instructors will of course teach during them too.  We also go into the office as normal, look after children (well some women anyway) and do everything else we would normally do.  When you think about it though that’s because society has trained us to carry on as if the stomach cramps are just slight discomfort, when actually right now I can assure you I’m not uncomfortable I’m in pain!

Like I say- literally no message to this blog today.  No tips on how to deal with period pain.  Just my observations on how bonkers it is that we get on with this every month with minimal disruption.  Actually, maybe that’s the message for today.  Women are capable of some scary shit when you think about it.

When should you let something go and when should you stand your ground and make a point?

Today I expressed my opinion on a (fitness related) post and some people suggested that if I didn’t agree with the post instead of commenting I should just scroll on by.

Now this is a sentiment I broadly agree with.  If it’s something you don’t like but it doesn’t affect you why chip in.  Although to be fair surely the point of Facebook and other Social Media outlets is to an extent encourage conversation – if nobody ever commented on anything what would be the point?

But what if it’s about something that does affect you in the wider sense? Well, then, I strongly believe you should comment.

I don’t want to go into massive detail here as this blog isn’t meant to be a breakdown of the topic itself, but to put this in context I suggested (in relation to the This Girl Can campaign) the term girl for an adult female in some situations can be used to reduce the female’s status.  I’ve seen this happen in situations where the term is used to infantilise a woman.  This isn’t always done on purpose or with malice but as a society we are conditioned to think of girls as young, attractive and so on whereas woman is seen as an almost insult.  Boys grow into men but women are often continued to be viewed as girls – it’s a seemingly small difference but one of the little things that keep us from achieving true equality.  It’s largely a perception thing, but perception is important and how we view things affect how the next generation grow up viewing things and so on.  It’s also something so accepted by society that even those of us aware of it are likely to slip into habits of referring to ourselves as girls, yet at some point there were many other things considered culturally acceptable which would not be considered so today.

My point was not to tarnish a campaign or accuse the world of gross sexism- merely to put forward my view that the language we use to refer to one another has a wider implication of how we are then treated by and viewed within society.  There have been numerous worrying indications recently that women’s rights are not automatically assured even today (abortion laws in the United States for instance) and so I do not believe that highlighting this point is merely certain women kicking up a fuss over nothing.  None of this means that I judge another female who would want to refer to herself as a girl or that I believe a specific campaign is sexist for using the word – merely that as a society we should be aware of how things are expressed, as language used does have a impact.

I also believe that discussion of such matters can be beneficial – greater understanding of such things can only help make society more understanding and equal (and this goes beyond gender to discussions opening up about mental health, different cultures and beliefs, the list goes on).

As I say though, this was not what I wanted to discuss here.  My question is when do you turn away and ignore something you don’t agree with and when do you stand up and state your view point?

Let’s take it to the extreme.  How many people turned a blind eye to what happened in Nazi Germany in the thirties because they might not have agreed with what was happening but it didn’t affect them so they said nothing?

Sounds too extreme to compare perhaps but fast forward to today.  Many many people have expressed their outrage over the abortion laws being passed in the United States recently.  This does not affect a lot of these people directly – they live in different countries for instance, but have not been criticised for expressing their dismay at the decision (rightly so).

Today, perhaps I could have just scrolled on by.  But I believe there is still subtle gender inequality within society and so I spoke up and I will continue to speak up when I see such occasions I feel call for it.  Because if, in a few years time, we start to see the type of laws being put forward in the USA be put forward here in the UK (abortion is still illegal in Northern Ireland by the way) I want to have known I didn’t just watch things happen because they didn’t affect me directly at the time.  I want to have spoken up, however small the impact I can make alone is, because if we all speak up we can have a voice.

I didn’t believe the campaign in question was negative.  I specifically never said it was negative – in fact I said the opposite! 

I understand it was created by women and designed to do great things and think it has had a positive impact and will hopefully continue to do so.  That doesn’t mean not highlighting the potential issue with the language surrounding it.  Highlighting this does not negate the good.  Quite the opposite understanding the issue some people may have with the language used has the potential to make the campaign stronger and even more inclusive.

What saddened me today was the unwillingness of some to see the other person’s view.  I won’t always agree with you, but I’ll generally try and see things from your point of view too, to understand both sides of the conversation.

I also believe in equality and freedom of speech, from a fitness point of view whatever your age, gender of current level of fitness I’d like this blog to be a place where you can get some useful information of how you can get fitter and feel better (and if you live near me my classes equally so!).

So to finish on a positive note, if you got to this point of this blog I’d love for you to comment or message me with what topics you would find useful for me to write about so I might be able to help you with your diet, training or anything else fitness related.

Have a great weekend!

This Person Can

Due to a new partnership with Les Mills I’ve seen lots about the ‘THIS GIRL CAN’ campaign this week.

Encouraging more people to take part in sport / exercise, encouraging people to exercise regardless of their hang ups and celebrating the fact that a variety of body shapes and sizes can be fit and healthy  – all a tick for me.

Using the word girl as opposed to woman – issue for me, somehow I can’t ever see a This Boy Can campaign being conceived in any boardroom out there.

That being said there are lots of PEOPLE who for various reasons don’t exercise, who could benefit from the encouragement of such a campaign.

Below are my tips for anyone looking to start exercising.

Let’s call it my THIS PERSON CAN Tips:

  1. Pick something you enjoy doing – Don’t enjoy running? Try swimming, dancing, cycling, yoga, classes, netball, football, rugby.  If you enjoy doing it you are more likely to stick to it.
  2. Wear something comfy – You don’t need to spend lots on new gym gear or trainers.  Just wear something you feel comfortable in and allows you to move.  If you need to buy some gym kit to get started Primark and Sports Direct are great places to look for cost effective kit.
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask for / accept help- Join a team or class there will be a coach or instructor to guide you, join a gym and you will probably be entitled to an induction / plan as part of your membership.  Instructors and coaches are there to help (and want to) so accept the help offered to help you as you get started.
  4. You don’t need to be an expert – If you lift enough to challenge you it doesn’t matter if it isn’t what you consider ‘heavy’, if you sweat in a class it doesn’t matter if you’re a bit off the beat, if you walk for bits during a run that’s alright, if you join a team and aren’t brilliant that’s fine.  You don’t have to be brilliant at something to enjoy it or keep doing it.
  5. Females can lift / Males can do Zumba- There is no such things as gender suitable training so move as you see fit and do not worry about how this is perceived.  Generally the fitness world is less judgmental than people tend to imagine, everyone started somewhere so you will find most people to be supportive of others efforts.

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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International Women’s Day 2019

It’s International Women’s Day.

To me today appears to have different meanings for different people.  For some today is about celebrating the achievements made towards gender equality whilst acknowledging there is still work to do and working towards changing that.

For others it’s a day where we all tag other women on Social Media in a show of solidarity.  Nothing wrong with that, it’s nice to support and acknowledge the people in your life you admire and appreciate.

But why don’t we make a choice to do that not just today but for the next 364 days of the year.  If someone deserves recognition give it, if someone needs support offer it.  ‘Strong women fix each others crowns’ and other such quotes don’t have to be confined to today (or the days following a break up).  Next week or next month when you find yourself thinking something judgmental or bitchy about someone (be honest, no matter how kind you are generally we all do it sometimes) stop yourself, re-frame your thoughts and return to the positive female empowerment expressed today.

And take a moment away from all the tagging today to consider the theme of this year’s IWD (every year there is a specific focus) #BalanceForBetter. Working towards gender balance.  What can we all do within our own ecosystems to work towards gender equality, today and everyday?

And Gender Balance – that means it requires men’s input too.

IWD used to annoy me because I viewed it as limiting the importance of half the population to one day.  Now I see it as a chance to refocus our understanding on how we interact with one another both female to female and female to male and use that understanding every day.

P.s. To all the companies who use taglines about female empowerment and strong women today whilst promoting an unrealistic and unhealthy ideal of women the rest of the year.  Shame on you.