#mamastrong: Fit for Two

It’s a brand new year, so what are you going to do? (I mean, besides create a new human, as if that isn’t enough).  Chances are, you’re thinking about exercise. Maybe you’ve never really been into it before, but are ready to make it part of your routine. Maybe you’re trying to get back into it after your routine got turned upside down with a new baby. Maybe you’ve always been an exerciser, but you’re looking for some new ideas to mix it up. Or maybe you’re just not so sure.

Because we’re thinking about you thinking about exercise, we talked to two experts about everything from how much to exercise, to what to focus on and what to wear: Tim Sweeney, the Director, Personal Trainer for Transformation at Equinox and the father of three adorable young sons; and Val Munger co-founder of Matletik Activewear (@matletikworld) and mother of one plus one on the way!

First, we talked to Tim, who has been my personal trainer for 8 years and saw me through two very different pregnancies and recoveries. We asked him everything we’ve ever wondered about exercising during and after pregnancy and he answered!

I’m so tired. Is it better to take a nap or exercise?

So often it’s easy to justify a nap. House is quiet. Baby is asleep. You finally get alone time. But is it better to nap or dust off your sneakers and get to work? The answer isn’t so simple, as the balance between rest and exercise isn’t always easy.

Most sleep experts will advocate at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night. But when you’re expecting...or you have a little one in the crib, 8 hours is a luxury that seems unrealistic for most. On the other hand, exercise will make you more energetic. Over time, you will notice that you have more energy to push more during your workouts. So, is it better to take a nap or workout? If you’re barely able to keep your eyes open, a nap is better. You never want to risk an injury while working out - and your risk dramatically increases when you’re sleep deprived.

How much time do I need to exercise to make a difference?

If you’re just beginning, your best bet is to set aside a small amount of time, perhaps 10-15 minutes on your first day. Slowly add time to your workouts as your energy increases until you’re up to 30-45 minutes. Generally, exercising for more than 45 minutes with intensity will lead to a loss of hormone production and a decrease in the quality of your exercise. The best rule of thumb is to keep your workouts between 30 and 45 minutes.

I’m not trying to lose weight during pregnancy, so why should I exercise?

There are many benefits to exercise that pregnant women should be aware of. Stress reduction, bone density, increased energy, better blood circulation, stable blood sugar (for you and the little one), and of course, increased strength are some of the great benefits to exercise.

I never really exercised much before pregnancy. Is it OK to start now? If so, what are the best exercises for me to do?

Before beginning any exercise program, you should always consult with your doctor. Healthy women who get their doctor’s consent, can expect to start very slowly with a close eye on heart rate. With your developing fetus, you don’t want to overtax your body. If you don’t have a heart rate monitor, you should consider the investment and learn how to use it properly to stay safe while getting yourself and your baby healthy through exercise. The best exercises to start are usually bodyweight movements that don’t require a great deal of equipment. It is difficult to injure yourself with your bodyweight. So, squats and lunges are a good idea if your knees and hips are healthy. Planks are also a great exercise that help to target the core muscles that you will need throughout pregnancy and beyond.

Are there any exercises that I should avoid during pregnancy?

Exercises that will increase your heart rate beyond the limit your doctor sets are a bad idea. In general, however, if you have been exercising before becoming pregnant, continue with your workouts, being careful to avoid anything that feels uncomfortable or too intense. Most times, you will be the best judge on what exercise “feels” good and which are better left to after pregnancy.

What are your top exercises for pregnancy?

The best exercise for pregnant women is to simply walk. Not only does walking increase blood circulation, but the rhythmic motion of walking is soothing to your baby. Walking will increase your cardio capacity as well and reduce stress. The second best movement for pregnant women is some type of lower body squat or lunge. As your baby grows, the compressive weight on your lower body can begin to be painful. Keeping your legs (and butt) strong will help you through the last couple months of pregnancy when stair climbing can be arduous. For the upper body, pregnant women also need to keep their arms and shoulders strong in preparation for holding their baby for (sometimes) hours on end! If you have healthy shoulders, a simple overhead press is a great way to strengthen the arms and shoulders. Choose a weight that you can perform 12-15 repetitions with control.

Can I exercise right up until my due date?

The decision to stop exercising before your due date is a personal one. Always keep your doctor up to date on your exercise routines and frequency. It should be a team decision between you and your doctor when you should stop and also, when you resume exercise. For some women, the decision is made for them if there is a medical complication. For others, exercise is done up until the day of delivery.

How soon can I start exercising after I had the baby?

The safest bet is to always ask your doctor when it’s safe to start exercising after your delivery. For most healthy women, doctors will restrict activity for about 6 weeks. However long you are advised to wait, begin slowly and build up your exercise tolerance.

What are your top exercises for postpartum?

For most women, postpartum means time to get the weight off. After your delivery, you aren’t as limited in exercise as you were before delivery. Healthy women don’t have to adhere to a strict heart rate limit, which means your workouts can increase in intensity. In addition to moving through your workouts quicker (to burn more calories), you can increase the weights to get more blood pumping. One of the best exercises for burning fat is to sprint. A sprint a usually a short distance in which you reach your top speed quickly and try to maintain it for as long as you can. Once your speed decreases, the sprint is over. Most people can sprint 30-50 meters before they tire. Afterwards, catch your breath and then repeat for up to 10 times for a kick ass workout.

What are some exercises I can do with my kids? I don’t have a nanny or daycare.

New mommies have found countless ways to exercise with their babies close by (and sometimes latched to them). Putting your little one in the stroller and going for a walk is one of the best ways to include them in your daily active routine. Some moms who are runners will have a jogger and go for a run while pushing their little one - which is a tougher workout than it sounds! Some new moms will strap their babies to them and go for a walk. Studies consistently show that if you want your little ones to grow up to love exercise, the best thing you can do is to have them watch you workout. Babies and toddlers will want to model their behavior after you and are less likely to want to exercise simply because you “told them to”.

Should I get a fitbit or smart watch? What do they do?

Techwear is a booming industry. FitBit and the Apple watch are great tools to help you track certain data points. For example, they can track how many steps you take during the course of your day and come with a built in heart rate monitor. Some devices will track your sleep and act as an alarm clock to wake you up at the ideal moment in your sleep cycle. Keep in mind that nothing can substitute for hard work. Tracking some things with wearable tech devices can help to improve your workouts and make them more fun.

How do I stay motivated/build a routine?

Thanks to the information age, there are hundreds of ways to find creative fitness routines to help you stay motivated. After all, not everyone can afford the luxury to hire a personal trainer. A quick search online or in the App store will reveal hundreds of routines that are fun, quick, and effective. Studies show that new moms who have a partner in crime (perhaps another new mom) are more consistent and see more results. Friends who workout together are more likely to stick with it and motivate each other on those days that you just don’t feel like it. But even if you can’t find someone who is as passionate about getting fit post partum, online fitness routines today are interactive and keep you engaged.

Now that we know all that, we wanted to know what to wear to feel confident and look like we know what we’re doing. Here’s our expert, Val, on what to wear.

Do I need to buy clothes to work out in while I’m pregnant, or will my normal leggings work?

Most women think they can keep wearing their regular workout clothes when pregnant…. until they get to a certain point where they feel very uncomfortable and realize they need suitable attire.  It is important to choose leggings with a waistband designed to stretch and support the belly with no uncomfortable seams digging in. They also need to feel comfortable and have some support in the lower back. A high percentage of spandex as well as a four way stretch will allow the material to expand with the belly and also gain its original shape back after the pregnancy. The moisture wicking property is also a major part of the comfort so the clothes keep dry and evacuate the sweat. When you are 6 months pregnant, even going up a few stairs can be a workout. You need the most comfort possible! The last important thing I would say would be to invest in quality products that are designed to be worn during pregnancy as well as after the birth, to benefit from the maximum comfort and the longer usage.

I’ve had the baby and am cleared to exercise, but I feel self-conscious about my flabby, sad postpartum belly. Any advice?

First of all don't put too much pressure on yourself! It’s all about gaining confidence in your changed body and time will be a good ally. Wear comfortable clothes that are not too tight but still support your abdomen. Wearing looser tops can help you maintain a positive self image for the first few months until you feel less conscious about your stomach.

As a mama who exercised regularly during pregnancy, I can relate to her advice. I bought only one pair of leggings and one tank top, so that meant they were in the washing machine two to three times a week! I got so damn tired of washing those leggings and toward the end, they were sagging in an area that just didn’t need any more sag, if you know what I mean. Also, moisture wicking? Yeah, let’s just say that’s a good idea.

In the end, what’s most important is doing something that makes you feel great. A walk on a beautiful day with your kids, a game of tennis with your pals, some yoga to clear your mind. Whatever it is that makes you feel like you is time well spent in our book. My boys are now 5 and 1.5, and when they ask me why I exercise, I tell them it’s so that I can keep picking them up and stay one step faster than them as they grow, and man, is that the truth. I also want to make sure that I do everything in my power to make sure I’m around and feeling good to watch them grow up and become the people they are supposed to be. Whatever your motivation, go on and be #mamastrong.