Ask the Trainer: Hayley

Ask the Trainer: Hayley

Female fitness expert at MotivatePT

Reps Level 3 Qualified / Pre & Post Natal

What are the best strength building exercises during pregnancy and as your bump gets bigger?

Building strong glutes will always be beneficial as you get heavier and also to help during labour so squats and lunges can remain a safe and staple part of exercise routines. Just remember to adjust your technique as your bump gets bigger. Your feet may go slightly wider, toes turn out a little (just make sure that your knees and toes are pointing in the same direction) and you probably won’t squat as low. With your lunges you may need to hold onto something for balance and you might not want to bring your knee all the way to the floor.

I always encourage my clients to increase strength in their middle/upper back as this area often takes a lot of strain as the breasts get larger/heavier. You will also spend a lot of time once the baby has arrived feeding them or just holding them in front of you which can cause your shoulders to round forwards. A set of resistance bands are very cost effective, take up no room and you can perform so many strength building exercises with them. Try standing with your arms straight out in front of you at shoulder height, holding the band with your palms facing downwards. Exhales as you pull the band outwards and squeeze your shoulder blades in towards your spine. Try to keep your arms straight and your shoulders away from your ears as you do it. You could even do it with your back against the wall to stop yourself from cheating.

You may not be able to see it but your pelvic floor muscles are so important and are often ignored until a problem starts, so why not strengthen them beforehand and prevent future issues?

I am experiencing sciatica during my pregnancy and have never had this before. As a wellness professional what are your top three tips for surviving this phase and can exercise help?

Yes, exercise can most definitely help, in fact it may be staying in one position for too long that is causing the issue to begin with, so my first tip would be that if you find yourself sitting for long periods of time make sure that you get up regularly to move around or instead of sitting on the sofa you could always grab a large exercise ball to sit on and gently circle your hips or rock your pelvis forwards and back.

“As sciatica pain is often caused by tight glutes, hamstrings and the lower back, stretching out these muscles is often very helpful.”

Try the pigeon pose on the floor with a cushion or towel underneath the glute of your bent front leg or as your bump gets bigger you can stretch the same muscles by sitting on a chair and crossing the ankle of one leg over the opposite knee and letting the opened hip relax to the side. Gently hinge forwards at your hips making sure not to squash your bump!

Lastly let’s try to lengthen out your lower back and hamstrings. As your bump gets larger this will cause your posture to change and often causes your lower back muscles to be in a shortened position for long periods of time. Gently lengthen them out by standing with your back against the wall (the back of your head, shoulders and coccyx should be touching the wall). Your feet can be slightly forwards, hip width apart and with soft knees. As you exhale, tip your pelvis and try to press your lower back against the wall without letting your head and shoulders lose contact. Inhale as you return to neutral and exhale to repeat. Try to do this for 3 sets of 10 with a short break in between sets.

To lengthen out your hamstrings place your hands onto the back of a chair or a counter top roughly at hip height. Step both feet backwards until you are creating a right angle as you hinge at your hips, your arms will be stretched out over head with your torso parallel to the floor. As you exhale try to tip your tailbone up towards the ceiling and gently press your chest towards the floor. Hold for 30 seconds. This stretch has the added bonus of stretching out the chest muscles too!

You recently had a baby! What are your top five tips for helping to lose the baby weight and feeling more like yourself again?

You will now forever be postnatal! Your body has changed and that is ok, so try to fall in love with the journey and set new goals that match your new priorities (it’s not just about you anymore). A lot will depend on how active you were before and during pregnancy but either way it should be a slow return back to your post baby weight and even then your body may still look different to how it did before.

In the immediate few weeks after birth (c-section or vaginal) your only focus should be on nurturing your baby and developing your bond. After the first few weeks and depending on the type of birth experience you had, you might start to introduce some light exercise, once cleared by your doctor.

Slowly start to introduce more daily movement into your routine after the first 6 weeks and set realistic targets.

“Walks outside with your newest family member are wonderful as it can lift your overall mood and you get vital vitamin D as well as gently toning muscles and using some surplus calories.”

I was very lucky that my little girl was born in May and this meant that I walked everywhere throughout the summer and really felt the mental and physical benefit!

 As mentioned previously your pelvic floor should be one of your main focuses in order to help prevent any future problems. I always recommend that my clients see a women’s health physiotherapist in the months post birth in order to get a proper check of their abdominal separation, pelvic floor tone and to check if they are performing their pelvic floor exercises correctly. A strong pelvic floor will also enable you to introduce more dynamic, high intensity exercises further in the future.

 You may want to introduce a slight calorie deficit to aid your weight loss but please remember to keep it small and that this should be a long term goal and not a quick fix. If you are breastfeeding you can use up to an extra 500 calories a day but try not to use this as an excuse to eat what you want (500 calories really isn’t that much). You will be tired so having meals prepared and stored in the freezer is always a great way to make sure that you are getting meals of nutritional value rather than fast foods. It can also be a great way to involve friends/ family members that want to help. Why not ask them for a tray of vegetable lasagne, or a tub of chilli which you can add to a jacket potato later?

As more time passes you might start to increase your exercise routine to include weights. Again, start small and slowly build up. I felt a little disappointed the first time I was back in the gym because my weights were so low compared to pre-pregnancy but within a few sessions my weights were increasing and I was really enjoying my sessions and the feeling of getting stronger again. This is where a trainer specializing in post natal fitness will be important for you to safely build your routine over time.

I find it is important to encourage the carving out of some me-time where you do something that you used to do pre-baby or start something you have always wanted to try. I go to a dance class one evening a week and this really helps me to reconnect with myself and remember that I am more than ‘just a mum’. That small amount of time to myself is so important to me, although it took a few weeks to get over the feelings of guilt even though my daughter was asleep and didn’t even know I was gone!


Written By Hayley: Female fitness expert at MotivatePT – Reps Level 3 Qualified / Pre & Post Natal

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