I already wrote a little about this on Facebook the other day but got so much feedback on it I thought a blog post series was necessary to talk about it more!
If you’ve been following me for a while by now, you’ll know my fitness philosophy today is so different from the days I worked as a personal trainer at a gym and did competitive sport. Most of the people I’ve worked with over the past eight years are often tired, stressed out, need to lose weight for health reasons, feel generally unhealthy, just want to improve fitness/strength/energy or are mamas who aren’t in the position to prioritise themselves first. I think back to the advice I gave them when I first started working as a PT in my mid-20’s and cringe a little… train hard, train fast, eat clean, do it every day, she’ll be right.
Through my own experience I now wholeheartedly believe that simply getting moving every day and doing it in a sustainable way is so much more important than burning out after a short term get-fit-quick bootcamp effort. Or getting sick/going on holiday and suddenly finding your fitness and health taking a hit but you can’t get it back on track. Or not being able to stick to any kind of fitness routine longer than six weeks. If this sounds familiar, I challenge you to get out moving for 30 minutes in ANY way today. Listen to your body and do some exercise that feels right. Could be at the gym. Could be pushing a pram down the street. Could be some simple easy stretches just before bed. Could be a sports game, a dance class, or a yoga class. Or throwing a ball to your dog. If you do feel like doing a kick-arse workout and it feels right for your body, do it. Just get moving!
My own progress – 4 weeks in
As I’m essentially a stay at home mum now and want to spend more time looking after my daughter than working in my personal training studio, I’m putting together an online programme to help people develop a consistent and safe fitness practice (as opposed to ‘lose ‘x’ kilos in ‘x’ weeks!’ programmes).
Part of this is roadtesting it out on myself. I’ve just taken my 4-week progress photos and here are the results compared to day one. Pretty minimal results measurements/weight-wise, but the pictures speak for themselves. For this reason it’s so important not to get discouraged if you’ve started a programme but the scales – and yes, even the tape measure – aren’t showing anything happening.
My aim in doing this at the moment isn’t about using it to sell my online programme. I’m a busy working mama; I’m not entirely sure I’ll even have the time to make this public-ready any time soon.
I did have a moment of doubt about whether it was a good idea to be putting my own progress photos out there given I’m a personal trainer, but for me this is important so that people can see what a real postnatal woman’s body looks like. I had a dream pregnancy and kept active throughout the entire time, however, after giving birth I had a range of health problems that limited my ability to exercise including barely being able to walk for the first two months, two bouts of mastitis and a breast lump removal with a subsequent infection that landed me in hospital.
There’s also my added difficulty that I have PCOS, or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. This hormonal imbalance can cause you to feel physically and mentally out of whack, and my particular type of PCOS means I’m more likely to easily put on weight around my midsection and have difficulty losing it as well. In the past I’ve managed to keep it under control by going hard and fast at the gym and in various sports for long periods of time, but as a relatively new mama with very little time to dedicate to myself this is no longer an option. I can’t take the medications that previously helped keep my PCOS in check as they affect hormones so I have been off them since before I became pregnant and still cannot take them as I am breastfeeding. I also know myself by now, and I can’t stick to strict diets or nutrition plans as I’m a total foodie, and love spending time in the kitchen or eating out. This has caused me to rethink my attitude towards health and wellness from those days of working in the gym.
These photos of myself showcase realistic results that can be achieved without supplementation, without exclusion or extreme diets (that includes Paleo/Clean eating/Sugar removal etc.), and with a sustainable minimal-cost fitness routine that just consists of 30 minutes of purposeful exercise 5-6 days per week alongside looking for opportunities to be more active throughout your day. I have also been mindful with my eating habits, but still have eaten everything in moderation including sweet foods, alcohol, and healthier versions of takeaways. I wouldn’t even be able to consider anything restrictive anyway as I’m still breastfeeding. During these four weeks I’ve done:
- 2-3 strength training sessions p/week from programmes I’ve written that typically use bodyweight only, but a maximum of 2kg weights (or my 11kg daughter for the odd rep!).
- 2-3 cardio sessions p/week varying between brisk walking outdoors with the pram, using the cardio machines at the gym or going to group fitness classes.
- Every week has 1-2 compulsory rest days but I will often still do a slower walk or some gentle stretching.
- I also do short 20 minute yoga sessions for stress relief, mental clarity and to improve my flexibility (often spread throughout the day as I can’t get a full 20 minutes to myself with baby around!).
My workouts haven’t involved any jumping, running or crunches to help protect my pelvic floor post childbirth and also due to the fact I have both sacroiliac issues in my lower back, and diastasis recti which is the separation of your abdominal muscles. If you’ve had a baby any time in the last few years and have never been assessed for diastasis, I would strongly encourage you to do so as it is often not picked up until you have lower back issues later on.
My fitness routine is much more flexible now than it used to be. I will sometimes do a strength workout in my lounge surrounded by my 1.5-year-old daughter playing with her toys. I might go for a brisk walk to the shops to get some milk, go to the post office or pick up something from the video store. I could do a yoga session while my daughter joins in on my mat. If I’m particularly spoiled for time I might make it down to the gym to train. My sessions are no longer ‘perfect’ (and as a Type-A personality who LOVES perfection, this has been a steep adjusting phase for me!), but I still manage to do them and guess what? They are getting me results.
If you don’t have 30 minutes out of a 24-hour day to exercise, you really do need to look at your timetable and find a way to squeeze it in. Time and again, various initiatives say that half an hour’s exercise a day is the minimum you should be aiming for when it comes to being physically active for better health and wellness (in New Zealand we had Push Play by SPARC which is now Sport New Zealand, a nationwide campaign aimed at encouraging Kiwi communities to get active. It seemed to yield pretty good results but was later disbanded).
Fitness programmes that encourage fast-fix results are cheating you. If you want to improve your dental health, would you brush your teeth for two seconds twice a week for just six weeks? Don’t think so.
Why I’m going this route
I don’t have the endless hours to go to the gym and boundless energy for competitive sport I used to pre-pregnancy, and neither do most people who work full-time hours or more, mothers, and anyone who is stressed out, injured, or overwhelmed with everyday life. Exercise should be fun, purposeful, and most importantly sustainable in the long term so that you have the health and wellness benefits for the rest of your life (rather than just right now).
Many fitness programmes encourage jumping, running and other activities to burn the most calories but can leave you even hungrier for carbs and feeling overtrained the following day. This is because faster results are often seen as a better programme because we don’t feel we have the time to exercise, however they often aren’t easy to maintain in the future and offer little to no support about what to do after you’ve finished or what to do if you can’t keep up with the training.
Next comes supplements. Many fitness programmes end up tied in with supplement promotion as that’s how fitness trainers can diversify their income – so naturally of course they will promote it.
Most of the time there’s nothing really wrong with supplements. However, getting your vitamins and nutrients from a tablet or powder rather than actual fruit or veges may seem quick and easy but they’re not a true substitute for the real deal. Unless you’re actually deficient in something it may even be detrimental to your health to take supplements. I believe that essentially, the same goes for protein versus real meat, tofu, dairy products or similar (this is a different matter if you are a competitive sportsperson, frequent gym-goer or a bodybuilder). A protein shake can be a great snack substitute but for your average person it’s probably not overly necessary if you’re eating a balanced diet. And wouldn’t you rather eat real food instead of a protein shake?
Diets that are based around exclusion or extreme versions of dieting may seem great in the short term to get fast results, but they can play havoc with your nervous system, digestive system, hormones, and psychological processes around eating which may leave you worse off in the long term health-wise. Also, when you start a healthier diet regime, much of the initial weightloss can come from just reducing bloating (from reducing dairy product, certain wind-inducing foods, upping water intake and decreasing salts/fats etc.), so for many short-term programmes that claim to help reduce a lot of kilos, this may be the driver of those results rather than actual fat loss. There are so many ways to achieve weight loss we need to stop looking for the overly quick and simple approach if we want to still be mentally, physically and emotionally healthy years down the track.
I’d love to hear about your health/fitness/wellness journey and your progress, what has worked and what hasn’t worked. Comment below and let me know, and stay tuned for my next ‘Find Your Fitness’ blog post!
Images / NZ Real Health