Are you impatient to get back to full fitness post-baby? We speak to former professional athlete Emily Freeman about her experience of using Jessica Ennis-Hill's Jennis Postnatal workout programme, and get the lowdown on why slow really is beautiful when it comes to getting back to exercise after giving birth…
When it comes to getting back to fitness after the birth of your baby, there’s a dangerous perception that you should spring back to pre-baby body weight, energy and activity levels ‘celebrity’-quick because that’s what often gets the headlines in magazines and papers all over the world. Take the headline ‘Fastest Celebrity Post-Baby Slim Downs’, which is featured on a website ironically called, Health. No wonder many women feel that there’s a pressure to be back up and running (in some cases, literally) within weeks of their baby’s birth.
The reality, summed up beautifully by Jessica Ennis-Hill's physio Ali Rose, is that: “It takes your body nine months to slowly adapt and change so that you can support the growth and birth of a baby, so it absolutely makes sense that getting back to fitness post-baby should take time, too.”
My postnatal experience
As proof of this philosophy, we chat to retired sprinter, personal trainer and co-founder of Totally Runable , Emily Freeman , who is currently working her way through Jessica Ennis-Hill's Jennis Postnatal app programme.
Hey Emily, how are you doing and how old is your little one?
I’m really good and very busy with my daughter, Esther, who is three months old now.
Before we talk about postnatal exercise, how active were you before you got pregnant with Esther?
I retired from international athletics in 2014 and to keep fit since then I’ve been running regular parkruns , doing the odd 10k and weights in the gym. I’ve also started playing netball. It’s important for me to stay fit as I’m teaching lots of pupils and teachers about the power of running, so that motivates me to practice what I teach.
How did your expectations and the reality differ when it came to getting back to exercise after the birth?
It’s interesting, because I honestly thought that it would be a quick turn-around, and that after a few pelvic floor exercises I’d be good to go, running-wise. The reality was very different and I soon realised that my body needed a slower, more gradual pace. I understand my body pretty well, so it was a bit of a shock that I couldn’t even feel my pelvic floor at first – it was as though it had disappeared!
Ali Rose (Emily and Jess Ennis-Hill’s physio) was really reassuring, and it was good to hear that this is perfectly natural and that my pelvic floor actually needed time to heal before I could move on and do anything beyond the pelvic floor exercises.
At first, I admit that I probably tried to push it a bit quicker than I should – but that made me respect the postnatal recovery process a lot more.
I tucked Esther into her baby carrier and went out for a very slow 40-minute walk. I was very excited, thinking this was the start of long walks every day. But, once I got home, I realised I’d developed groin pain and my pelvis didn’t feel stable. That reinforced the sense that you don’t need to rush.
In the grand scheme of things, this is just a short period in your life
What were your first steps once you’d decided it was time to exercise again?
While I knew my body quite well, I’d never had a baby before, so I wanted to see an expert to ensure my recovery was as strong as it could possibly be. I’d worked with Ali (the physio behind the Jennis Postnatal plan) before and also saw her a couple of times when I was pregnant, so she was the perfect choice. She put me on the Postnatal programme, featured in the app.
How are you finding the Jennis Fitness Postnatal programme?
The programme does feel gentle – but also very effective. At first, it felt as though I wasn’t doing it right because I couldn’t feel anything, but then my leg or tummy muscles would start shaking so I knew it was effective. I can feel the progress in my body and that my strength is beginning to return, but I know there’s a lot to do before my body can withstand the forces I want to put it through.
Are you glad you’ve taken your recovery slowly?
Definitely. I think if I’d been out running after six weeks with no body strength and poor pelvic alignment, I’d have been in pain and shoring up sacroiliac joint problems for the future.
When we look back, we’ll be so glad we took our time getting back to a full fitness programme
What would you say to women wanting to get back to peak fitness after having a baby?
Don’t rush it! Your body has been through so much and it pays to get your recovery right, right from the start – especially if you want another baby. There’s quite a lot going on in your life at this point – hormones, lack of sleep, a baby to care for – so this is your time to watch a bit of Netflix, feed your baby and take your time getting back to normal. Don’t feel guilty about it.
In the grand scheme of things, this is just a short period in your life. After all, the nine months of pregnancy flew by, so the next few months will too. When we look back, we’ll be so glad we took our time getting back to a full fitness programme.