Postnatal exercise with Jessica Ennis-Hill


by Mother & Baby |

Whether you're keen to start some postnatal exercise or it's currently the last thing on your mind, it's important to get back into postnatal fitness gradually.

Not only has your amazing body grown your gorgeous baby, providing both you and her with constant nutrients, but it’s brought your little bundle of love into the world in some way or other. But there may come a point – whether that’s eight weeks or eight months ­– where you consider taking up some form of postnatal exercise following the birth of your baby.

‘I was really lucky after the birth of Reggie, my first son. Because I planned to go back to professional athletics and I had the Rio Olympics ahead of me, I was working with an amazing team of physios and together we created a plan to help me gradually get back into fitness,’ says Olympic Heptathlon Champion, Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill. ‘The biggest challenge after having my babies was wanting to get back into fitness super quickly. I wanted to do dynamic things like start running and doing ab exercises, but they weren’t the right exercises at all and it took a lot for me to mentally trust the process of getting back to fitness patiently and in the right way. It took me time to understand that the gradual approach works best after having a baby.’

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And whether you’re a complete novice or it’s something you enjoyed pre-baby, there’s still a lot to consider. After all, it’s been a busy nine months!

‘You forget that your body changes in really small ways over a gradual period of nine months when you’re pregnant, so you have to take time to get it back. And all those small, deliberate exercises are actually incredibly important in helping that happen,’ explains Jess. ‘People look at me and think that because I was fit and had abs before I got pregnant that I would just get back straight into it (and I think part of me thought that would happen, too). But I didn’t realise how much my body and abdominal muscles had changed. Spending the time getting back into fitness after having a baby will put you in a much better position fitness and health-wise for the future.’


But remember, every mum and every body is different. If you’ve decided you’d like to start exercising, how do you know if you’re ready? If you’ve had a straightforward birth, the NHS recommends gentle exercises as soon as you feel ready. ‘If you feel up to it, you can get started with very gentle pelvic floor exercises which are designed to help you build up strength in specific places and which you can then build on later on,’ says Jess. ‘It will feel tender, so start gently and be kind to yourself. If you have stitches too, it could feel quite numb and uncomfortable. But starting the exercises as soon as 24 hours after the birth can relieve the numbness and aid the healing process.’

If you’re keen to start high-impact exercises such as running or aerobics, it’s a good idea to wait until after your six-week postnatal check so you can get the go-ahead and if you’ve had a caesarean or complicated delivery, talk to your midwife, health visitor or GP as your recovery time will be longer.

While you might not naturally be exercise inclined, the benefits might convince you otherwise. ‘There are so many benefits both physically and mentally. Exercising post-birth can have huge psychological benefits by reducing anxiety and decreasing depression,’ says Jess. ‘Starting pelvic floor exercises after birth helps reduce the risk of urinary incontinence and also helps to increase the recovery from an abdominal split. Exercise can also help to increase bone density and can improve your body awareness and thus improve posture.’ Now that’s all very well and good but if you’re wondering exactly how you’re meant to fit exercise into your hectic life to reap such benefits, we don’t blame you.


‘Finding time to exercise is difficult and requires lots of planning and organisation as a busy mum,’ agrees Jess. ‘With both Liv and Reggie, as soon as it was nap-time I’d do a quick 20-minute circuit. I could never 100 percent plan it, but as long as I had that in my mind as my plan, more often than not I would make it happen. Using nap time or someone to watch the baby for 20 mins whilst you exercise is a great way to fit in a bit of exercise.’

It might not be time that is the issue for you. Even just considering exercise when you’ve been running around after a baby all day and you’ve had no sleep can feel a bit much. But it’s worth pushing through when you can.

‘The hardest thing is probably not the exercises themselves but the mental motivation to do them, so my biggest advice is to look at exercise time after as time for you, almost like a date with yourself,’ recommends Jess. ‘It’s so, so important that you do that, not just for your physical health but for your mental health – especially when you have so many changes taking place in your life and routine and your body.’

Jess’s top five exercise tips 

  • ‘Plan your sessions in advance and put them in as dates for yourself. I always used to do my plan on a Sunday night, even when I was pregnant. You should see it as me time.’

  • ‘Pelvic floor everywhere: I am passionate about pelvic floor and my Postnatal physio has lots of tips for doing these, one of which is to do your pelvic floor holds whenever you boil the kettle or make a cup of herbal.’

  • ‘Sessions on my fitness app Jennis are only 20 – 30 mins, so if your baby is napping or you have a spare half hour, they are easy to squeeze in. I know this is a challenge for a lot of women to find the time, so I designed them deliberately to be short and so they would fit in.’

  • ‘Exercise whilst watching TV at night – I used to do a lot of the pregnancy ache and cramp relieving exercises in front of the television. Just doing 10 mins is better than nothing, so just get going!’

  • ‘Just doing 10 minutes is better than nothing, so just get going! It’s amazing how good you feel after even a small amount of activity.’

Give it a go

Superman with hand lifts 

  • Carefully get onto all fours with your hands shoulder width apart and just in front of your shoulders. Keep your elbows soft

  • Your hips and knees should be at 90 degrees and your knees and feet should be a hip width apart

  • Find your neutral (in this position your back should appear flat), tuck your chin slightly to your chest to keep your neck long. Breathe out and contract your core to 30 percent.

  • To get used to transferring your weight from side to side, try lifting alternate hands (like a cat pawing the floor)

  • Do 10 reps on each arm

Take extra care:
Take care to keep your back flat and ensure that your shoulder blades are flat and your neck doesn’t drop

Mini squats with heel raises

  • Stand with your feet a hip-width apart and your knees soft

  • Find your neutral spine position, relax your shoulders and keep head floating up tall. Breathe out and contract your core

  • Breathe out and keeping your heels on the ground, reach your bottom back and fold through your hips to squat as you float your arms to 90 degrees

  • Breathe in and life both heels off the ground

  • Breathe out and straighten knees to stand

  • Breathe in and lower heels and float your arms down

  • Do 10 reps

Take extra care:
If you are wobbly on your toes, skip the heels raises. You can always try them again when your strength and balance improve. Do this exercise near a wall or stable support in case you lose your balance

Arm reaches with Theraband 

  • Stand with your feet a hip width apart and your knees soft

  • Find your neutral spine position, relax your shoulders and keep your head floating up tall

  • Breathe out and contract your core to 30%

  • Hold a Theraband between your hands so your arms are shoulder width apart and gently move your hands apart to create tension raise your arms to 90 degrees

  • Breathe out and reach your arms forward (your shoulder blades with glide out around rib cage)

  • Breathe in and return (your shoulder blades will glide down and back towards your spine)

  • Do 10 reps

Take extra care:
Take care to keep your head floating up tall and your spine in neutral

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Offering with Theraband 

  • Stand with your feet a hip width apart and your knees soft

  • Find your neutral spine position, relax your shoulders and keep head floating up tall

  • Breathe out and contract your core

  • Place a Theraband around the middle of your back and hold it in both hands with your elbows at your side and bent to 90 degrees

  • Breathe out and return to start position

  • Do 10 reps

Take extra care:
Keep your shoulder blades down and the movement smooth

TIP!
If you find it difficult to keep good form either slacken the Theraband or do it without it.

Best fitness apps for new mums: 

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1) Jennis, £9.99 per month, iOS and Android

Created by Olympic Heptathlon Champion and mum of two, Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill, Jennis is
a health, fitness and confidence-boosting programme. Split into three different sections: fitness, pregnancy and post-natal so you can be sure the advice and workouts are tailored to you, there are plenty of well demonstrated exercises for you to choose from with minimal equipment required.

Why it’s so great for Mums: 'Sessions on my fitness app Jennis are only 20 – 30 mins,' Jess told Motheru0026Baby. 'So if your baby is napping or you have a spare half hour, they are easy to squeeze in. I know this is a challenge for a lot of women to find the time, so I designed them deliberately to be short and so they would fit in.’

Jessica Ennis-Hill has launched her new fitness app, jennis, which includes jennis Fitness, Pregnancy and Post-Natal, on iOS and Android. It costs £9.99 a month.

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