'Slow and steady': Gradual return to exercise key for new mums wanting to avoid injury - fitness professional

woman exhausted from a run
Norman say high intensity training or running long distances too soon can spell disaster for new mums. Photo credit: Getty Images.

A pair of fitness professionals out to remove the harmful messaging about bodies 'bouncing back' after birth says the key to exercise for new mums is taking it "slow and steady". 

Renee Norman and her business partner and fellow trainer Jenna Smith run 'She Moves', an online community of women including new mothers keen on a safe return to exercise after giving birth. 

They have a team of trainers that deliver a series of online workouts every month to members and are providing free fitness classes on social media throughout the COVID-19 alert level 4 lockdown. 

While Norman says they have a "variety of ages" - the youngest member is 16 and the oldest 76 - their special focus is mums safely returning to exercise. 

"We have a Pelvic Floor Restore class, we have low impact workouts, yoga and mobility work [and more]," she told Newshub. "There's heaps of variety to provide a safe return to exercise for mums, as that's a space that needs a bit of work in this country." 

Renee Norman (right) and her business partner and fellow trainer Jenna Smith (left).
Renee Norman (right) and her business partner and fellow trainer Jenna Smith (left). Photo credit: Supplied.

Norman and Smith are out to remove some of the harmful messaging around returning to exercise, including the idea of "getting your body back" to what it was pre-birth. 

"We constantly and continually have mums come to us after they've gone too hard too fast," Norman revealed.

"In New Zealand, you get six week's clearance and then you're told you can return to exercise. Most of the time that means women try and go back to what they were doing pre-baby, causing themselves damage.

"There are so many physiological changes that take place during a nine-month pregnancy: Changes in hormones, posture, the adrenal system... it doesn't revert back to normal after baby."

Too much too soon can lead to dangers like prolapse or pelvic pain, says Norman, with the key being a "slow, steady and gradual" return to exercise. 

"I always say to people, if you had knee surgery your surgeon wouldn't say go back to doing what you were done pre-surgery. You would work team of professionals [to rehabilitate], it would be gradual with lots of check-ups along the way," she said.

"[But] when it comes to baby, mums have a six-week check which can be pretty surface level, and then get told to go for it."

She said the important thing to remember is that everyone's body is different thanks to genetics, and one new mother's journey back to fitness after birth will be completely different to another's. 

"Some might be ready at six weeks others might not be able to exercise for six months. And different experiences of motherhood also adds to it - some babies are so settled and go straight into a regular routine, others might have colic or cry all the time and mums don't get any sleep." 

With more time on hands thanks to the alert levels three and four across the country, Norman says many women there might be pressure to be "doing so much" when it comes to exercise. 

"But we've been saying, 'just focus on your mental health, move for your mental health'. 

"Take the pressure off and just do 20-30 minutes. Although we've got more time, we've also got childcare, managing households, it's all very full on... think, 'what can I do in 20 minutes that will make me feel better?'. 

"It's all about taking it one workout, one walk at a time. Don't underestimate those basics."