If you were a fit chick pre-pregnancy, putting your feet up or taking the occasional stroll is not really going to cut it in the workout stakes, is it? And these days, everyone knows that exercise makes for a more comfortable pregnancy, an easier birth and a happier mum and bub.
Personal trainer Angelica Horvatic specialises in keeping mums-to-be fit and healthy (as well as whipping lardy blobs of new mums back into shape) and has strong views on mummy fitness. ‘Yes, pregnant ladies are in a special condition, but they’re not disabled, they’re not ill,’ she says in her no-nonsense style.
Treating mums-to-be with kid gloves is a little patronising, particularly for gals who worked out pre-bump. ‘Of course, if you’ve never exercised before, it’s not the time to train for a marathon. But if you’ve already been training for a marathon, then why not continue? Whatever you did before, you can do now – with modifications.’
Which is why you’ll see Angelica’s clients kick-boxing, sparring and lifting weights – all activities which would make many non-pregnant women wince. It’s not about dangerously over-exerting yourself, but rather listening to your body and exercising within its new limitations.
Naomi Munro trained with Angelica to help her shift the baby bulge of her first-born and stay in shape for the arrival of bub number two. She straps on a pair of boxing gloves (pink, naturally) and starts jabbing away at a punchbag. ‘If I’m going to exercise, I want to sweat and feel like I’m doing something,’ she says. ‘I need to find it challenging otherwise I get bored.’
Fair enough, but don’t you have to be careful? Of course, says Angelica. That’s why she’s on hand to monitor every move and offer encouragement along the way. She knows what’s safe and what’s not, but she’s not afraid to get tough. Certain positions on the tummy and back are out, and expectant mums shouldn’t exercise in the heat and humidity. All sessions include a lengthy warm-up and cool-down and a gradual build-up of activity, and Angelica can focus on building lower back, arm and shoulder strength (vital for when bambino arrives). Her lessons are customised to her client’s needs, as well as their mood and energy levels on the day. ‘My aim is to increase their positive energy and how they feel about themselves during the whole pregnancy and motherhood – their entire future really!’
Naomi is certainly happy. Having a personal trainer who comes to her home is both convenient and an incentive to stay in shape. ‘Angelica knows what I can and can’t do, but she also asks how everything feels, and if it doesn’t feel right, she changes it. Now I enjoy being pregnant. Pregnancy can feel like a prison sentence, but if you keep active, then you enjoy it. I feel great!’
050 227 9044. Sessions with Angelica start from Dhs250.
Way back in the mists of time, pre-natal exercise consisted of sitting cross-legged in a candle-lit room, ample bottom snuggled on a towel, a few pelvic floor squeezes topped off with a lovely long snooze.
Oh, how times have changed. Opening the door on the pre-natal pilates session at Exhale Studio in Jumeirah Beach Residence, we’re greeted by six pregnant ladies ensnarled in machines that look like some sort of modern torture device. Known as ‘the reformer’, the instrument is not designed to force you into confessing your sins (although it may also have that effect) nor is it a dodgy character in a gangster movie. In fact, it acts as a smooth resistance to the pilates workout and helps strengthen the muscles. ‘Can you feel the burn?’ asks Caroline Leon, the instructor, as the mums-to-be engage the machine in a slow and deliberate battle to lift and bend their legs. No one speaks, but the nods come back thick and fast.
Pilates uses specific exercises to isolate and strengthen muscles, restoring your body to its natural balance and helping it function better. ‘With pregnant ladies, we concentrate on strengthening the legs, arms, waist – everything other than the tummy,’ Caroline explains. ‘We do a lot of work on pelvic stability, but we don’t work directly on the abdominals. We want women to feel more comfortable as they go through their pregnancy, so that they don’t start feeling out of breath, can walk with ease and feel energised, happy and strong.’
The ladies are making it look very easy, so this confident (and non-pregnant) Time Out Kids researcher decides to join in with a couple of arm exercises. This, it turns out, is overly ambitious. My arms are so weak, they struggle to support my own hands, so slowly lifting an imaginary oak tree while attached by a giant piece of elastic to ‘the reformer’ is, frankly, as difficult as it sounds. And it’s certainly not the relaxing ‘breathing-and-maybe-if-we-can-be-bothered-a-bit-of-stretching’ routine I’d anticipated. Yet I can certainly see – and feel – how these exercises work. After just a few moments of tree-hugging, I’m sure I spy a teensy bit of muscle definition fighting to get through the wobbly bits.
‘Yes, it is tough, but it’s definitely worth it,’ says mum-to-be Rehana Sharma. ‘You feel like you’ve worked hard – especially on the reformer. When you think of the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow and Madonna who can do this every single day, it’s no wonder they’re so toned and strong.’
Next up is a roll on the floor, stretching out problematic muscles in the back, the bottom, the hips and thighs with the aid of a large, slightly squidgy cylindrical tube. I have a bash at loosening my outer thigh muscle and get a shock when I see my grimaced reflection in the mirror, although I take comfort from the fact that everyone else seems to have adopted the same, pinched expression. ‘The more you do it, the easier it gets,’ assures Caroline, who is constantly wandering round to offer a block to sit on, adjust the tension on the machines or just give a gentle nudge into some of the stretches.
We try the same technique on the back muscles and ironing out the wrinkles in my spine is almost as good as a massage. ‘This is the nice one,’ Caroline smiles, adding, ‘Just do what you feel is comfortable for you – do what feels good.’
And feel good it does. ‘I always feel really energetic afterwards,’ says Reshma Govindjee, who says the rolling technique has really eased her backache. After the hour-long session, the newly energised mums-to-be trot to the coffee shop next door to discuss girls vs boys, delivery suites and nursery furniture – all accompanied by a slice of something sweet. Undoing all their hard work? Not at all – these gals have earned it.
04 424 3777; www.exhaledubai.com. Dhs70 per class, from Dhs650 for a package of 10, including pilates and yoga.
Make a splash!
10 reasons to take to the pool
Swimming is a great way to keep fit for everyone, but it’s particularly good during pregnancy. Here’s why:
1 Swimming is super exercise because it uses both arms and legs. It’s low impact, so it poses a very low risk of injury, yet it’s an excellent cardiovascular workout.
2 Any type of aerobic exercise helps increase the body’s ability to process and use oxygen, which is good for both you and your growing baby. Swimming improves circulation, increases muscle tone and strength, and builds endurance. If you swim, you’ll burn calories, sleep better, and have more energy to cope with the physical (and emotional) challenges of pregnancy.
3 This is perhaps the one time during your pregnancy you’ll feel weightless, so make the most of it. Be warned, though, lead-weight Lucy will return with a vengeance as you heave yourself out of the water.
4 Swimming in the morning may counteract nausea and will help boost your energy for the rest of the day.
5 Just because you’re getting bigger… and bigger… and bigger… won’t put a stop to your routine. You can keep swimming right until D-day, although you should invest in a maternity swimsuit to keep comfy as your tummy expands.
6 Water acts as a cushion on joints and ligaments, preventing injury and also protecting you against overheating, so even when you’re in your third trimester, swimming remains a very safe form of exercise. Yippee!
7 Breast stroke is particularly good for lengthening the chest muscles and shortening the back muscles, two areas that typically become misaligned as your body changes during pregnancy.
8 If you swam regularly before pregnancy, you can continue without much modification. If you didn’t swim at all, you should still be fine but, as with all exercise, check with your doctor first.
9 Don’t over-exert yourself. Start slowly to gradually warm up and take it easy on the last few lengths as a cooldown.
10 Remember to drink plenty of water, particularly in warm weather.
Try this at home…
Pregnancy Health Yoga with Tara Lee
This three-hour DVD is divided into different practices for your changing states of pregnancy, offering yoga exercises to help energise and relax you, as well as strengthening your body for labour and helping you overcome common pregnancy ailments. The DVD also includes breathing and visualisation exercises to help you prepare for the birth. Ideal for beginners.
Dhs120, Blossom Mother & Child
Think pregnancy is an excuse to ditch the gym? Think again. Blooming Fit from PURE FITNESS is an antenatal aerobic, conditioning and stretching programme designed to energise you throughout pregnancy and leave you in tip-top condition for the big day. Call 055 811 9120 or 050 659 4376. Urban Prenatal from URBAN ENERGY FITNESS will help you maintain a healthy weight gain, training your muscles for birth and recovery and keeping the blood flowing through your body. More than just a fitness programme, Urban Prenatal includes nutrition advice and bespoke exercises to keep you in great shape before the arrival of your little one. www.urbanenergyfitness.com