Inspiring Lives 07: Pre/post natal fitness routines from expert Joanna Helcké
Encouraging women in pregnancy to continue exercising to stay healthy & make the birthing process a little easier.
Meet Dr Joanna Helcké. Mother of three, pre/post-natal fitness expert and entrepreneur. She shares with us her favourite routines during the early and delicate months during pregnancy.
Firstly, tell us a little bit about you and your family?
Hi there! I’m Dr Joanna Helcké (everyone calls me Jo) and a mother of three boys, married to a Frenchman, lover of very dark chocolate and an avowed addict of strong, perfectly roasted coffee. I grew up abroad and have always loved languages – I am trilingual in French, Italian and English – and in my life before kids, was a university lecturer in French.
Motherhood keeps me very busy and fitness keeps me sane!
Tell us a little bit about what you do and what do you love most about it?
After the birth of my three boys, I chose to leave my career in academia and retrain as a specialist in pregnancy and postnatal fitness. The catalyst to this change of direction was my discovery that exercise helped me enormously as a mother, and still does. It is an incredibly powerful tool both in terms of keeping the postnatal body strong and free of aches and pains, but also – and perhaps most importantly – in terms of mental wellbeing. There is little doubt in my mind that the shift into motherhood is one of the most momentous, wonderful but also challenging moments in a woman’s life and it is my firm belief that fitness can have a hugely positive role to play in this process. What gets me leaping out of bed every morning with energy and enthusiasm is the sheer joy and pleasure I get from working with this most wonderful group of people – mums and mums-to-be – to keep them happy, healthy and fit the safe way. I just LOVE it!
We hear you’ve recently launched Fit Bump Box. What is it and what inspired you to create it?
Yes that’s right: it has been the most incredible ride from a spark in my head to actually bringing the whole concept to life. Basically the FitBumpBox can be summed up as “your complete pregnancy and postnatal fitness and well-being in a box”. It is a beautifully presented box, which includes a resistance band, a handmade Pilates cushion and a mini Pilates ball. A little surprise, which has been specially selected with healthy mums in mind, is also included as a little treat! To complete the package, every FitBumpBox comes with a subscription to my award winning, online, week by week pregnancy and postnatal Pilates programme, including the forum where members can receive bespoke advice from a wide range of experts, and the private Facebook group, where they can connect with like-minded mums and receive support from me.
The reason I developed the FitBumpBox is because I know that so many women worry about doing the wrong type of exercise and causing harm to their baby and themselves when pregnant. This means that many women completely stop exercising at a time when keeping fit and strong, the right way, will actually be hugely beneficial. So I wanted to give mums-to-be the means to exercise during pregnancy, safe in the knowledge that every week they’ll be receiving a new workout that has been specially crafted for that very week of pregnancy by a specialist in the field. On a personal level, I love nothing more than receiving a gorgeous treat through the post, so that’s just what my FitBumpox is!
The moments before birth are the most delicate, but there are some exercise routines which are proven to be beneficial for both mum and baby. As an expert in pregnancy (and postnatal) fitness, we would love if you would share with us your favourite pregnancy exercise routine and explain a little about its benefits.
I am a great believer in encouraging women in pregnancy to carry on doing the exercise that they most love just so long as it is safe for them to do so, they have been shown exactly how to adapt it for pregnancy, and it still feels beneficial. So from this perspective, I don’t believe that there is a one size fits all when it comes to exercise in pregnancy: whilst one mum-to-be may feel revitalised by a steady run in the great outdoors, another may well be energised by the feelings of lightness when swimming. It is all about the individual.
Having said this, I would also strongly encourage mums-to-be to incorporate something extra into their weekly fitness, something that is designed and tailored specifically to help them and their bodies cope with the demands of pregnancy, something that does all the things that a pregnant body needs and which won’t be found in mainstream fitness
Here are a few types of pregnancy specific work-outs to help you keep healthy & fit:
1. Deep abdominal “core” stability work that targets the inner most layer of muscle that wraps around the waist like a corset protecting the back and body from aches and pains (as the bump grows and posture alters) and enabling women to recover their abdominal strength more quickly postnatally. A classic example is the “superman” exercise on fours.
2. Postural strengthening exercises to help keep the body strong and tall in pregnancy: this too will protect women from backache by keeping the body aligned. Resistance band exercises that target the back muscles all whilst opening out areas of the chest which are tight, are perfect.
3. Pelvic floor exercises to ensure that the body can support the weight of the growing baby and to protect against weakness that could potentially lead to stress incontinence postnatally. Keeping the pelvic floor “fit” in pregnancy will give women the freedom to exercise to their full potential postnatally with no worry of “leaks” and accidents.
4. Exercises to keep the lower body – legs and bottom – strong the safe way, so as to help protect against pelvic girdle pain both during and after pregnancy: squats and lunges performed with excellent technique are ideal, although if pelvic girdle pain is a problem then lunges must be avoided.
5. Relaxation through movement and gentle but effective stretches for areas that naturally tend to get tight and uncomfortable as pregnancy progresses, such as the shoulders, chest and lower back. A great move for late pregnancy is pelvic tilts whilst seated on a birthing ball.
It is this unique mix of movements – stretches and exercises – that I have combined in the FitBumpBox workouts, as well as in a range of little booklets that I have written and devised and that mums-to-be can find on my website.
Dr Joanna Helcké (PhD) is the mother of three boys and leading UK expert in pregnancy and postnatal fitness who has won numerous national awards for her work in this field, including the fitness industry’s highly prestigious FitPro Award of Excellence in Fitness. She is the founder and director of three pregnancy and postnatal fitness businesses (including FitBumpBox), a regular contributor of expert comment to national magazines such as Mother&Baby, Gurgle and Essentials, a speaker at national events such as The Baby Show and co-chair of the Guild of Pregnancy and Postnatal Exercise Instructors.