There are many things one learns in a post-natal haze. The value of a good night’s sleep, for example. And the importance of coffee to a parent who’s missed out on the aforementioned sleep.
But as the fog of the first six-to-12 weeks begins to lift, and women venture back into the world, baby in tow, their exercise options are frustratingly limited. I know this first-hand, because I experienced it last year after the birth of my son, Flynn. I taught yoga until just a few weeks before his arrival, but when it came time to reclaim my body – and my fitness – it was tough to find baby-inclusive workouts close to home, on a budget that didn’t stretch to personal training.
If you live in a capital city you might have access to a studio offering post-natal Pilates, but those sessions don’t come cheap. Some local councils run mums- and- bubs exercise classes, but they often demand a six-to-eight week commitment, and newborns require a certain amount of flexibility. So what’s a mum to do?
In Sydney, personal trainer Jack Seymour identified this problem after his wife Tish gave birth to their daughter, Luna. He recalls the frustration of not being able to find any suitable exercise and creche options for his wife and child, so decided to up-skill in pre- and post-natal exercise and offer classes himself. FitMamma, run out of Easts Rugby Club in Bellevue Hill, was born. Now in its third year, FitMamma offers 60-minute group classes for new mums that include an indoor creche for your little one, supervised by private nannies.
“When I decided to set up the business, the most important two things for me were that the babies were in a safe, indoor creche space – not under a tree outdoors, and that mums were not in a direct line of sight of, or able to hear, their babies. This ensures mums get a much-needed hour to themselves,” says Seymour.
In London and New York, classes for mums and bubs are plentiful. From PowerPramming – a cardio and resistance-based workout with bubs in a stroller, to ‘Babies On Board’ barre classes, the options are many. We’re slowly catching up, but have a ways to go.
Speaking with Seymour, the empathy he has for new mums and their exercise dilemma is immediately evident. Perhaps because of this, FitMamma has proven incredibly popular in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, and there are now 10 weekly mid-morning classes to choose from. Classes run to a similar theme each week, shifting focus between cardio, boxing, weight training, core and calisthenics. A session, including childcare for the hour, will set you back just $20.
Seymour says it’s common for mums to hang around and chat after class, or to go for coffee together. “I’ve seen strong relationships formed over a set of squats, a sweaty cardio session, and a post-workout nappy change. Sometimes there’s more chatting in the class than there is exercise ... the camaraderie that forms from group exercise has helped create lifelong friendships between many of our mammas.”
The joy of seeing new mums band together is also a motivating force for Sabina Turner, founder of Alternative Women’s Fitness (AWF) in Melbourne’s Thornbury. There, in a premises known as ‘The Clubhouse’ – a former ballroom – Turner has established a dedicated Mum & Cub series with two creatively named classes: Gunt: Legs & Bums, and Sculptallica.
“It’s been amazing to see new mums come out of their shells in a space made to support them,” Turner says.
AWF is the kind of place where even the most tired new mum will feel immediately comfortable. It’s not your run-of-the-mill female gym, and Turner has gone to great lengths to avoid the “gym” tag. Every class is unusually named and themed (Superheroine Pilates, Bogan Yoga and Kettle Bell Hell), and a steady soundtrack of alternative, indie and metal provides motivation as you lunge, twist and squeeze your bod into shape.
Gunt class, as its name suggests, focuses on “that soft little spot we all love to hate.”
“We came up with the idea [for Gunt] after listening to our loyal AWF recruits. This problem area, between your belly button and downstairs, is often treated almost as a taboo, but it’s something heaps of women struggle with. It’s an area that tends to hold a lot of stress, gas and is susceptible to bloating. We wanted to take away the negative aspects of the word and change the balance of power, all mixed with a bit of tongue-in-cheek fun.”
Gunt classes run every Tuesday at 11am, and cubs are invited to play on a mat next to mum, or to join in as exercises … and naps … and feeds … and nappy changes … permit. There’s a strict no- judgement rule – mums are encouraged to do whatever they need to look after their cubs. The class follows a baby-friendly 45-minute format, as does Sculptallica, run on Thursdays at 11am.
In Sculptallica, there’s a focus on toning, strengthening and sculpting the body via strength training, using your own body weight. “Sculptallica is a class to unleash your inner demon – low- impact style,” says Turner. “All to a roaring soundtrack that’ll get your head banging, your toes tapping and the sweat pouring.”
There are ways to get that post-exercise endorphin rush without resorting to 50 laps of the local park with the pram. But when all else fails, and your tiny cherub is having one of “those” days, that works too.
Megan Gamble is Broadsheet’s Movement columnist. She’s a full-time mum to baby Flynn but likes to squeeze freelance writing and yoga teaching into her busy schedule. She can be found sharing her love for Yin in Melbourne at Yoga Flame Windsor every Sunday at 5pm. If you prefer your yoga a little more yang (read: hot and sweaty), you can join her at Yoga Corner in Melbourne’s CBD on Mondays at 5.30 and 7pm.