Maria's Post-Natal Fitness

Local Mums Online's fitness editor Maria Holley gives her expert advice on getting back in shape after your baby is born



For those planning another pregnancy, here are my tips on ante-natal fitness

During pregnancy, your body goes through a phenomenal amount of changes preparing for the birth of your child.  These changes do not prevent you from exercising but there are some considerations to think about to ensure that what you are doing is safe and effective. Focusing on the right level of exercise can help you during childbirth and also to help carry the extra weight you may put on during the latter stages.

First Trimester
As soon as you become pregnant, your body starts to produce the hormone Relaxin. This makes your ligaments pliable which is great for the pelvis area as it makes it easier for the baby to make its journey through the birth canal. The downside is that your joints will become looser which can leave them more susceptible to injury, a thorough warm up and cool down will help to decrease this risk. At this stage you don’t need to change any exercise programme too drastically, although avoid any contact sports. 

Also, look to add in extra recovery periods and avoid anaerobic exercise (high intensity exercise).

Second Trimester
By 16/20 weeks, stop abdominal exercises lying on your back.  An alternative is to kneel on your hands and knees with your knees under hips, hands under shoulders and fingers facing forwards. Keep the back flat and neck long. As you breathe out draw your belly button towards your spine, keeping the elbows slightly bent to prevent them locking. Hold for a count of six, continuing to breathe, and then lower with control being careful not to arch the back

If you haven’t already taken high impact workouts out of your training, then this is the point to do so. With the effect of relaxin and the increased weight of the uterus, you are putting added stress onto your joints and pelvic floor muscles - make sure you are doing regular pelvic floor exercises!

In the second Trimester I would suggest that on a scale of 1-10 (with 10 being the hardest you could possibly exercise), you should be aiming for a 5/6 at the most. If you can still hold a conversation whilst performing your exercise, this is fine. If not, lower the intensity!

If the exercises you are doing involve holding your body weight (i.e. press ups or tricep dips) you might find your wrists starting to hurt.  Circle your wrists during breaks or switch to using resistance bands.

Third Trimester...
The changing centre of gravity in your body affects your movement control and you might start feeling a little clumsier.  Exercises involving changes of direction and weight transference will become more difficult. Because of this it is really important that you focus on technique as the extra weight and looser joints can make you prone to injury. 

Stretching - avoid anything prolonged/extreme, because of the effects of relaxin - although upper back and chest stretches sitting down should feel quite nice.

Lastly, I would recommend sitting on a Swiss/birthing ball and rolling your hips around in a circle, as this will help to encourage your baby’s head to get into the right position for birth.

Pregnancy doesn’t mean that your exercise programme has to stop. With a few changes you can ensure you maintain a good level of fitness throughout – just remember to listen to your body!


Post-natal back raises

Pushing a pram or a buggy around on a regular basis can lead to poor posture in your upper body (shoulders slouching forward), so I always tell my post-natal ladies that strengthening your back muscles will help to improve this.

There are a couple of variations on this exercise, which are explained below:

Back raises:

- Lie on your front and place your fingertips by your temples.

- Draw your belly button to your spine

- Raise your upper body off of the floor, keeping your gaze down and your feet on the floor  

- Lower your body back down, in a slow and controlled way

- Repeat this 8-10 times (three sets altogether)

For those of you that are breastfeeding lying on your front may feel a little uncomfortable, if so try using an exercise band.  This way you can still work your back, without lying down!

- Place your exercise band around a sturdy anchor point e.g. table leg, tree (if outside)

- Your  band should be at chest height (if around a table leg, then sit on the floor with your legs out in front of you) feet shoulder width apart,  keeping your knees soft and shoulders back and down.

- Take hold of the ends of the band in each hand and pull them towards you (leading with your elbows), drawing your shoulder blades together.

- Return your arms back to a straight position without locking your elbows out

- Repeat this 8-10 times (three sets altogether)

- Keep your core engaged throughout.

Remember, if three sets seem a little too much and you are struggling to keep your technique – just adjust the amount and build up to it.


Maria x


Forget celebrity diets

If you pick up any glossy magazine you will most probably find the “new” celebrity diet and/or workout inside telling you that this is the secret to lose your unwanted weight, fast!  

There are so many diets which claim to be the reason why we see famous women back to their pre pregnancy size and weight within weeks of giving birth, with The Elimination diet, 5:2 diet, blood group diet and The Maple Syrup being just a few. 

Some of these are quite extreme and not something I would recommend for a post-natal woman, as they can require you to dramatically reduce your calorie intake (under what is recommended) or leave out major food groups.

For me the key to losing weight and maintaining it after having my children was to have a realistic diet that was healthy and sensible, and also to exercise regularly. Starving yourself on one day, only to gorge yourself the next has no longevity and is not necessarily good for you.

The Human body is extremely intelligent and your metabolic rate will slow down on “fast days” as it will not know when another intake of calories is coming. When you eat normally again, your metabolic rate will remain at the slower rate - which is why people who go on crazy diets usually put it back on again (when they can no longer sustain the lack of calories and start to eat normally) Having a baby is hard enough without starving yourself, so below are a few simple idea’s to get you on your way.

I would try to start the day with a slow release carbohydrate, which will keep you feeling fuller for longer; something like porridge would be a good option. Also, why not carry some healthy snacks with you? I know what it’s like when you have had a few broken night’s sleep (or more) in a row, and reaching for the biscuit tin is all too easy! Fruit & nuts are a good idea to keep hunger at bay, along with a bottle of water. Staying hydrated is really important, especially if you are breastfeeding but it will also help to stave off food cravings brought on by dehydration.

Lastly I would look at your portion size, do you really need that much? There is a difference between feeling satisfied and feeling full - you know, that belt loosening feeling! Eating little and often is a good way to combat this, as overeating usually happens when you have let yourself become too hungry!


High Intensity / Low Impact Exercise

After having a baby it is highly likely that your pelvic floor muscles have been affected and in the early post natal weeks, any high impact exercise is a big no!  High impact exercise is when both feet come off the ground e.g. running; jumping etc., whereas low impact means that one foot is always on the ground.

These types of exercises increase your intensity in a workout and if you are looking to burn more calories and up your game without the pounding of high impact, then look no further. Below is one of my favourite low impact exercises that I use frequently in my buggy classes. I can guarantee it will get your heart beating faster.

Knee Repeater:

1.Place your right foot behind your body with your heel off of the floor (with a wide stride) and place both arms straight up in the air

2.Bring your right foot (back leg) up to a high knee.  At the same time, pull your arms down by your sides (imagine pulling a bell rope)

3.Place your right foot back to your starting position and return your arms straight up in the air and back where they started 

4.Repeat this 20 times on each leg.  Try 3 sets of 20 on each leg mixed up with some squats or lunges

If you are finding this exercise is quite difficult, keep your hands on your hips and focus on the leg action only.  Also if you find you are unsteady, engage your core by pulling your belly button towards your spine – this will help you with your balance.

Good luck with your low impact workout. For more info go to 


Good technique

I have trained various different people both in age and fitness levels but the key to improvement in all groups of people is good technique.  

You may wonder how this links to post-natal women, well… Even for those of you that exercised throughout your pregnancy, there may well be a period where you stopped for a few weeks (perhaps after giving birth) or perhaps you did not perform certain exercises as they were too strenuous in your last trimester. 

With that in mind and the fact that your body has been through quite a lot in the last nine months, it is a good idea to revisit (and perhaps relearn) the proper technique of certain exercises. This way you can be sure that what you are doing is both safe and effective.

If you are attending group exercise classes, make a point of really listening to the instructor and checking that you are performing the exercises as requested and a good personal trainer should always demonstrate and give teaching points throughout your session. 

If you are working out on your own at home you might want to try and perform the exercises in front of a mirror. (You might think you are doing something perfectly, only then to realise otherwise when you look in the mirror!) 

Good technique is really important as you are less likely to injure yourself and you will see the results more quickly. I always say to my clients that it is more effective to do 10 “good” repetitions of an exercise than 20 bad ones – however much it hurts!

Below are couple of exercises that are often performed incorrectly, with easy to follow technique points:

Squats – sit right back so your weight is in your heels, knees should not go over toes

Tricep dip/press – at the very bottom of your dip/press your elbows should be “in” as if you are trying to squeeze a balloon between them.

For more info go to


Winter walk-outs

I’m sure the last thing you are thinking of at this timeof year is starting a new exercise plan, but there are still a few things you can incorporate into your daily life to help change your body after childbirth.

After I had my two children I  wanted to make sure I gave them some fresh air, so I would try to go for a walk at least once a day (even in the winter!). Winter walks are a great way to walk off the extra food you may have eaten and also a chance to think about posture and pelvic floor.

Firstly, if you are pushing the buggy/pram make sure that you fix your elbows at a 90 degree angle. This will help to stop you “hunching over” your upper back and open up your chest. Then draw your belly button to your spine, lift your pelvic floor, keep your shoulders back and down with your chin parallel to the floor and make sure your bottom is not sticking out behind you!

Following these simple steps will help to improve your posture and pelvic floor muscles, without you even having to go to the gym. If you are feeling particularly energetic, why not try a 10 second power walk every couple of minutes – it will elevate your heart rate and get you ready for a more intensive workout in the New Year.

Wishing you all a very merry Christmas!

Maria x

For any questions regarding post natal fitness please contact me at:


Abdominal Separation

Ever heard of Diastasis recti or abdominal separation? This week I am going to tell you how to check your abdominals to see if you have a separation after giving birth and what exercises are most effective for correcting it.

First you need to do this simple test:

Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor and put your hands to your head (as if you are going to do a sit up). Now take two fingers and push down on your belly button, making sure that your fingers are vertical.  Next sit up and look straight through your knees – can you feel a gap? If so, are your stomach muscles clamping around your two fingers? Repeat this again below your belly button.  If you can get more than two fingers in the gap then you have a separation, and some abdominal exercises could make this worse. Two or less you are fine.

With a separation, it is important that you are encouraging the abdominals to move back together with slow and controlled movements. Sheer force and rotation can make the separation worse and you could end up with “doming” (a vertical bulge on your tummy), it can also worsen any lower back pain you may have, or cause it.

Static stomach contractions and pelvic tilts are brilliant for this, my youngest is nearly three and I still use them in my workout now.

Static stomach contraction:

Draw your belly button to your spine and hold, remembering to breathe and keep your shoulders down. This can be performed at ANY time e.g. walking, sitting down, and brushing your teeth. I always encourage my clients to engage their abdominals in all activities as this will help to protect your lower back.

Pelvic tilts:

Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor, arms by yoursides and knees bent. Then lift your bottom off of the floor raising your hips towards the ceiling. When you get to the top lower slowly back down. I would suggest a count of two to go up, and the same to go back down. Make sure your belly button is pulled towards your spine (and you lift your pelvic floor!) start with 10 -12 reps and see how you go. If you get really good, wrap your arms across your body – it will make it more difficult and help you to focus on your core muscles.

For any questions regarding post natal fitness please contact me at:


Bladder problems

Did you know that 1 in 5 women report to have bladder problems at the time of their post natal visit? This week is all about how to retrain those muscles so you are not worried about going on the trampoline with the children!

The pelvic floor muscles form a muscular floor to the pelvis, and support your abdominal organs and your growing baby. Whilst giving birth these muscles have to stretch significantly (with the help of the hormone relaxin) and even if you have had a caesarean, you may find that they are not as strong as before due to the weight of the baby pushing down in the last trimester.

Technique for pelvic floor exercises:

1.     Draw up & close your back passage, like you are trying to stop yourself passing  wind

2.     Draw up & close your front passage, like you are trying to stop a wee mid flow

3.     Pull up your abdominals, really concentrating that it is coming from deep in your centre

4.     Hold this position for a few seconds, then relax slowly

5.     Repeat again

6.     Try to increase the time you are holding to about 10 seconds

7.     Keep breathing, with your shoulders down

This exercise can be performed sitting down or standing up.

The beauty of these is that they can be done anywhere anytime, and no one will know! What you need to do is make it a habit e.g…. I will do my pelvic floor when…… I change a nappy, brush my teeth, push the buggy, bath the baby, feed the baby, the list is endless but once you have formed the habit, you will do them without even thinking! The more you do, the stronger they will get and it only takes a short time for you to start to notice a difference.

Doing pelvic floor exercises will help to maintain or regain the elasticity of the muscles, which if you would like another child, is something to think about!


Safe Exercising

For those of you that have just had a baby and are looking to regain their pre pregnancy figure and get fitter, here are a few tips and some advice on making sure that you are exercising in a safe way.

I remember after having my two children, there came a point at about 3-4 months where I decided it was time to shed those last few pounds and regain my fitness. For some of you that may be earlier, but it is advisable to wait until you have had your 6 week check with your GP (10 weeks with a caesarean delivery) and to find a qualified post-natal instructor. Once you have had the all clear there are a few things to remember:

Although the hormone relaxin stops being produced once you have given birth (keeps your ligaments supple for childbirth!) it can stay in your body for up to five months (especially if you are breastfeeding), so it is important to keep your knees, ankles and toes in alignment e.g. No wide squats. Monitoring your range of movement at the beginning of returning to exercise, and reducing high impact moves are key. This will help to prevent any unnecessary risk of injury on unstable joints. 

If you are breastfeeding you need to think about investing in a good sports bra, as any high impact work could make you feel a little sore. Also, it is important to drink plenty of water before and after exercising as becoming dehydrated can cause your milk supply to run low.

Lastly, start with some basic static abdominal contractions by drawing your tummy button towards your spine and holding for a count of 10 seconds – or as long as you can manage. You can do these whilst pushing your baby in a pram!

For more information on ante and post natal fitness go to or contact Maria at:

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Maria Holley is a Local Mum of Liam, five, and Matthew, three. She used to work as an actress in West End Musicals but since having her kids retrained as a pesonal trainer and runs her own local fitness business Maria Holley Fitness.

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