Ask an expert: Fitness expert Vicky Warr
A specialist in pregnancy and post-natal fitness, follow Vicky's advice to get rid of that mummy tummy once and for all
At this time of year I always get into a bit of panic about wearing sleeveless tops, so I really want to tone my upper arms over the coming weeks. What will help to get fast results without having to join an expensive gym?
The top, most effective exercises for toning upper arms are shoulder presses, bicep curls and rows, which I’ll explain as follows:
- Shoulder presses and side lunges. Stand with your hips back, knees slightly bent, feet shoulder-width apart and abdominals pulled in towards your spine. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and take hands up to shoulder level. Press both dumbbells overhead slowly with wrists facing away from you. Slowly return them to your shoulders and repeat 10-15 times.
- Angled bicep curls Hold a dumbbell in each hand with wrists pointing forwards and bend at the elbow with the arms angled on a slight diagonal. Do a total of 10 reps with 10 small pulses.
- One-arm row with bench Rest your left hand and left knee on a flat bench, lean over keeping your back flat. Hold a dumbbell in your right hand with your arm fully extended downwards. Slowly bring the dumbbell up towards the side of your waist, keeping your elbow into your side and taking it upwards. Repeat other side. Complete 10-15 repetitions with a weight.
I’ve been invited to a mother and baby yoga class, but am not convinced of the benefits. Are there proven results for classes like these?
Baby yoga can encourage flexibility and deep relaxation for baby which brings many other benefits. Firstly, the tactile yoga movements and enhanced interaction between mum and baby stimulate the pathways between the baby’s brain and body encouraging healthy brain development and intellect and muscular development.
Yoga is also known to balance the body’s systems and improve sleep patterns, digestion and help with colic. Research has proven that babies who receive nurturing touch through physical contact often gain weight faster, are calmer and have better intellectual and motor development.
While I haven’t found much actual scientific proof, some research by a team at Warwick University on baby massage discovered that it may help babies aged under six months sleep better and cry less. If you’re still unsure, why not ask to doa trial class first and have a chat with the instructor who should also be able to substantiate these benefits.
I want to do some aerobic exercise and think that learning some dance routines with my four-year-old daughter might be a fun way to do it. Could you recommend any good DVDs or something we could use together?
It would be best for you to do a specific child-friendly, low-impact dance routine so that the moves are safe. I recommend Jo Parry’s online Paris to Berlin Kids Dance Moves (youtube.com) or you could try the Denise Van Outen’s Pure Dance Workout, £3.99 (play.com), which is more for adults. Just make sure your daughter keeps it fun and simple by joining in with marching on the spot and arm-waves.
Children under 16 are still
growing and their joints aren’t fully developed, so it would be good for your daughter to join a local dance
or drama class, such as Stagecoach (stagecoach.co.uk), to get expert instruction and have fun too. For you, see if there is a local cardio dance class – they are great for getting fit, establishing a routine
and being social with other mums.
With a toddler and a newborn, I spend most of my time bending down and picking things up, and my back is really starting to niggle me. Are there any particular exercises that will help strengthen my back muscles?
Try these exercises to alleviate back pain and strengthen your back:
Full Back Stretch
TIP: Use your leg muscles when you pick up your baby or toddler – squat or lunge to decrease the strain on your back.
I snack on sweet things during the day and I’ve noticed that my waist is starting to disappear. What exercise burns tummy fat?
My top ten five-minute belly fat burners are these ones, as you can do them with limited equipment and space, at home or outdoors:
1. Push-up or plank (a simpler version of push-ups) – on hands and knees
2. Side plank – left or right – on knees.
3. Hip extension (on back) lifting your bottom off the floor
4. Mountain climbers
5. Single leg squat thrusts to double legs
for more of a challenge.
Hold each exercise for ten seconds, rest
for three seconds and repeat six times.
It’s best to avoid crunches or sit-ups as they only isolate one muscle group, rather than getting an exercise to multi-task for you so that you work more layers of stomach muscle rather than just one.
I don’t know how to find the time to do proper exercise. I do lots around the house but I’m not building up a sweat – does that matter?
To get improvements in fitness and burn fat you do need to get out of breath and sweat! Short spurts of quality exercise, known as ‘intervals’ are ideal for time-poor mums.
These are fast bursts of cardio for 45 seconds for any cardio activity. At home, try a cross-trainer, rowing machine or a stationary bike. Outdoors, try fast-paced walking, jogging or running (as long as you are over four to five months post natal). Intervals need to be done at a fairly intensity to obtain all the benefits. It’s all about convenience; do squats, push-ups, or exercises with
dumbbells at home or at
work, outside or in the living room. Start with small exercise spurts in your daily routine and you’ll be surprised how you can fit it in.
I kid myself that pushing the pram to the shops and round the park does enough calorie-burning, but can I turn it into more of a workout?
The park is a perfect place to incorporate exercise into your day. All you need is an exercise mat (a roll-up yoga mat is ideal) or a thick towel to lie on, and a resistance band, which you can carry in the buggy. Do the exercises one after another, each for 30-45 seconds, changing between lower body, upper body, core and cardio for optimum fat burning and toning.
1. Stand tall and cross your arms at chest level. Squat as if sitting on a chair. Keep heels and feet flat on the ground, and aim to get your thighs parallel to the ground. Push through your heels to return to standing.
2. Standing rows: wrap the band around a tree at chest height. Hold the ends and gently pull towards you.
3. Single leg slides: lie on your back, knees bent. Slide each foot in turn along ground until the leg is straight, then return to starting position.
4. Knee repeaters: standing, move each knee up and down in an exaggerated stepping movement.
Rest before the next circuit:
1. Walking forward lunges or forward stationary lunges, depending on your balance: step forward and bend knee until rear knee almost touches the ground.
2. Incline push ups: put hands on a bench, arms straight and legs extended behind you (kneeling is easier for beginners). Bend your elbows to lower your chest towards the bench, then push back up.
3. Opposite arm and leg raises: start on all fours, keep your back straight, tummy pulled in.
4. V steps: moving briskly, step forward and slightly out on one foot then the other, then step back again to bring them back together.
My friends say I look like Beyoncé, and now I’m expecting a baby at the same time as her. I know she’ll stay fit and get her sexy curves back really quickly – how can I do the same?
The right exercise and eating well is very beneficial for the health of your baby, keeping your weight in check and reducing aches and pains. Here’s what I would suggest. Plenty of greens, other fresh vegetables and salads are daily essentials – the folic acid in these foods helps prevent spinal and brain abnormalities. Green vegetables also contain calcium, which helps the development of your baby’s bones. Pregnancy also demands more vitamin B12, needed for tissue growth.
Your body can store B12, too, good preparation for breastfeeding. Wholegrain cereals and seeded bread with Marmite or hard boiled eggs make B12-rich breakfasts. Essential fats are needed for baby’s brain development, so snack on nuts and spread nut butter on bread. Lower impact exercise in water is a good cardio-vascular workout as the water supports your ‘bump’; on dry land, fast-paced walking at intervals is useful. Keep all exercise to a level where you can hold a conversation but don’t have the breath to sing – you’ll burn calories but won’t overdo it.
To alleviate back pain and prevent slouching, focus on good posture and be aware of your core muscles: draw your belly button in, while keeping shoulders down and back. Use lighter free weights: focus on good technique and adapt as you progress through pregnancy. This will keep you toned – and prepare you for the lifting, bending and carrying once the baby arrives! A personal trainer specialising in pregnancy exercise can show you the correct techniques and monitor the safety of the exercise.
I’d like to start exercising again, but I am still breastfeeding. Would exercise affect my production of milk?
The old theory that exercising when breastfeeding alters the quality and quantity of milk you produce has been overridden by newer and more detailed research showing that frequent, regular and consistent aerobic exercise didn’t affect the milk production of the research subjects. So the good news is that you can exercise regulary. For the first few months after having a baby you should avoid any kind of high-intensity exercise, whether breastfeeding or not. ‘High-intensity’ is defined as exercise requiring such effort that you cannot hold a conversation at the same time and are panting heavily. It has also been suggested that, because such exercise produces high levels of lactic acid, it may alter the taste of breastmilk.
But again this is not now thought to be the case. To make absolutely sure, simply exercise after, rather than before, feeding your baby. Also, you should make sure you are eating well, and drinking plenty of fluids. Depending on the activity you choose, you’ll burn about 200-500 calories an hour while exercising, and you’ll be losing water through sweat as well. Added to this, when breastfeeding you need more calories than normal to produce enough milk to satisfy a baby’s needs – if breastfeeding beyond 16 weeks, it can be more than 500 calories a day. So you can see how important it is to have a healthy, nutritious diet.
At this time of year I always get into a bit of panic about wearing sleeveless tops, so I really want to tone my upper arms over the coming weeks. What will help to get fast results without having to join an expensive gym? The top, most effective exercises for toning upper arms are shoulder presses, bicep curls and rows, which I’ll explain as follows:
Shoulder presses and side lunges
Stand with your hips back, knees slightly bent, feet shoulder-width apart and abdominals pulled in towards your spine. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and take hands up to shoulder level. Press both dumbbells overhead slowly with wrists facing away from you. Slowly return them to your shoulders and repeat 10-15 times. Angled bicep curls Hold a dumbbell in each hand with wrists pointing forwards and bend at the elbow with the arms angled on a slight diagonal. Do a total of 10 reps with 10 small pulses. One-arm row with bench Rest your left hand and left knee on a flat bench, lean over keeping your back flat. Hold a dumbbell in your right hand with your arm fully extended downwards. Slowly bring the dumbbell up towards the side of your waist, keeping your elbow into your side and taking it upwards. Repeat other side. Complete 10-15 repetitions with a weight.
I’m six months pregnant and wonder if you could recommend any discreet pelvic floor exercises I can do on
the train while I’m commuting?
If you want to do these in public, then follow these steps:
I want to get fit again, and every now and then I go to an exercise class. But I’m finding it difficult to get into a routine. Any advice? Despite the best of intentions, many new mums find it difficult to exercise. If you are finding it an effort, you’ve lost motivation, or plateaued and don’t know which direction to take, these tips should get you back on track.
1. Have objectives. Know what you want to achieve and make a plan of action.
2. Get the habit. Exercise should be a regular activity, not something you struggle to fit into your schedule. Create ‘fit’ dates in your diary, make a commitment, and ensure you move your body for 30 minutes a day, every day. Exercise is only beneficial if you do it regularly and consistently.
3. Make fitness fun. Finding activities you love doing is the key factor in motivation. If you don’t enjoy it, it will become a chore.
4. Have patience. Getting flatter abs after a baby will not happen overnight. Start slowly and build up gradually.
5. Add variety. By all means start with a type of exercise that suits your style and daily routines. But explore other options, too – a yoga class for new mums, perhaps, or even a personal training programme.
6. Use exercise as stress relief. Physical activity can be relaxing – treat it as time to switch off and do something for yourself.
7. Keep track of your exercise programme. Write down what you do, for how long and how often. Proof of your efforts and your progress will spur you on.
Unfortunately I was overweight when I conceived (with a BMI of 27), and now at 24 weeks I’ve been diagnosed with gestational diabetes. I’ve been given lots of information on healthy eating, but nothing about exercise, which I’m sure would help. What would you recommend?
Yes, you’re right – exercise is very helpful
in the management of diabetes as well as gestational diabetes. I would recommend cardiovascular exercise such as swimming, fast walking or stationary cycling (such
as spinning classes at your local health club or leisure centre); try to do this three times
a week. The effort you expend should be such that you have just enough breath to hold a conversation. I’d also recommend core-strengthening exercises specific to pregnancy, which are very beneficial in helping to keep your back strong and pain-free. It is best to be shown what to do by a prenatal trainer or by going to a pregnancy fitness class, so you’re sure that the positions are safe for you and that you’re doing them properly. Look for a prenatal Pilates or fitness class in your area. If you’re attending any general fitness class for the first time, particularly spinning which can be quite demanding, go very gently and always tell your instructor that you are pregnant.
Is there an exercise solution to improve the look of stretch marks? I had my baby three months ago and am really down about the marks around my abdomen. Will toning up improve the look of them?
Unfortunately, the stomach is the last part of your body to tone up, as the deep abdominals and layers of stomach muscles have stretched and weakened as the foetus grows and your bump develops. The skin is literally stretched out over your growing stomach so it loses elasticity and sags and stretch marks are often a result. You are still early days and most mums, even many months post-baby, have some saggy skin. The best thing you can do at this time is to re-train your abs by ensuring you pull in your stomach muscles when you walk around, or perform any exercise, as these are great ways to begin to tighten them. Exercise may help boost and improve circulation, but won’t necessarily eliminate stretch marks. Rubbing in a special massage oil three times a day may also help reduce the appearance and keep the skin soft.
Our holiday villa has a pool and I’d like to use the opportunity to rediscover my waist, which I haven’t seen for two years since having my child! Can you recommend a workout?
Aim to swim for 30 minutes, three times a week, getting your heart rate up. Warm up with 10-16 lengths at a comfortable pace, concentrating on your stroke.
Then alternate fast (to get out of breath) and slow (comfortable pace) lengths. Repeat 8-10 times, depending on the length of the pool. Varying the stroke will challenge your body – so try back stroke, side stroke (side lying leg kick) and front crawl as well as breaststroke. Core training is important out of the water, and a good exercise is the ‘bent leg alternate heel drop’. Lie on a mat with feet flat, knees bent, your lower back brushing the mat. Exhale and draw navel in, aiming to hollow out your abdominals.
Lift one foot up, and bring the knee in towards chest. Slowly lower to floor. Repeat with the other leg. Don’t let the abdominals ‘balloon’. Aim for 10-12 repetitions with each leg, 3-4 times a week. Eat lots of fresh fish, salads and vegetables. Plenty of protein is key – and watch out for too many glasses of wine as the calories will undo the great effects of the exercise!
I’m already counting down to the Christmas party season and am determined to look my best. How can I lose the stone I’ve put on since giving birth six months ago?
My best workout takes just 20 minutes – do it three times a week on non-consecutive days. Do five exercises for 50 seconds each, with a ten second rest. Then rest for one minute and repeat, aiming to do four circuits in about six weeks. The top five exercises are:
1. The bridge. Lie on your back, knees bent and feet flat to the floor, with hands by sides. Squeeze your bottom and lift your hips to the ceiling, keeping your back flat.
2. Squats with hands behind head. Start with both feet on the ground and then do it standing on one foot after four weeks, always drawing in your belly button.
3. Walkouts. Crouch to the floor, walking your hands out so that your body comes to a straight line and you are only on your hands and the balls of your feet. Then walk your hands back, bend your knees and stand.
4. Reverse lunges with hand weights. Stand with feet together, step back with one foot and lift the heel, bend the back knee so that it is 90 degrees and about 5cms from the floor, then come up and step forward to meet the other foot. Repeat other leg. At the same time, do a bicep curl with the dumbbells.
5. Low impact shuffles. Stand with feet apart, one foot behind the other, spring so that the foot behind comes forward and the other goes behind. Keep your arms at your side.
How soon can I return to my running routine after giving birth and how should I gradually increase to more vigorous levels without overdoing it? I did a half-marathon two years ago, so I’m keen to get moving again…
The minimum amount of time to allow for running would really be about six months after giving birth and only when you are not experiencing any weakness or leakage with the pelvic floor. But your main focus needs to be on getting your core and pelvic floor areas strong by strengthening your abdominal and back muscles which have weakened during your pregnancy before running and do exercises to work your inner stomach muscles, waistline and back. The core is your foundation for how your arms and legs move, so if you go running too soon you may risk injury and pain.
I recommend a good 12 weeks of core exercises (it’s best to be shown these by a qualified postnatal trainer) before running. Begin running slowly for ten to 15 minutes, two to three times a week, and gradually build it up by no more than ten per cent on your distance each week. Warm up first with dynamic stretching and cool down with a slow pace jog or walk and stretch.
Specialising in pregnancy and post natal fitness, Vicky can help get you back in shape with exercise tips that really work. Follow her advice and say goodbye to that mummy tummy forever.
If you'd like to ask Vicky Warr a pregnancy or post natal fitness question, please email below. Not all your questions can always be answered but we will try to look at as many as possible.