Congratulations are in order for Pippa Middleton and her husband James Matthews, who have just welcomed their second child together. Duchess Kate's sister has looked glowing throughout her pregnancy – and we've always wondered how she keeps so healthy and fit.
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Enter Ashley Verma, founder of Define London, Barre enthusiast and personal training expert to the stars. The ex-Broadway dancer has worked with supermodels Jourdan Dunn, Poppy Delevingne and Shanina Shaik in the past, as well as Pippa herself – and is here to bust the myths about working out while pregnant.
Here Ashley answers some of your burning questions – from whether working out during your pregnancy is safe to what the best exercises are and how to beat the pressure of 'snapping back into shape'. Read on for her expert advice...
Fitness guru Ashley Verma has worked with Pippa Middleton
Is it safe to work out while pregnant?
Going through your pregnancy is like training for a marathon. Your body is undergoing huge amounts of change and stress. From weight gain, centre of gravity change, alignment shifts, loss of stability, extreme fatigue, constantly feeling sick, hormones all over the shop, it's a HUGE nine-month process. Pregnancy is no small feat and we must stay strong mentally and physically throughout the process.
I am a firm believer in moving your body daily. Yes, this means even while pregnant. Working out can help minimise excessive weight gain during pregnancy. The more weight a woman puts on during her pregnancy outside the recommended amount puts herself at risk for pain and injury. Exercise/ daily activity can help keep your blood pressure in check and several studies have shown that women who workout consistently in their first 20 weeks of pregnancy decreased their risk of gestational diabetes by almost half."
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What other benefits does exercise have for pregnant women?
The physical and physiological changes during pregnancy put a huge amount of strain and stress on the body. Training properly daily can help not only keep you strong but can keep the mood lifted. Allowing the body to stay sedentary and uninspired can lead to lower back pain, diastasis recti, pelvic floor dysfunction and sacroiliac joint pain. Proper and daily exercise can keep the expecting mum away from these stresses on the body.
Exercise releases powerful endorphins, which trigger powerful positive feelings in the body. Keeping the mood elevated makes for better handling the drastic changes happening. Yes, we have to deal with our clothes not fitting, getting hot when it's freezing outside, crazy food cravings, walking slower... so many adjustments! Yes, I know you want to scream. It's overwhelming. I say it's OK to not be OK at times. Find a mum support network, be open and honest with your partner, talk to family, friends. Communication is key to help you through the journey.
Barre expert Ashley says working out while pregnant has amazing benefits
What are the best exercises for pregnant women?
You want to do what feels right for your body. Allow the body to change and make sure you continue to move it. I always train my expecting mums to embrace their ever-changing bodies and discover new ways to move it. I am a firm believer that barre workouts are one of the most effective and efficient ways an expecting mum can safely workout throughout her pregnancy.
1. My workouts target the important muscle groups to keep you healthy and strong in your body. The glutes, hamstrings, inner thighs, pelvic floor, abdominals, and upper/lower back are the areas to focus on both pre/postnatal conditioning. These muscle groups need to be simultaneously strengthened and lengthened to accommodate the growth of the baby and for you to feel better in your ever-changing body.
2. You need to be doing the right kind of ab workout and keep up with your Kegel exercises. While it is truly important to tailor your abdominal exercises when pregnant, core strength is essential to help your body adapt to the constant postural changes during pregnancy. It's all about balance - the belly needs to be flexible enough to allow for the baby to grow but strong enough to support the growth. I always recommend my expecting mums to buy a pregnancy wedge to use during ab workouts or a Pilates playground ball. A few pillows can do the trick but I prefer to invest in the equipment for the optimum support.
3. Standing Barre workouts at the barre or using a sturdy piece of furniture at home. I typically give my clients standing upright 'small V' or parallel at the barre with little pulses to start. This is an excellent position to focus on posture and proper body alignment. The upright weight bearing strengthens the pelvic floor to help the body prepare for labour and delivery. Adding hip movements, such as circles and tucks, stretch the lower back and help maintain core strength.
4. Standing seat work or what I like to say, 'Firing up the backside of your body', is absolutely necessary when you are an expecting mum. This move engages all of the muscle groups surrounding the pelvis, helping a woman create balanced strength in areas that are compromised during pregnancy – hamstrings, glutes, abs and the lower back. This can even help reduce that waddling effect later in pregnancy by focusing on stabilising the outer hips.
5. All fours back extension is another wonderful and fluid movement that really allows the expecting mum to connect deeply to breath as well as coordination. This is an exercise to do every single day! It promotes good posture, core stability and elongates the lower back; another essential postnatal exercise.
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Should you adapt workouts as your pregnancy progresses?
Yes, you should absolutely adapt your workouts and yes, you can and should be moving! My clients experience improved posture, decreased lower back pain, increased pelvic stability, better circulation, reduced swelling, and they even sleep better. Not to mention that sexy, sculpted muscles are the perfect accessory to go along with radiant skin, luxurious hair, and a bump!
Ashley is pictured with her adorabale daughter Adiya
What's the biggest myth about working out while pregnant?
There is this stigma that you simply have to stop working out and close yourself off for nine months and then just magically figure it out post-pregnancy of 'fitting back' into you. The body is incredible and capable of so much. Honestly, I was a bit shocked when I was discharged from the hospital after having Adiya, they gave me a two-sided brochure with a couple of exercises to "get strong" post-baby. I was like, 'What?!?'
Every pregnancy is different. Approaching it with the right kind of movement, the right fun and empowering tone, will keep any expecting mum on track.
How long should you leave it after giving birth before exercising?
This is completely based on your birth journey. I had my daughter Adiya with an elected c-section. Totally my decision and so happy with "my plan". The recommended post c-section is 8-12 weeks after a check-up and doctor's approval you can begin light workouts.
Sadly the world had to close up due to COVID-19 just 3 weeks after I gave birth. I had to pivot my Define London barre business to an online platform to keep the business and my instructors afloat. I went back to work teaching. It was such a strange time and we just all went with it. I highly recommend having a constant dialogue with your doctor and making sure you are in the clear before starting any workout post-baby, however.
Supermodel Jourdan Dunn has also trained with Ashley
Is it possible to 'snap back' into shape after pregnancy?
Ugh! This dreaded question that EVERY woman asks me when I get the news they are expecting and they are training with me. Firstly, you have an incredible human growing inside your tummy. That is awesome. Secondly, we want to keep the baby healthy inside to grow, develop and enter the world. I'm a firm believer it starts with your healthy approach of activity both physically and mentally during pregnancy that post-baby you will find you.
We were so excited and overwhelmed with Adiya when she was born that diet/exercise wasn't at the top of my list. Don't get me wrong, I made smart choices and bad choices with food. I also chose sleep over workouts. I think you simply need to be kind to yourself in the post process. Honestly, there is no "reward" for the 'snap back'.... as the reward for creating a gorgeous human is by far greater!
Any words of encouragement for women who are not feeling like themselves post-pregnancy?
Your body can continue to stay strong when pregnant, it just moves differently. I learned through my pregnancy the mega importance of physical self-care but also the mega importance of mental self-care. My advice to anyone going through their pregnancy at whatever stage... Be kind to yourself. Each day will be different so embrace the change, accept it all, and massively be impressed with your body's capabilities.
Find out more about Ashley and her Define London studio at define.london.
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