Pregnancy + Fitness: How to Regain Your Strength


Getting fit and staying fit, pre- and post-partum
We were recently introduced to Essentrics, a fitness program that combines stretching and strength training. It promises to improve muscle tone, slim down the waist, thighs, and midsection, and increase flexibility in addition to correcting our posture. But what truly fascinated us was the ease with which this program sent our postpartum back pain packing. Hence, we decided to ask Ileana Ripas, mother and Essentrics instructor—who practiced the discipline all the way through to 39 weeks!—a few questions.

How do you prep the body for childbirth?
“When a woman is pregnant, it’s recommended that she remain active in order to prepare her body. Labour is a physical effort that requires a lot of energy, so the more in shape you are, the better you’ll follow the rhythm. When comes time to push, you need strong abs, kidneys, and hips. To prepare, you can do controlled pliés, and standing exercises for the upper back, such as arms raises. This will also be good for your posture.”

And once the baby arrives?
“After giving birth, we rely a lot on our back. We often lean forward to pick up our baby, which can cause lower back pain if the latter isn’t strong. And since our forearms, wrists, neck, and shoulders are connected to our upper back, there’s also increased risk of pain in those body parts. Good posture becomes crucial. You must always keep your back straight, including while breastfeeding. In this program, we introduce arm exercises, and we constantly exercise the back, since it’s located in the center of the body.”


What is the role of stabilizing muscles post-labour?
“They help the hips remain stable and are connected to the pelvic girdle. Since relaxin, the pregnancy hormone, makes ligaments more supple, and given the baby’s weight, it becomes crucial that we protect the pelvic girdle in order to avoid back injuries. Essentrics strengthens the hips, abdominal muscles and the back, and stabilizes them at the core. That way, it becomes easier to stand up straight, and pain is avoided.”

What are the most frequent injuries new mothers sustain?
“Back pain, since they are constantly leaning forward, and repeating the same movements every day. Also, the weakening of the pelvic girdle can create incontinence. In order to avoid that, during the pregnancy, we strengthen the abs and glutes by doing moderate and controlled leg raises and pliés (without opening the hips too much). But be advised: during your pregnancy, abdominal muscles open up. If you begin exercising those muscles too soon after giving birth, you can injure yourself in addition to opening them up even more. It is best to consult your doctor before starting to work them out again.”

About the expert
Ripas has been athletic all her life, and she has been teaching Essentrics in Montreal for seven years now. Since she was already quite active, she has kept working out as recommended by her doctor. She gradually began training again after giving birth, and got her pre-baby body back in a matter of weeks. Overall, she’s a very inspiring mother, and a testament to the benefits of Essentrics on the body. She stars in the Essentrics Pregnancy Workout DVD, available to order for $19.95 here.


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