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Fitness Programs For New Moms

By Mariko Thompson - Los Angeles Daily News

Be sure to also read Exercise And Pregnancy - Staying in Shape During and After Pregnancy

For the new mother, looking in the mirror is a reminder of the old body. The body that ran and jumped and swam without effort. The body that belonged to a favorite pair of skinny jeans in the closet. The one that would have laughed when former swinging single Miranda on Sex and the City renamed her postpartum self "Baby Weight".

With all the demands of new motherhood, regaining that pre-pregnancy body can be a tough task. But the benefits of a postnatal fitness routine go beyond shedding pounds.

Strength conditioning equips mothers to handle lifting and carrying babies and gear. Above all, exercise promotes mental well-being.

"Physical exertion releases endorphins that make new mothers feel better," said Becky de Leon, a registered nurse and director of PregnaGym at West Hills Hospital near Los Angeles. "It boosts esteem. Fifteen or 20 minutes is all you need to get your heart rate up."

Once a new mother gets clearance from her doctor, she can begin exercising. Women who worked out before and during their pregnancy tend to return to their pre-pregnancy weight more quickly, fitness experts say.

In general, women should expect the recovery process to take as long as the pregnancy did — about 40 weeks.

Fitness professionals also say new mothers should set realistic goals so they don't get discouraged. Try to exercise two or three times a week. Even 15 minutes daily will make a difference. For best results, create a routine that includes cardiovascular exercise as well as strength and flexibility training.

Motherhood has prompted many fitness experts to design classes, videos and books for the postnatal mom. From the camaraderie of a class to the efficiency of working out at home, new mothers have more options than ever to make "Baby Weight" refer to their babies and not to their bodies.

Hit the gym

At PregnaGym in West Hills, one of about 26 franchises in the country, de Leon is proud that the aerobics and yoga classes never start on time. De Leon knows how tough it is for mothers with children to get out the door. So the instructors expect late arrivals.

PregnaGym caters to prenatal and postnatal fitness. The center provides day care for a small fee. Weight machines and stationary bikes were designed with the pregnant woman in mind. Mothers often take breaks during classes to breast-feed.

Classes run 90 minutes, with a segment devoted to strengthening the abdominals. On a recent day, women participating in an aerobics class tightened their abs by balancing on a fitness ball while doing curls and flies with small dumbbells.

Christin Webb, 31, attends yoga twice a week and brings 9-month-old Natalie along. Webb, a resident of Woodland Hills, gained 40 pounds during pregnancy and has lost all but 10. Though she could go to a regular gym, she enjoys the comfort of being around other mothers and mothers-to-be.

"You don't have worry about dressing up and putting on Spandex," she said. "It's so inspiring to see other healthy, fit mothers."

Household aerobics

Aileen Sheron, an award-winning and nationally recognized aerobics instructor based in Orange County, Calif., created a fitness video for new mothers called "Positive Postnatal Fitness — A Complete Post Pregnancy Workout."

While popping a video into the VCR is one way for new moms to get into shape, Sheron offered some tips to achieve the 15-minute-a-day goal:

Cardiovascular: Take a fast-paced stroller walk before the baby's nap time. Or walk up and down stairs in the house. Even if there are only one or two steps in the house, the repeated motion will increase the heart rate.

Strength training: For lower body, do a set of 20 leg lunges, keeping the knee in line with the ankle. For upper body, do 10 push-ups. Start with a modified push-up, knees to the ground, if necessary. Bicep curls and tricep extensions with hand-held weights also build upper-body strength.

Abdominals: Don't push too hard too soon. Start by tightening and relaxing the ab muscles while lying on the floor, knees bent and shoulders' width apart. As the abs become stronger, move to crunches.

New mothers who want to exercise with their babies can set them on their stomachs and play peek-a-boo while doing sit-ups, hold them as they do lunges, or lift them overhead to work the arms.

"You can make it fun," Sheron said. "Every time I turned on music to move around, I'd carry my son in a sling. He'd get into it."

De-stress with yoga

Seinfeld and Sports Night fans will recognize Brenda Strong from her recurring roles as bra-less wonder Sue Ellen Mishkie and producer Sally Sasser, respectively. In the yoga community, Strong, who lives in North Hollywood, is known for specializing in fertility, prenatal and postnatal workouts.

"After you have a child, your body feels fragile and sore," said Strong, who developed the "Yoga 4 Fertility" video series. "You feel like you've been hit by a truck. Yoga really allows you to have strength from an internal source."

Strong focuses on three areas: the upper body, abdomen and lower back. The upper body can become tight from nursing and carrying the baby. From pregnancy, abdominal muscles have stretched and loosened. And the low back often feels sensitive from the weight of the baby pulling forward.

Some simple stretches include:

"Cow and cat": Get down on hands and knees, wrists below shoulders and knees below hips. On the inhale, stretch the spine in both directions, lifting the head and the sitting bones. On the exhale, tuck the tailbone and head under and lift the belly toward the spine.

Arm and leg extensions: Start on hands and knees. On the inhale, stretch the right arm straight ahead and the left leg straight behind. On the exhale, draw in the navel and bring the elbow and forehead toward the knee. Continue, then switch to the left arm and right knee.

Chest opener: Kneel with toes curled under, stretching the arches in the feet. Clasp hands behind the back, palms facing each other. Lift the chest while squeezing the shoulder blades back and down.

Ballet on wheels

Not long after her first child was born, Elizabeth Trindade discovered the stroller made an effective ballet barre. A personal trainer and dancer in New York City, Trindade created a series of exercises using the stroller as a resistance tool. She launched Strollercize in 1994.

Today, Strollercize classes are held indoors and outdoors in four cities in New York and Virginia. Her book, "Strollercize: The Workout for New Mothers," and tapes make the fitness routine available to moms everywhere.

The 50-minute workout incorporates fast walking, dance moves, strength training and stretching. Trindade says she targets every part of the body except for the biceps — "That's about the only thing that is strong on a new mom," she joked.

Before Strollercizing, mothers should choose the proper stroller. The elbow should bend at a 115-degree angle when holding the handle. The front wheels should be stable. The basket area should be roomy, offer sun protection and a secure buckle for the baby.

"I'm making the moms dance and prance and stay perky," Trindade said.

Water works

For the ultimate low-impact workout, check with local fitness centers with swimming pools for an aquatic exercise program. Don't confuse aquatic exercise with swimming, said Carol Argo, the 2002 Aquatic Exercise Association instructor of the year.

In swimming, the body aims to move horizontally through the water with speed and efficiency. In aquatic exercise, the body stays vertical and uses the water's resistance to build strength.

Exercising in chest-deep water reduces impact and stress on the body and is particularly beneficial for pregnant and postnatal women, said Argo, a Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., resident who has created video workouts on water yoga, water Pilates and water tai chi.

A typical aqua aerobics class might start with jogging in the pool to warm up. The cardio segment would work the hip and shoulder joints with cross-country ski motions, jumping jack, side stepping and hopping movements. The session might end with toning and strengthening exercises, including leg lifts.

Best of all, the abdominals get a workout the entire time.

"By simply moving in water and remaining vertical, you're working the core," Argo said. "It takes strength to propel the body through the water."

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