Women’s Health & Fitness Programs
Many important health issues for girls and women involve matters of reproductive
health, childbearing, fertility and aging. Research informs us that an active, healthy
lifestyle provides a number of benefits throughout a woman’s life span:
reduced discomforts from pregnancy, labor, birth, recovery & menopause
reduced risk of hypertensive disorders of pregnancy and premature birth
potentially shorter active labor and reduced risk of cesarean delivery
more rapid return to joyful activities, less excess weight following birth
mother-infant interaction, leading to infant psychomotor enhancement
reduced rates of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes
reduction of some cancers, osteoporosis, falls and loss of muscle mass
improved social support, networking and stress management skills
greater belief in one’s ability to be strong and capable (self-efficacy)
DTP: When did you first work or study with DTP? HSB: We first discovered DTP in 2011 while researching evidence-based exercise programs for pregnant women. DTP was exactly what we were looking for! So in January of 2012, Healthy Start Brooklyn trained three former clients and one staff member to teach free DTP classes to low-income pregnant women in Central Brooklyn. It took some time for us to get the program up and running, but we have been offering classes since March of this year and they have been continuing successfully ever since.
DTP: Describe the focus or mission of your work. HSB: Healthy Start Brooklyn is a federally funded program that seeks to improve the health and wellness of women, infants and families in Central Brooklyn. Rates of infant death, premature birth and illness in the neighborhoods of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brownsville, Bushwick, East New York, and Flatbush are far higher than elsewhere in New York City and the U.S. as a whole. HSB provides support services, education and training to reduce these inequalities and improve the lives of Central Brooklyn residents. Our DTP classes, as with our childbirth education and doula programs, are aimed at trying to offer our clients free services that are available to more affluent women to help offset some these inequalities that can have a negative impact on birth outcomes.
DTP: What do you most enjoy about your work? HSB: We enjoy seeing our clients coming back to class every week. Some of them have very little support systems in their lives, and it is extremely rewarding to see them participate in class each week and stay after class to talk to each other and share stories. It is our hope that the class not only positively affects their physical health, but also their mental health as well, serving as a place where they can de-stress and socialize with other women in similar situations. We also really enjoy receiving pictures of the babies that our class had some part in helping enter the world healthy!
DTP: What is the most important or interesting thing you have learned from working with moms, moms-to-be, or other women clients? HSB: Pregnant women can move! In the beginning, we were nervous about making our class routines too high intensity for some of the women who were further along in their pregnancies. We were surprised to find that they could all keep up and were even requesting the higher intensity routines.
To learn more and see more photos, go to the DTP Blog:
In Part 4 of our continuing series on DTP’s offspring, meet Renee Crichlow, ACSM Certified Personal Trainer from Barbados, whose REAC Fitnessbusiness includes Mum-me 2 B Fitness Series (prenatal), After Baby Fitness Series (postnatal) and 6 week Jumpstart Body Transformation Program (general female population).
See photos and read more about Renee’s business on the DTP Blog here. The adventures of one of her students is featured in a recent series of articles in Barbados Today.
Renee is a women’s fitness specialist, targeting all stages of a woman’s life cycle from adolescent, child bearing years, prenatal, postnatal to menopause. I design various exercise programmes to help women get into shape. As a trainer, friend and coach, I am committed to guiding, motivating and educating women to exceed their fitness goals and to permanently adopt healthy lifestyles. She started studying with DTP in March 2012 and completed the practicum in May 2012.
I most enjoy the good feeling associated with knowing that I am helping women to positively change their lives through exercise. I have learned that we are connected and not separate from each other. Sharing our challenges and triumphs enable each of us to grow and have a sense of belonging like a sisterhood. The baby and pregnancy stories always amaze me and I learn a lot considering I don’t have children of my own. I am also fascinated by the fact that as the pregnant mummies bellies grow, they are still moving with lots of energy and I feed off of that energy. I just love working with pregnant ladies and mothers.
Sometimes it is fun to look back at the long road to the present! Recently, I was interviewed by our local online media outlet (the Branford CT Patch) and was really thrilled with the resulting story. It focused on the 30 year road of DTP and I thought you might find it interesting.
What started as a “fledgling experiment” has become one Branford woman’s life work.
Thank you for taking a look!
Still looking for new ways to develop core strength & coordination for new moms…start with the posture on the left (inhale) and move to the one on the right (exhale). Keep the transverse abdominal sucked in. Repeat….
This post is adapted from the 3/17/11 DTP Blog on Pregnancy Exercise Safety. For more evidence-based information on Pre/postnatal Health & Fitness, check out the DTP Blog. The Blog includes information starting prior to conception and continuing through postpartum and mom-baby fitness.
There are three sections to this post: 1) moms-to-be, 2) pregnancy fitness teachers and personal trainers and 3) some specific contraindicated and adapted exercises. All information presented is based on peer-review research and evidence collected over a 30 year period of working with this population. More information on safety can be found on this site on the page Benefits, Safety & Guidelines.
1) Safety & Exercise Guidelines for Moms-To-Be
First and foremost, be safe. Trust your body. Make sure your teacher or trainer is certified by an established organization that specializes in pre/postnatal exercise, has worked under master teachers during her preparation, and can answer or get answers to your questions.
These are the safety principles that we suggest to our participants:
get proper screening from your health care provider
do not overreach your abilities
you are responsible for your body (and its contents)
Squatting is an example of a standard pregnancy exercise used for childbirth preparation that must be adapted by each individual based on body proportions, flexibility, strength and comfort.
Don’t assume that because your teacher and some participants can do a certain movement or position that you should be able to do it just like they do. If your teacher is well trained, she will be able to help you select variations that are appropriate for your body.
When you are exercising, make sure you are getting the most from your activity. Keep these findings in mind when choosing your workout routine:
Aerobics and strength training provide the greatest health benefits, reduce the risk for some interventions in labor, help shorten labor, and reduce recovery time
Centering helps to prevent injury; relaxation and deep breathing reduce stress; and mild stretching can relieve some discomforts
Avoid fatigue and over-training; do regular exercise 3 — 5 times a week
Eat small meals many times a day (200–300 calories every 2–3 hours
Drink at least 8 cups of water every day
Avoid hot, humid places
Wear good shoes during aerobic activities
BE CAREFUL! LISTEN TO YOUR BODY!
If you experience any of the following symptoms, stop exercising and call your health care provider:
Sudden pelvic or vaginal pain
Dizziness or shortness of breath
Leaking fluid or bleeding from the vagina
Regular contractions, 4 or more per hour
Increased heartbeat while resting
Sudden abnormal decrease in fetal movement (note: it is completely normal for baby’s movements to decrease slightly during exercise)
2) Safety & Exercise Guidelines for Teachers & Trainers
A principle of practice that increases in importance for fitness professionals working with pregnant women is having the knowledge and skills to articulate the rationale and safety guidelines for every movement she asks clients to perform.
This goal requires adherence to safety as the number one priority. Here is how we delineate safety and the procedures we require of our instructors for achieving safety in practice:
First priority: safety [First, do no harm]
sometimes medical conditions preclude exercise
find an appropriate starting point for each individual
individual tolerances affect modification
general safety guidelines are physical
pregnant women also need psychological safety
Mind-Body Safety Procedures
Centering enhances movement efficiency and safety.
Always begin with centering.
Strength Training Cautions
avoid Valsalva maneuver
avoid free weights after mid pregnancy (open chain; control issue)
avoid supine after 1st trimester
avoid semi-recumbent 3rd trimester
keep in mind the common joint displacements, and nerve and blood vessel entrapment when designing specific exercises
Aerobics or Cardiovascular Conditioning Procedures
Monitor for safety
Instructional style needs to be appropriate.
Walking steps with natural gestures can be done throughout pregnancy
Vigorous steps with large gestures are more intense, appropriate as fitness increases
The ability to create movement that will be safe and work for various levels of fitness and at different points in pregnancy is one of the most critical skills for pregnancy fitness instructors.
Setting should provide physical and emotional safety
Equipment must be well-maintained
3) Contraindicated and adapted exercises
Exercises for which case studies and research have shown that there are serious medical issues include the “down dog” position, resting on the back after the 4th month, and abdominal crunches and oblique exercises. Here is more information and adaptation suggestions:
Contraindicated: “Down Dog” requires that the pelvic floor and vaginal area are quite stretched, bringing porous blood vessels at the surface of the vagina close to air. There are records of air entering the vaginal blood vessels in this position and moving to the heart as a fatal air embolism.
Adaptation: Use the child’s pose, with the seat down resting on the heels and the elbows on the ground, hands one on top of the other, and forehead resting on the hands. Keep the heart above the pelvis.
Contraindicated: Resting on the back during relaxation.
Adaptation: Rest in the side-lying position. About 75% prefer the left side, 25% prefer the right side.
Contraindicated: Abdominal crunches and oblique exercises can contribute to diastasis recti in some women. The transverse abdominal muscle is not always able to maintain vertical integrity at the linea alba, and thus there is tearing and/or plasticity of that central connective tissue.
Adaptation: Splinting with curl-downs, see positions below. By pressing the sides of the abdomen toward the center, women can continue to strengthen the transverse abdominals without the shearing forces that place lateral pressure on the linea alba.
Curl-downs are generally the safest and most effective abdominal strenthening exercise.
Splint by crossing arms and pulling toward center (L)
Or, splint by placing hands at sides and pressing toward center (R)
Recently, we have experienced growing interest in information included in the textbook, Women’s Fitness Program Development. So, we decided that site readers might want to purchase this text if they are seriously interested in subjects pertaining to women’s health fitness. The book opens with a chapter on how women differ from men in their physical, mental, emotional and social development and how these differences affect our motivation to be active. Sections on adolescence, pregnancy, the postpartum period and menopause explain what happens during these critical and uniquely female life transitions, what is known about the impact of exercise on health during these times, and how to develop effective programming for these populations. It is available through the publisher, Human Kinetics, or through Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
James Pivarnik, PhD, president of the American College of Sports Medicine has released a Medscape video for health care providers encouraging them to be aware of the fact that the CDC considers a minimum of 150 minutes per week of moderate activity (or 75 minutes of vigorous activity for athletic women, or a combination of intensity for fit women) to be important for pregnant women, along with the general population.
DTP’s Total Pregnancy Fitness instructors learn how to combine activities so that women receive an adequate amount of exercise each week during their pregnancy. To find out about becoming a teacher, click on Become a Teacher above.
Here are two important facts regarding physical activity following birth:
1. Women who return to vigorous (vigorous, as in jogging or aerobic dance) prior to six weeks postpartum…
have less weight to lose
experience a more joyful state of mind
do better on the Lederman Maternal Adaptation scales (how well they adapt to motherhood)
…than women who are sedentary during this period (Sampselle, 1999…this is not new information)
2. Postpartum obesity is a dangerous short and long term health risk (Leddy, 2008).
Who should exercise and when, following birth?
Day 1: If you have a vaginal birth, begin your “body scan” the first chance you get. Within the first day, the first chance you get to focus on yourself, take a mental trip through your body. See if you can squeeze the kegel muscles. Try exhaling and sucking in your deep abdominal muscles. Note if your shoulders need to relax. Take some deep breathes and begin to help your body recover.
If you had a cesarean: Wait a few days to 2 weeks at most to work on this.
After that: As soon as you can, get up and walk around. Start walking in 5 or 10 minute strolls several times a day (ask someone to hold or watch baby so you can allow your body to recover a non-pregnant upright). If you had a cesarean, hold a pillow to your abdomen until you have control of your abdominal muscles and stand tall.
Find a class. If you had a typical birth and your baby has been slowly and safely exposed to new people, by four to six weeks you and baby should be ready for a structured activity session that includes baby. It will also provide focus and adult interaction during the week.
You have to teach your abdomen to be flat.
How do you know if you did too much?
Your lochia, or the bleeding/discharge from the placental site, will increase if you have been too vigorous. If you are healthy and have no anemia issues, your lochia will likely cease by three to four weeks, six at most.
What are safety issues?
Don’t exercise if you have a fever, a warm red spot on your leg that may be painful (or not), or sore nipples that need attention. Call your care provider. If you or your baby are sick, it is best not to go into a group setting. If your baby is not well or just doesn’t seem right, call your pediatrician.
The most important reason to join a mom-baby fitness program may be that it will help keep you sane.
Teachers learn hands-on skills for improving posture and mechanics.
Instructors all over the globe have participated in our training programs and offer a variety of classes or personal training at their own locations. The Take A Class tab will help you find instructors nearest to you. Even if they are not close enough for you to attend their programs, they may be able to help you find someone local who has experience in the field.
Qualified individuals wishing to run their own programs, obtain further education in the field, or even offer our Total Pregnancy Fitness™ or Dancing Thru Pregnancy® programs, are encouraged to apply to become a teacher or licensee. We can help you determine if this is field is a good fit for you, train you to offer our programs, or help you develop your own.