Postpartum-fitness myths

In my early 20s, when we were still light years away from being ready to introduce an additional human to our home, I had a conversation about body acceptance with a friend who’d recently had a baby.

“I have jeans that don’t fit me anymore, and they’ll probably never fit me again,” she said with a shrug.

This was before I understood the blessing of a new, precious human life (I’m sorry to sound so cliche, but I feel like every parenting cliche is absolutely true), and I’m kind of ashamed to admit that this statement haunted me. I’m sorry, but did you just say that my jeans might never fit me again? I wondered how I’d handle the challenge of trying to maintain some sort of fitness level postpartum.

The most amazing thing happened while I was pregnant with Henry, and after he joined us: I learned that many of my closely held beliefs about what it takes to be strong, fit and capable as an athlete and human were wrong, or at least kind of misguided. Here are a few of those false beliefs.

 1.  If you can’t work out intensely, there’s no point in bothering to work out at all. When we first brought Henry home, he and I took a lot of walks. I didn’t even see walking as a workout, but just a way to get fresh air. Imagine my surprise when our frequent walks led to fitness gains. Who woulda thunk?
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Our first of many walks. This one was about a week after we brought Henry home. I’m doing my best to impersonate a sane person.

2. I will struggle with body image during and after pregnancy. When I got pregnant with Henry, I totally, truly detached from feeling like my body needed to look a certain way, or perform athletically in any way, shape or form. I lost interest in the idea of jeans fitting or not fitting, and wore comfy skirts all summer. Because who cares about jeans size when your body has grown a human? (I mean, seriously—*grown a human being!*)

3. There’s no way my 30-minute home workout will be as good as my hour-and-a-half-long session in a gym lifting heavy weights. Was I more fit when I did really focused, intense, hour-and-a-half workouts than I am while doing 30-minute workouts? Sure. But I was not three times more fit—maybe 5 percent at best. I do a version of this one from SELF magazine a few times a week, and it astounds me that I ever thought I needed more to stay in shape for skiing, short runs and other adventures.

4. Exercise classes geared toward new parents will be good place-holders until I can do my “real” workouts. What made me think I had a monopoly on good ideas for my exercise regimen? And why was I so snobby about parent boot-camp classes? In this day and age, many of the other parents in the parent boot-camp class I take at my local YMCA a few times a week are former college athletes who also want to get in shape to hike, bike, run and ski, and the instructors tailor workouts to this crowd. That class has reminded me of the painful efficacy of tuck jumps, and has introduced me to inverted mountain-climbers. Guess what I wouldn’t have been doing on my own? Those exercises.

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H before our first parent boot-camp class at our local YMCA back in August. Now, he prefers to scoot around on a blanket while mama works out.

5. I will really miss the freedom to do whatever workout I’d like to do on a given day. I only make it to a formal yoga class once a week at best, and I can’t even imagine when it will seem worth it to spend an hour or two of my free time swimming in a pool. But in the biggest surprise of all, I totally don’t care. No workout is quite as much fun as blowing raspberries at my little man and watching him giggle in response. I feel so strongly that have my whole life to train for distance races, but only a brief period of time to snuggle a sweet baby.

If you’ve been down this path, I’d love to hear about your lessons learned about postpartum fitness!

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