Fitness Professionals Get Real About the Postpartum Journey
  • September 28, 2018
  • First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in a baby carriage … remember that old (and woefully old-fashioned) ditty? How about what comes after baby? For many moms, what comes next is the cold stark reality that their bodies are totally different now. Getting back into shape isn’t easy and it doesn’t happen overnight – even if you’re a fitness instructor.

    We know this for a fact because we spoke with three moms working in the fitness industry: Kate Lemere, Barry’s Bootcamp founding instructor and Nike Master Trainer; Theresa Coen, an ACE-certified personal trainer who teaches at ENRGi and CrossTown Fitness; and Shama Patel, AIR® founder and president.

    Back in November 2017, aSweatLife founder and CEO Jeana Anderson Cohen chatted with these mamas-to-be about their excitement, fears, and plans for post-pregnancy fitness. Now that their beautiful babies have arrived, we followed up to find out how things are going in and out of the gym.

    “I Couldn’t Even Walk Properly”

    These fitness pros are accustomed to lifting heavy, blasting through cardio, and torching calories in sweat sessions, but in those first postpartum weeks, their physical goals were stripped down. Walk without getting winded. Walk up a set of stairs. Walk without writhing in pain.

    Shama was on bed rest for two months before her twins Aviv and Sasha were born last October. While this was a necessary safety precaution for both Shama and the babies, all that mandatory rest time played havoc with Shama’s body. “I had a lot of muscle atrophy,” she says. “I couldn’t even walk properly [after the twins were born].”

    postpartum journey

    Those first few hours and days after giving birth can be physically brutal. Theresa remembers looking in horror at her swollen legs. “I didn’t even fit into the pants I had worn to the hospital when I was pregnant,” she says. “I knew there was going to be a transition period, but it’s still daunting to look at your body and think, ‘Uhh, how long is it going to take before this looks normal again?’”

    To compound matters, Theresa had delivered her daughter Avery via caesarean section, and she was anxious about the recovery process. “I had heard it can take longer,” she says. She knew the stairs in her home would be a particular challenge.

    Kate’s first week at home with her son Luke was physically difficult for a different reason. “I had a second-degree tear,” she explains (note from the editor: Google with caution). “While that’s considered to be common, I was in a lot of physical pain for just over a week.”

    “I Was Itching to Get Back, But I Was Also Really Nervous”

    Shama, Theresa, and Kate were eager to get back into the gym once they received the “all clear” from their physicians, which typically happens around six weeks postpartum. For Kate’s first workout, she did basic strength drills, and it felt so good to move her body that she cried tears of joy in the locker room afterward. “I lifted super light and left knowing I could have done more,” she remembers. “I didn’t want to be debilitatingly sore, and I wanted to be able to progress in my load each week.”

    kate lemere postpartum journey

    Following aSweatLife’s favorite mantra, #everythingisbetterwithfriends, Theresa chose a #Sweatworking event at Hardpressed Conditioning for her inaugural postpartum workout. “The reason I signed up was because two of my friends were going, and I wanted that support system,” she says. “I was itching to get back, but I was also really nervous.”

    Ultimately, it was less about the workout itself (which wasn’t easy) and more about clearing that mental hurdle with cheerleaders by her side.

    Shama says she wasn’t in a rush to get back into shape. “I was just adjusting to being a new mom,” she explains. However, when she got the go ahead to start exercising, she hopped onto the treadmill. “It was rough,” she admits. “I hate the treadmill!” But it was a good place to begin after spending those two months on bed rest in the hospital.

    “There Is No ‘Bouncing Back’”

    In addition to working out, all three women emphasize the importance of eating well. Nutrition, nutrition, nutrition – that’s the common refrain. “I’ve had to totally change my diet,” confesses Shama. “In order to get my body back, I had to be diligent about working out and a real stickler about what I eat.”

    Theresa agrees that working out regularly was important, but “ninety percent of it was figuring out what to eat to feel good again.”

    And Kate turned to trainer Nancy Anderson’s 30-Day Slim Down for recipes, grocery lists, and motivation. “There is no ‘bouncing back.’ My diet, my workout program, and my progressions for both were calculated and consistently reevaluated,” she says. “It’s a lot of work, but to me, it’s worth it.” (Learn more about Kate’s postpartum diet on her blog, The Four Percent.)

    So what do these fitness professionals consume? Shama, Theresa, and Kate pile their plates with plenty of veggies and lean protein. Plus, they drink tons of water. Theresa loves a green smoothie in the morning (spinach, avocado, mint, and vanilla protein powder), while Shama heads for the hotel omelet bar (and steers clear of the pastries and bagels) on work trips. Kate likes steel-cut oats with fruit or a Greek yogurt with fruit, nuts, and a single serving of nut butter.

    For lunch and dinner, favorites include quinoa with salmon, shredded chicken with avocado on whole wheat toast with spinach, or a bone broth soup with kale, bone broth collagen, and an egg.

    “I Have Good and Bad Days”

    It might seem like fitness instructors never get discouraged about their bodies or losing weight, but Theresa and Kate insist otherwise. They struggle with the same insecurities as the clients who attend their classes.

    “I have good and bad days,” Kate says, while Theresa refers to her postpartum journey as “an up and down struggle.” On those less-positive days, Kate focuses on the big picture. “I’m not going to look back and think, ‘Oh, I wish I was five pounds lighter,’” she says. “I’m going to think, ‘I wish I kissed Luke 100 more times.’ So I go do the latter.” When Theresa has an off day, she gives herself the same pep talk she gives her classes: “If you’re being consistent, your patience will pay off.”

    Losing the weight is one thing, but when it comes to other physical changes, both women are in new territory. Theresa is learning to live with her c-section scar. “It’s a mental adjustment,” she says. “Of course, I wouldn’t want it any other way if it means that’s how my baby had to get here, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that I will have that on my body forever.”

    theresa postpartum journey

    Meanwhile, Kate sometimes get frustrated with issues related to the second degree tear she suffered during delivery. Nearly seven months later, she continues to work with a pelvic floor physical therapist to address scarring and spasming issues. “It’s very uncomfortable and gets worse when I get stronger and lift heavier,” Kate explains.

    “This Time Is Precious”

    Despite these challenges, there is one thing – or rather, four – that make all three women feel stronger than they ever have before: Avery, Luke, Aviv, and Sasha.

    “Luke’s happiness and wellbeing are one hundred percent my priority,” Kate says, adding, “This time is precious and we can’t get it back.”

    Theresa and her husband went through IVF to have Avery, a process which can be an extreme emotional rollercoaster. Seeing Avery smile makes Theresa remember everything she dealt with to bring her daughter into the world. “This is all worth it,” she says. “This is my life.”

    And Shama, who didn’t even take a day off work after the twins were born, powers through her toughest days by thinking of her kiddos. “They’re so much fun,” she raves. “They have such personalities that you really see shining through.”

     

    A lot has changed since Jeana spoke with Kate, Theresa, and Shama last November, but it’s clear that mamahood has only enhanced these fitness professionals’ badass personalities.

    “It’s a big perspective change,” Theresa says. “It does make everything else seem a little less important – things I used to stress about don’t bother me the same way anymore.”

    On that note, if Kate could go back in time, there’s one simple thing she would like to tell her 40-week-pregnant self: “Eat the donut.”

     

     

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    About Kelsey Schagemann

    Kelsey is a former NCAA Division III cross country and track athlete who exchanged sneakers for spin shoes in her twenties. Hailing from the great state of Oregon (by way of St. Louis, where she spent her childhood), Kelsey has made Chicago her home since 2006. She can often be found at the helm of her daughter’s stroller, walking miles throughout the city. Her other favorite fitness activities include spinning, yoga, lifting weights and biking. As a freelance writer, Kelsey works with universities, nonprofits, websites and magazines (visit bit.ly/kelseyschagemann for more information). In her spare time, she enjoys trying new recipes, traveling with her family and keeping the library in business. Kelsey holds a BA in English from Kenyon College and an MA in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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