How Slow is Fast Worked for Me
When I began participating in high-intensity group functional fitness classes in the fall of 2014, I knew my husband and I wanted to start a family in the next year or so. Indeed, part of my reasoning for a new exercise routine was to prepare my body for a healthy pregnancy. When I found out I was pregnant in the spring of 2015, I was excited but also nervous for what was going to happen to my body. I had just begun to feel strong and fit for the first time in my life, and I had a million questions. Did I have to stop exercising entirely? Will I hurt my baby if I keep going? Am I going to gain a lot of weight? How long would I have to be away from my gym after birth?
Although I had a lot of questions about fitness and about pregnancy and birth in general, I tried to educate myself as well as I could. I saw fitness celebrities on Instagram and Facebook “bouncing back” quickly; I figured I could, too. The most accessible information I found at the time essentially said, “If it feels okay, keep doing what you’ve been doing.” It wasn’t as though I was some elite athlete, so I figured most of what I was capable of doing was fine anyway. I began to read about natural childbirth, changed care providers and hospitals, and hired a doula.
Although my workouts felt okay, I was experiencing lots of Braxton Hicks (or “practice”) contractions and was diagnosed with an irritable uterus. When I was about 30 weeks pregnant, I was advised to stop working out and “sit as much as possible” (though not complete bed rest). I did what I thought was best and followed doctor’s orders. Unfortunately, this advice separated me from my gym community for a few months.
By the time I actually had the baby, I was desperate to get back to my friends and my workout routine. Believing that I could jump right back to my old exercise program, I was back in the gym two weeks after giving birth. No one told me I should have been at home in bed. I was tired and trying to adjust to my new identity as a mother, but I just couldn’t let go of my identity as an exerciser. I needed to be back in that gym environment or I felt like I would lose all sense of myself.
Since I had been back in the gym for a few weeks, I decided to sign up for a worldwide competition that would begin when I was about nine weeks postpartum and span the next five weeks. I had not yet admitted that giving birth was a major traumatic event for my body or that there was any reason for me to return to exercise slowly, so it seemed perfectly reasonable to pretend like it was fine to test my physical limits so soon after birth.
Photo Credit: Recon Photography
In one of these workouts, I ended up being the last athlete working on the floor. This meant that I had the whole gym cheering for me as I completed one more rep to set a new PR for myself right as time ran out. (The pic above is from that moment.) It felt great to have all these congratulations given to me, an otherwise below-average athlete and a new mom to boot!
But physically, I did not feel great. It hurt my abs to hang from the bar. Despite the direction’s warning that they were not for use less than three months postpartum, I used a pee-stopping “bladder support” because there was also jump rope in the workout. I had to time my workout around my newborn’s breastfeeding schedule. I had no business being in the gym at that point, let alone in a competition setting.
A few weeks later, my then-coach Laura suggested I check out the BIRTHFIT podcast. I thought I had educated myself about birth already, but learning about BIRTHFIT prompted a whole new paradigm shift in my thinking about motherhood. I will be forever grateful to her for that recommendation.
Over the last three years, a lot has changed. I trained as a doula, became a BIRTHFIT Regional Director (with my now-friend Laura), attended the BIRTHFIT Coach and Professional Seminars (a couple of times each), and had a second baby. My experience in training for and recovering from this second birth has been completely different than my first because I’ve had BIRTHFIT in my life.
Telling my complete birth stories will be an exercise for another day (maybe one day I’ll get on the podcast that brought me here!), but I wanted to share about the chance I recently had to do the same workout I did in 2016.
This time, I was nearly nine months postpartum, rather than nine weeks. I hesitated about whether I should do the workout at all, given that it started with toes-to-bar (or, let’s be honest, hanging knee raises). I had been on #TeamNoSitUps for so long – I wondered whether it was a good idea to attempt such an extreme flexion movement. In the end, I decided that one workout wouldn’t undo over two years of intentional core training, and being able to compare my performance to three years prior was a good enough “Why?” for me just this once.
I haven’t had any incontinence issues since having my second baby. I didn’t give the jump rope a second thought. And I definitely didn’t need a strange tampon-like contraption to help me not pee myself.
I now knew that the weight I was likely to end up squat cleaning was manageable, so I wasn’t worried about my postpartum body’s ability to maintain stability under the bar. I didn’t even consider using a weight belt or knee sleeves to augment my lifts.
In case you were wondering, I did actually beat my 2016 score by two reps. To me, the much bigger win is that I did it without excessively taxing my mom bod, and I came out feeling like a badass rather than like I’d been hit by a truck.
I look back at that picture from 2016 and I’m haunted because I can remember how physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted I was from pushing my body and soul too fast in that early postpartum period. But I’m also hopeful because when you know better, you do better. Now that I know better, my body and soul are at peace.
Abi Glisson@birthfitabi BIRTHFIT Atlanta