I have rug burn on my right elbow. Today I’m doing 120 commandos so it’s going to bleed all over my yoga mat. 120 seems like a lot, so Kayla breaks it into chunks of 30. I still struggle to keep my hips perfectly aligned during this exercise, but the only one watching is my six-month old daughter and her posture is terrible.
But commandos are the least of my concern. There’s also push-up, bench jump burpees, 180° jump squats and decline push ups to get through.
And I’m no athlete.
I was picked last in Phys. Ed and came close to it in every track and field event. I couldn’t even make the badminton team.
But when I’m sweating it out to Taylor Swift on the floor of my daughters nursery, none of that matters. I am the only one in this competition and my tiniest cheerleader thinks it’s funny when I squat.
Six months after having a baby is definitely not when I expected to have abs. I spent hours in the gym over the years and never even saw a two-pack. I cycled, I ran, I did yoga, Pilates and then tried out some of the machines the body builders use. Nothing.
Here are a few of the things I used to believe:
- Having a baby will make me fat. I will gain weight and stay that size forever.
- Cardio is the only exercise worth doing.
- Strength training will make me bulky. I’ll look like a man.
- Eating 2,000 or more calories per day is crazy. I will gain weight.
- I’m not an athletic person so I will never be able to do burpees, push-ups, etc.
Five months into this fitness journey, I’m here to tell you: all of these statements are false.
You need to gain weight during pregnancy to support the healthy development of your baby– including fat. Fat stores are used to produce breast milk. A lot of this weight will be water. You’ll pee it out.
Cardio is great for weight loss because it burns more calories. Strength training burns less calories during the initial workout, but creates lean muscle and increases your metabolism so you burn more calories at rest. A combination of both is the best approach to overall fitness.
You don’t have to look like Arnold if you don’t want to look like Arnold, but with some lean muscle your clothes will fit better, your posture and flexibility will improve and you’ll have more energy. You also don’t have to lift massive weights to see huge change. The heaviest I’ve used so far is a set of 10s.
If you want muscle, you need to eat. If you want to grow your butt, you need to eat. You will not see results if you are starving yourself. Under-eating slows down your metabolism throwing your body into survival mode, so when you do finally eat you end up storing it as fat. When you have lean muscle you can eat more without it affecting your progress or weight. I eat twice as much as I used to and actually weigh 10 lbs less.
Unless you’re planning to compete in the Olympics, this. does. not. matter. I still struggle with burpees and push ups, but I’m way better at it now. They’re hard! Your previous experience with fitness also does not matter. Every person starts life laying on their back and eventually gets up and walks, with zero experience and a lot of bruising.
So how did I get my best body ever, less than six months after having a baby? No rocket science here.
I cleaned up my diet.
I worked out 30-45 mins per day.
I cut myself a break.
Negative self-talk is an excuse to quit. Setting unrealistic goals is an excuse to quit. Falling in love with the process is the only way to succeed at anything. Focusing on the big picture can be overwhelming. It paralyzes me in a vortex of anxiety.
I’ve gotten into the habit of asking myself each morning, “what realistically can I do today that will move me toward my goals.”
It doesn’t matter if this action seems insignificant. It isn’t. One 30 minute workout won’t get you the body you want, but four months of them will.
Don’t make me say it: the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step blah blah blah.
But in all seriousness…
For those wondering, I gained 30 pounds during my pregnancy, 10 of it arriving in the last month as I swelled up like the Michelin man from the waist down. I don’t want to spend a lot of time talking about weight. Everyone’s pregnancy and postpartum experience is different, and the physical results of any exercise program will vary from person to person.
More important, for me anyway, were the emotional and psychological benefits, the confidence I gained and the healing that occurred. If you make this your primary goal, the scale holds a lot less clout. Our weight fluctuates daily and that number provides very little relevant information. The thermometre can say 20 C, but there could also be a hurricane raging outside.
What I will say is this: I have struggled with disordered eating since I was 16. Pregnancy cured this negative mindset and set the stage for the wellness journey I’ve taken since. But I have a separate post coming on how I got my nutrition on track so I won’t go into too much detail on that now.
My first steps:
Two days after delivery I stepped on a scale. I was 3 pounds lighter than the day I went into labour– I was expecting more of a drop, but understood it could be awhile before I started feeling like myself again.
Then four days later, I suddenly lost 30 pounds. My legs, previously the size of tree trunks, now looked like twigs. My butt was flat, my arms emaciated. All my muscle mass just disappeared, seemingly overnight.
I received lots of compliments about how small I was that first month, some more passive aggressive than others, like I had done something to make it happen. It would still take months to get back to my pre-pregnancy body, just not in the way most expect.
In the first few weeks I started by getting out for a walk every day. It settled Cordelia’s colic and improved my mood. I didn’t push myself. Sometimes I just got a latte and found a bench and read my book, other days we walked two kilometres.
Finally around seven weeks postpartum, I felt well enough to experiment with adding more to my exercise routine.
The first time I tried Kayla Itsines’ Bikini Body Guide program was in 2014, back when you had to download the PDF workout guides. I think I tried a couple of the exercises once or twice, but then I moved to Yellowknife and my fitness goals took a backseat for nearly four years.
In 2018 about a month before I got pregnant, I downloaded the Sweat app and decided to start the four-week beginner program.
If you’ve ever come across the program’s transformation pictures on Instagram or Facebook, you know you can’t help but feel inspired. I figured if this many people have been successful, this shit must actually work.
But before I really had the chance to notice any results, I peed on a stick and everything changed. Between emotionally coming to terms with an unplanned pregnancy, morning sickness and extreme fatigue, I didn’t do much of anything.
I also was under the impression I couldn’t work out.
The internet said BBG was too intense and unsafe for pregnancy, especially if you weren’t already in good shape, and I will admit I didn’t try very hard to find an alternative.
Fast forward 10 months.
I started Week 1 of BBG Beginner for the second time in July 2019. You’ll notice how pale and skinny I was then. I sweated through the first work out and nearly cried by the end. Every move felt so hard. Especially the core exercises.
Just this month, Kayla Itsines acknowledged the original beginner program was “not fair” to women who have recently given birth. It was only after having a baby via cesarean that she realized how difficult it is to get back to your former fitness level– and how hard it is to do a straight-leg sit up. She has since launched two new programs: BBG Beginner and Post-Pregnancy.
I couldn’t do all the reps and had to modify some of the exercises, but I did my best. I think it’s really important to be gentle with yourself during this time. Something is better than nothing.
By August, I started noticing changes to my body. I was getting little abs, my thighs were filling out, and my arms weren’t so skinny. I was so surprised at what I was seeing. I worked out for years at the gym and never saw those kind of results. That was when it clicked for me and I decided to go all in with fitness.
I did the beginner program twice and also repeated some of the weeks before moving forward if I was struggling too much with the exercises. Then moved on to the 12-week BBG 1.0 program which I just finished.
Each week, there were three required resistance workouts: Legs, Arms/Abs and Full Body. Once you move to the more challenging weeks, instead of full body, Arms and Abs each have their own day.
During the first round of beginner, I only did two workouts: Legs and Arms/Abs. I was usually too sore and tired for another training day.
The workouts are 28 minutes long and divided into four, seven-minute circuits with four moves each. Circuits 1 and 3 are the same, along with 2 and 4. There is a one-minute rest period between each.
There are also three to five required cardio days of low or high intensity. You choose your own exercise here. I typically walked with Cordelia every day for 30-60 minutes.
Two recovery workouts are recommended which utilize stretching with a foam roller and there is also the option to complete a weekly challenge. These are fun and once I got stronger I did it every week. They range in time from 15 – 30 minutes.
There are also lots of options available to change it up on days you’re not doing your required BBG exercises, including a list of workouts targeting specific areas of the body. I used these frequently too.
For the last few months I have been working out 6-7 days per week, so my results are not completely indicative of only following the BBG program requirements.
I spent a lot of time reading maternity leave horror stories when I was pregnant, so I was pretty much expecting the worst: living off whatever food I could stuff in my mouth, no sleep, no showering, no down time. The reality for me was actually quite different and it didn’t take long to get into a mostly-manageable routine that allows me to get a lot accomplished each day.
That said, being home alone with a baby is hard. Being a mom in general is hard. As someone who struggles with anxiety and depression I was a high-risk candidate for PPD. Moving my body every day has been the best thing I’ve ever done for my mental health.
Moving my body every day has been the best thing I’ve ever done for my mental health.
There are some days when everything seems to be going wrong, I’m bawling before noon and just want to hide under the blankets, but I know if I put my running shoes on and get through a workout, I will feel better.
99% of the time this is the case. Even if the workout didn’t go well, the act of getting myself to do it makes me feel good.
And because I don’t have to get ready and drive to the gym, it is as simple as pressing ‘start’ once Cordelia is napping.
The afternoon in particular, has always been hard for me. I used to hit a wall around 2 p.m. and have no energy, be unable to focus and start to get really anxious. Some people prefer to get their workout in first thing in the morning. I’ve tried this and it just doesn’t work for me, my body doesn’t perform as well, and I still hit that afternoon slump later.
Right now I exercise between 1 and 3 p.m. This will obviously have to change once I return to work and I expect I will move it to later in the day.
When I started exercising regularly, and eating (healthy, whole food) every three hours; I found my energy levels generally stayed consistent throughout the day. I get maybe 5-6 hours of sleep each night, don’t nap and haven’t increased my caffeine at all (I drink 2 coffees every day and none after noon).
Since starting BBG the last week of June 2019, I have gained four-six pounds; my body is leaner and more muscular. Though I still have (and likely always will) loose skin around my abdomen, my core feels strong and I have thighs and a butt again (hooray!)
My overall review of the BBG program:
BBG is an excellent way to get into fitness, especially if you don’t have a lot of time, aren’t sure where to start, or can’t get to the gym. I definitely found I got way better results following a standardized program, than when I used to wing it on my own.
However, once you complete the home workouts and want to branch out to other programs in the app, you need access to gym equipment, which is a downside for me. The home-based BBG program continues up to 84 weeks, so I plan to continue on with that for now.
I debated getting a gym membership to try one of the weight lifting programs but that would be over $70 a month with the Sweat app fees and more of a challenge to incorporate into my current baby-centric lifestyle.
Another downside for me, is its focus on high impact cardio (lots of moves that require jumping and put pressure on your knees and wrists).
If you have trouble with your joints, some of the moves can be painful and require modifications (some suggestions are provided but not always).
The edema I experienced during pregnancy put a lot of strain on my body, my knees in particular have not been the same since, so I have to be careful.
Now that I have a base-level of fitness and know what works well for me, my goals are to gain more lean muscle by incorporating heavier weights; achieve better balance, coordination and flexibility; and increase my upper body strength (forever my weakest area).
Some more info about the Sweat app:
How much does it cost?
$22 CND / month.
What is included in the Sweat app:
Kayal Itsines’ BBG: Beginner, Post-Pregnancy, BBG, BBG Stronger
Kelsey Wells: PWR, PWR at Home, PWR Post-Pregnancy
Chontal Duncan: Fierce (gym-based)
Stephanie Sanzo: Build (gym-based)
Sjana Elise: Body and Mind (yoga-inspired)
**About midway through BBG I started doing some workouts from PWR at Home on the days I wasn’t doing BBG. The workout length is the same, but it is structured into activation circuits, supersets, tri-sets and burnouts. Its focus is on weight training and is lower impact with less cardio than BBG. I enjoyed these workouts because they were less intense than BBG and worked well for active recovery.
What equipment do I need?
For the home workouts, you can get away with running shoes, an exercise mat, a set of light and medium dumbbells and skipping rope.
Other recommended equipment: medicine ball, goblet weight, resistance loops, bench and fitness steps.
I used a chair for a lot of the moves and a heavier dumbbell in place of the medicine ball and goblet weight. Note: PWR at home uses a weight bar, but I also used dumbbells for these exercises.
Tracking your progress:
Your current weight and measurements are entered when you install the app, and you can also enter a goal. These can be updated however often you like and there is a feature for taking and storing progress photos.
There is an online forum where you can chat with other women using the app, along with a new chat feature which allows you to connect directly with the Sweat team. Sweat also has a blog and e blasts you can subscribe to for more tips and motivation. The Instagram community is also incredibly inspiring and supportive. Kayla often features women on her page who are using the app, or there are a number of hashtags you can search for: #bbgmoms or #bbgprogress are good ones.
Sweat does come with a nutrition plan. I did not utilize this tool because it did not fit into my lifestyle. When you register, the app prompts you for information on your diet. I selected a Pescitarian meal plan, but other options include: Standard, Vegetarian, Lacto-Vegetarian, Ovo-Vegetarian and Vegan.
Each day you are given suggestions for three meals and two snacks. You can skip ahead in the week and see what is on the menu and the app generates shopping lists for you. The recipe and instructions for preparing each meal are also included.
In this case the variety was a little bit too much. I would have had to buy a lot of different groceries, many of which no one else in my house would have eaten, and I also do not have the time to prepare that many meals in a day. I generally eat variations of the same thing week to week and have adapted a nutrition lifestyle that allows me to maintain my weight. However, if you’re looking to overhaul your diet and make better choices, this could be helpful.
If you have any questions about BBG or my fitness experience, please do not hesitate to ask!