Pregnancy and Post Natal Fitness for Riders

Last autumn I spent many hours filming and editing 2 incredibly exciting new courses. As with everything that I do, these are based very much on my own experience as a rider – and with these particular courses – my time as an expectant and then new mother.

Riding is unique in the way it demands dynamic stability, particularly around the pelvis, and the need for balance, symmetry, strength and stamina. All of these are challenged, and in fact compromised, during pregnancy and the early months after having a baby. For many women, the recovery and rebuilding process takes many months; in fact the only research around this suggests that even a year after giving birth, women in ‘training’ have not regained pre-pregnancy fitness levels.

What prompted me to embark on this epic challenge to help female riders was my own realisation that despite my years as a Physio, including teaching Pilates, I was woefully underprepared for the immense changes that my body would go through. I thought I knew enough; I did ante-natal classes, I’d treated pregnant women and new mums, I’d read all the information, and of course I knew how to rehab a body. But nonetheless, whilst I coped well enough during pregnancy –  due to the combination of having a small bump, my knowledge about safe exercise during pregnancy and the fact that I didn’t have any significant complications – nothing prepared me for the post-baby body.

Pregnancy and Motherhood have a lasting Impact on our Bodies

We have to bear in mind the emotional and hormonal impact of pregnancy and motherhood; of course, these will affect how we view ourselves, our bodies and our ability to do what had previously been routine activities. And this is what I put my own concerns down to initially. Until, that is, I spoke to a Physio friend of mine. My son was about 18 months old, so I was pretty well back to previous levels of fitness, but my friend’s daughter was 3 months old and she (friend not baby!) was keen to get back to running. The trouble was, she had no idea how to start. Should she start? How should she go about it? When should she try? I realised then that if we, as experienced Physios – who both taught Pilates – didn’t know, then how on earth wold women without our knowledge have any chance of knowing what to do?

Roll on a few years, and I started to do some market research. The findings were almost entirely depressing. Bar the odd woman who had had no complications and just made their own way back in their own time, the majority felt that they had been given poor or no advice about how to look after their bodies. I was horrified that one woman who had been seen in the Physio department that I used to work in, had been told ‘What did you expect’, when she was treated post-natally. Another rider I spoke to in New Zealand was several months pregnant with twins and had not yet been taught how to do pelvic floor exercises, let alone the importance of them.

I think that whilst this is a reflection on the wider provision of care for expectant women and new mothers when it comes to fitness, there is a specific issue for riders. In part this stems from fear in the healthcare professions around the very act of riding. I was extremely fortunate to have a midwife and consultant who were both very happy for me to continue, but for many women this is not the case. This can cause issues when women are simply advised not to ride, but not given suitable alternatives, and not assisted with the impact this advice may have on mental health. Let’s face it, for most – if not all of us – we rely on our equestrian exploits to keep us sane!

But, as I said right at the start, riding is unique in the demands it places in the body. It is the only sport/skill which requires both sides of the body to function equally, in balance, in symmetry, and we have to work endlessly to achieve this. Most healthcare professionals will have no idea about this. They will not be versed in the need for high levels of dynamic stability, an independent seat, and the ability to absorb the forces coming up from the horse. So they will not be in a position to advise on how pregnant women can attempt to maintain their specialist skills even as their biomechanics are changing drastically, or how new mums can start to regain those skills.

I think that new mothers are particularly vulnerable to this lack of help. The change in identity, the lack of ‘me time’ and the desire to still do the activities that make you ‘you’ and to do them well, are a perfect storm for despair and frustration when the body just isn’t up to scratch in those precious moments spent on the horse.

The Courses 

So, these 2 courses; Pregnancy Fitness for Riders and Post-Natal Fitness for Riders, I hope, will make a start to change this. These courses combine a large amount of exercise with plenty of advice which I hope will ensure that there are far fewer surprises, and a whole lot more confidence in what to expect and how to proceed.

The Pregnancy Fitness for Riders course is a self paced programme, suitable to work through during the 2nd and 3rd Trimesters. There are 3 sessions for each Trimester, each of around 25 minutes, and those for the 3rd Trimester are less demanding, and incorporate modifications for anyone who is finding exercise more challenging but is nonetheless keen to maintain fitness. The focus of this course is maintenance of strength and dynamic stability around the pelvic and shoulder girdles for those who are still riding, and those who have stopped but want to be in a position to start promptly after having their baby.

The Post-Natal Fitness for Riders course is also self paced, but is aimed to be progressed over 12 weeks – of course it can be done over a much longer time period, but I definitely don’t recommend anyone tries to complete it more quickly. The sessions in this course start at around 10 minutes long, and build to 15 minutes towards the end. It is safe to start immediately after birth for anyone who is keen and free of complications, or at 6 weeks after a Caesarean Section,  and all the sessions are safe to be done with baby around if that is how it works best! The focus of this course is slowly rebuild dynamic stability around the pelvic and shoulder girdles, but I have also included plenty of exercises that will help reduce the aches and pains that come with caring for a new baby. One of the things that surprised me was just how stiff I was from the hours spent feeding for example, and of course this is not ideal for trying to move well in the saddle!

Both of the courses are aimed at women who are in general, free from complications. However, the majority of complications, such as Pelvic Girdle Pain and Diastisis Rectus Abdominus, will benefit from the type of controlled exercise in these courses, but midwife/consultant/physio opinion should be sought before purchase. It is important to note that I am not a specialist Women’s Health Physiotherapist, and for any one who has specific needs then they must seek specialist help and not rely on these courses.

Where to find the courses

If you think that you might benefit from one or both of these courses then take a look at the Shop page. The Pregnancy Fitness fro Riders course was tested for me by Irish event rider Sarah Elebert, and you can read her full review on the same page, and also on my Instagram account. In short though, she described it as ‘Invaluable’!

I have also set up a Facebook Group for anyone who purchases the courses. it is simply there as a sort of ‘support’ group, where questions related to riding during pregnancy, the struggles and wins of juggling riding with a small baby and so on, can be shared and discussed.

Good luck if you pregnant, or a new mum on the road back to fitness. It’s hard work but you’ll get there, and there is help at hand.