Suzy Clarkson's post-birth exercises you can do at home: book extract

Former TV presenter and trained physiotherapist Suzy Clarkson has devised a practical guide to help women through pregnancy, Fit for Birth and Beyond. Aimed at older mothers, it includes excerpts from Suzy's own pregnancy diary plus many easy-to-follow fitness exercises for mums.

Suzy had her first child at 39 and her second at 45, after extensive fertility treatment.

Below are some of her post-birth exercises from six weeks after baby:

 Dear Diary — Week 6

I’ve hit the wall. It’s taken until now for the post-birth high to wear off and the cumulative tiredness to stack up. I’m knackered. It’s meant to be a particularly ‘sunny period’ with baby according to the developmental books, but he’s cranky and hard to settle. I can’t find time for a nap for me during the day, so exercise is becoming hard to achieve. The weekends are easier when I can offload baby minding onto my hubby. When I do some exercise I feel great — my body is craving it.

On Saturday I did a cycle on the stationary bike at home, and on Sunday I did toning exercises and stretches. Bliss. It made a nice change from walking. Variety is the key for me, and just getting something in rather than nothing. I thought in the first few weeks that I’d never feel like the old me again, but slowly and surely my muscle strength is coming back — even amidst the exhaustion.

This motherhood role is SO busy, and it’s pretty much a monotonous cycle at present of: feed baby; burp baby; change baby; settle baby to sleep; do a load of washing or grab a nap or get some domestic chores done.

Looking after a new baby is a responsible full-time job with loads of unpredictable demands. Multi-tasking is the only way I can fit everything in. I’m now doing the walk-to-school drop-off, and then continuing on for a longer pram walk while baby sleeps, with exercises out and about as I go. I felt a little self-conscious initially about doing the wall press-ups on someone else’s wall, but that lasted a nanosecond. Passengers in the cars driving by must have wondered what I was doing — ha ha! 


Pelvic floor exercises

This goes without saying by now, right? Good! Get into the habit of doing a PF (pelvic floor) pull-up every time you activate your TVA. {TVA is the Transverse abdominus or “corset muscle”. Strengthening this layer of muscle provides support for the spine as well as the pelvic floor.]


TVA progression — TVA plus toe touches

The next progression to further strengthen your TVA is performed lying on your back, with both knees pulled in and feet off the floor. Maintain a static TVA contraction and slowly lower alternate toes to lightly touch the floor, then lift up again, and repeat 15 times with each leg.


Fig. 8.17 


Using either the stairs, your front doorstep or a box that is stable to stand on, do a set of step-ups on each leg. Your left leg stays on the step as you rise up and down, and then do the same with the right. The key to this exercise is to activate your butt first, before your leg muscles, so before you step up, squeeze your butt. Make sure that as you step up you keep your bent knee tracking straight forwards, over your toe (not rolling in). Put your hands on your butt cheeks as if you were putting them in your back pockets, to check that the muscle is activating and staying contracted throughout the movement.

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Fig 8.18

Bridging with single leg extension

Squeeze your butt, lift and perform a bridge, then slowly extend one leg out whilst maintaining your lifted level pelvis position. You will need to switch on your core muscles strongly (abdominals and gluteals) to perform this slowly and smoothly while keeping your hip bones even. Extend your lower leg out, hold for 3 seconds, and return to original position. Continue with alternate single leg extensions, and repeat 15 times on each side.


Fig. 8.19 

Side-lying planks progression plus side leg-lifts

Perform a side-lying plank as in Phase 2, lifting your hips up (Fig. 8.20. While in this position, lift and lower your hip to the floor, in pulses. Extend your upper leg (Fig. 8.21); hold the half-plank position while doing a set of upper leg-lifts for outer-thigh strengthening. This exercise targets two sets of muscles: the obliques are activated by the side plank position, and the leg abductors are activated on the upper side. Don’t lift the upper leg too high: just elevate it in line with your body, no higher than your shoulder, and toe pointing down. Complete 15–20 repetitions each side.


Fig. 8.20 


Fig. 8.21 

Alternate two-point kneeling holds

Again, this will challenge and strengthen your core muscles. The focus is to maintain the hips and shoulders in the kneeling neutral position — don’t sway or move to the side. Activate TVA first by drawing in your belly button. Squeeze the butt, then extend the opposite arm and leg, hold for 3 seconds, then pull them in to under your body, not touching the floor, and begin to extend again. Complete 10 repetitions on the one side, and then return to four-point kneeling. Complete the same exercise with the other arm and leg: extend, draw in, extend, etc. 

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Fig. 8.22

Tricep dips

These can be performed on a step, a chair or a park bench. Make sure your chest is vertical, then bend your elbows and lower your body, keeping your butt as close to the step or chair as you can. (This is the same as exercise 5 in first trimester home workout session.) You can advance the exercise by extending one leg out. Do a set of 10–15 repetitions. 

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Fig. 8.23

These first seven exercises can be performed in a circuit. Aim for 2 sets of each. 

Extract from Fit for Birth and Beyond: The guide for women over 35 by Suzy Clarkson (Exisle Publishing, $34.99).

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