Having lost count of the numbers of women I know who simply gave up exercising during their pregnancies (including, embarrassingly, myself for my first two sons), by the third time around I was determined not to stop. I’d been coming to three or four Form classes a week religiously for six months or so, and was more sculpted and toned than I’d ever been. As Beauty Director of Harper’s Bazaar magazine I was in the fortunate position to have access to any of London’s trainers, gyms and classes, but Form was simply the best workout I’d ever tried. The thought having to stop for nine months was something I was loath to do.
Why did I, and myriad friends, stop their routines when they were pregnant the first time(s) round? Largely because we were turned away from the classes we knew and loved because the instructors said they couldn’t confirm its safety when you’re expecting. Yet the alternative ‘pregnancy classes’ made watching TV seem like a workout. Yes, my last pregnancy was five years ago, but even at the most prestigious yoga and pilates studios in town the pregnancy classes were little more than glorified breathing routines. I even saw celebrity trainers who were so tame that it hardly seemed worth committing to the hour. I’m not saying these gentle approaches don’t have their place during pregnancy; of course anything that nurtures, restores and relaxes you during these special months should be embraced. Yet while they are great for relaxation and wellbeing, an hour of rolling your hips on a mat is tantamount to useless in terms of retaining muscle definition. Hence we slipped into nine months of succumbing to the sofa and acceptance of the ‘fact’ that a growing bump had to go hand in hand with an overall sense of pudginess, a bad back and shallow breathing…
So, to say that it was a breath of fresh air when FORM founder Elissa joyously told me that there was no reason I had to stop coming to FORM throughout my pregnancy with my third son is an understatement. It’s been the single thing that has got me through this pregnancy (at 40 years old) feeling fantastic. It’s not just about the fact that I’ve still got the muscle definition in my arms and bottom that I had nine months ago (although that is pretty fulfilling). It’s because coming to three or four Pure (FORM’s Pilates hybrid method) classes a week – FORM’s signature class MetCore isn’t advisable in pregnancy – has been the thing that has stopped me from feeling sick in the first months (even when I felt dreadful, with their focus on deep breathing and lengthening the body, FORM classes had the miraculous effect of making the nausea vanish), energized in the second trimester and free from pain in my third trimester. I write this at nearly 38 weeks and with just two weeks to go until my third son arrives I can honestly say that I never thought it was possible to feel so physically and mentally balanced during pregnancy, and I know that this is solely down to FORM (I’ve done no other exercise and with a busy home and work life haven’t had time for massages and the like). My Pure classes have kept me strong, stretched out and aligned. The lethargy that can so easily overshadow pregnancy is completely kept at bay by the unique mix of breathing, balancing, lengthening and strengthening that is characteristic of the classes that Elissa has devised. For anyone put off exercising when they are pregnant, this is the workout for you.
These are my top 5 benefits and pregnancy tips I’ve picked up over the course of my pregnancy from coming to Form
1) Breathe Breathing deep into my stomach and contracting my abs to exhale is transformative. This simple step alone shakes tension and stale energy out of the body, and brings new, freshly oxygenated blood around the body. Which is obviously a great thing for your baby, and you.
2) Squat In my first two pregnancies I was crippled with lower back pain. By strengthening my glutes through the many variations of squats and lunges that we do in Form, it has been nothing short of a miracle that I am still pain free, despite an enormous stomach! A key difference here is that every Form instructor is so fastidious in making sure you have the correct alignment (knees out, never knocking inwards); by performing squats correctly it has kept my glutes strong, by hips open and my back supported.
3) Embrace the burn The ‘positive’ burn that we are encouraged to embrace in class (leg quivering above bottom as you pulse it, or burning as you do leg circles whilst Elissa encourages us along with cries of ‘in the burn lies your results!’) is quite different to the negative over-doing it of classes that push you beyond your limit (and in doing so push you into performing the movements incorrectly, inevitably leading to injury). Yes, the butt sequences in FORM are brutal but my god nothing gets your bottom in better shape. Which isn’t just a good thing in terms of balancing out an ever expanding stomach: my pert behind is key to my legs feeling strong and my pelvis staying stabilized, both of which have kept me feeling fit and energized through my pregnancy.
4) Stretch your hips I didn’t think I’d be able to touch my toes at nine months pregnant, but I can. As well as this forwards flexibility, I love all the hip opening stretches and lunges that we do at Form, which I can feel opening up the fronts of my legs and in turn loosening my lower back. Nobody had ever properly explained to me how keeping the front of the hips extended is absolutely essential to ensuring the lower back is tension-free: these movements are something that I am now evangelical about.
5) Strengthen your mind No stranger to the endless ‘to do’ list that we all have, my 50 minute classes at Form provide an escape and mental ‘me time’ that is priceless during pregnancy. Even in yoga classes I used to find my mind wandering off to Ocado lists and the like; but because in Form you have to concentrate to breathe and balance, I find myself truly immersed in the moment, which is so key for relaxation. The balancing we do walking up and down the roller, too, fires neurotransmitters in the brain which reduce tension, fight fatigue and keep my mind healthy and active, and the workouts never fail to get my endorphins raised with the mix of fabulous music and just-hard-enough exercise. Here’s hoping this mental clarity is going to stand me in good stead for labour…
Author : Sophie Bloomfield is Editor at Large of Harper’s Bazaar magazine and also works as an interior decorator.