Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Why Barre is Great Exercise for Mothers... and Others!

My sister-in-law was just safely delivered of a little baby girl! I'm an auntie again! There is another wee one for me to love and watch grow up, yet I won't have to potty train her! Being an aunt is great!

This blessed event has caused the Darling Husband and I to reflect on the days following our boys' births. The joy... the exhaustion... and the terror of you're-not-actually-going-to-send-him-home-with-us?? Darling Son #2's birth was particularly exciting. There were some significant complications that led to his delivery via vertical C-section, which is more invasive than the usual kind. It was absolutely the right decision. I shudder at how he impaired he would be if he had gone through the birth canal... but basically, the doctor filleted me to get him out safely, and I still feel the effects of it.
Two days old in the NICU.

Overnight I went from having a very strong abdominal wall to no core strength. For a long time after I couldn't sit up without pulling myself forward with my arms, which caused shoulder and upper back pain. My hip flexors took over some of the jobs my abs should have been doing. After a while, I couldn't get out of a chair without searing pain in my hip.

My boy continued to grow, consistently scratching the ceiling of the growth charts, but his condition has resulted in significant developmental delays, meaning he had to be carried, lifted and assisted for many tasks other kids his age learned to do on their own. This translated to a lot of lower back pain for me, since I didn't have the core strength to support him.

I had worked out all throughout my pregnancy and, after the initial recovery period, I resumed my weights/cardio/circuit workouts. I was still plagued with aches and pains. I tried some new workouts, and they only made things worse--more aches and pains, plus I developed an agonizing foot condition, plantar fasciitis. I could barely walk on top of everything else. In short, I was a mess.

I had started doing Physique 57 DVDs during my pregnancy and loved them, but after I hadn't done them with enough consistency to see marked benefit. When DS2 was 15 months old, I decided to undertake one of their rigorous monthly challenges--30 to 90 minutes of Physique, six days a week. I got up early and did it first thing in the morning before anyone else was up. Sometimes this meant as early as 4am, but I was determined.

By the end of that first month, my plantar fasciitis was completely healed and my other discomforts had subsided significantly. I could get up and down with ease! My hip flexor pain was greatly reduced, my posture was better and my back didn't hurt anymore.

People are often asking me about my 'results' from barre. Really, I get emails regularly about this, and I'm realizing most people want to hear about pounds and inches lost. Yes, I lost some pounds and inches, but what I gained was far more than that--I can get up out of a chair! I hop out of bed in the morning like I did when I was a child! I feel my core switch on when I need to lift or shift my nearly 40lb. child! Do you have any idea how wonderful this is?? Honestly, I get misty when I think about it. Barre gave me my body back. This is why I am so passionate about it.

So what is it about barre? Here are a few reasons why it's great for mothers... and others:

Barre workouts are very core-focused. I learned the hard way that a weak trunk sets you up for all kinds of problems. If your core isn't up for the task, your body will call on other muscles to pick up the slack--muscles that weren't designed to do what you're asking of them. A good barre workout will work your abdominals from start to finish, and will include back strengthening exercises as well. Even if you aren't strong enough to do some of the movements at first, getting into proper position and holding it will recruit those core muscles and begin to strengthen them. I'm still not quite where I was before I had DS2. I don't know that I'll ever be, but my core strength has significantly improved.

A little bit goes a long way. It's hard to make time for workouts when you have small children, but I find even doing just a little bit of a DVD yields big dividends. Sometimes I'll do the warm-up/arm section and that's all I can get in before an interruption. I'll go back later and do the thigh section, then maybe seat or abs after that. Whatever I can get in is time well-spent.

Barre is posture/alignment focused. Pregnancy and caring for small children is hard on your posture. Carrying weight on your front (be it from pregnancy or carrying a small person around) can cause your shoulders to round and your back to arch. Good form is key, and a good barre workout will develop postural muscles and have you standing straighter throughout the day.

The stretching! Barre workouts incorporate a lot of stretching. I know I've mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. Stretching muscles after strength work results in greater strength gains, not to mention the obvious benefit of improved flexibility and feeling-great-ness. Love the stretching!!

Minimal equipment! Nothing can replace the awesomeness of a live class with a knowledgeable instructor, and I suggest everyone take a live class from time to time. But there are many great barre videos that offer good form pointers, and most use little to no equipment. AND, these workouts are usually performed without shoes, which is great if you have small people who are sometimes quite literally underfoot.

Lastly, barre is no-impact. I don't mean low impact--I mean no impact. This is a great blessing when you have relaxin coursing through your body. Relaxin is the hormone that allows the uterus and pelvis to accommodate the baby during childbirth. It remains as long as you are breastfeeding and makes your joints feel loose. It's a weird sensation, and any impact exercise just didn't feel good to me. A challenging barre workout can give you some great intensity without jarring your already wonky joints.

Mercifully, the DS2 is doing great. He started walking last summer (Praise God and all His cherubim and seraphim!) and is learning to climb in and out of carseats, chairs, etc. He is a joy and a delight, and absolutely worth all it took to have him. And he loves barre! He says, 'Let's do workout,' and has co-opted the kitchen towel rack as his barre.
I'm never going to be able to keep a towel there again...


  1. Yay! I'm 7 months pregnant and have been neglecting my Physique 57 DVDs, thinking they'll never be as good as a live class (so I might as well not do them at all ... what intelligent logic). You've inspired me to start up again and maybe even do a 30-day challenge!

    1. There's nothing like a live class, but the DVDs are a great! I made all that progress just with the DVDs. It can be done at home! Best to you in your pregnancy. :)

  2. Stephanie,
    That picture of you and your little son is so precious...

    1. Why thank you, Madame! He is a darling little love. Very cuddly and loveable!