Mums might find it challenging to keep fit amidst their busy schedules. If you are one of us, fret not, we speak to mum’s fitness trainer and advocate Kareen Lai who have gone through the challenges of weight gain, shedding post-pregnancy weight healthily coupled with raising three preemie babies. She shares the benefits of including fitness regimes into the routine and how a fit mummy will be a happier mummy.
Interview with Kareen Lai from Mums in Sync
Tell us about yourself
My name is Kareen. I am mum to a pair of ten-year-old twins (a boy and a girl), and recently mum to another baby boy who just turned one. Professionally I am a Certified Personal Trainer who specialises in working with mamas to help them get into shape and maintain a fit and active lifestyle, after having babies. I was a PE teacher who taught college students, before I ventured into specialising in women’s health & fitness. I appreciate good culinary skills and love artisanal bakes!
What was your fitness journey like?
I could write a thesis paper on this. My fitness journey changed at different stages of my life. When I was younger, I was a climber and even climbed competitively for a short period of time. Most of my activities revolved around climbing, running, swimming, heading to the gym with my brothers, and heading outdoors.
After I had my twins, I had to be more specific with my exercises choices and plans. Because it involved a specific objective of losing excess body fats. Exercising or simply just “moving” wasn’t going to help me achieve that. Focused weights training and being very intentional with my food choices helped me get down to being leaner and lighter than pre-pregnancy days!
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Then I even got started in trail running with some close running mama buddies. I am terrible at endurance events, but I do it because I enjoy the company, the view that trail running has to offer, and the physical and mental benefits that come along with it.
Just last year I had my 3rd baby and I had to take multiple steps back again in my fitness journey. I was postpartum all over again, so it’s akin to restarting from scratch as I had to patiently allow my body to heal and get stronger from inside out again. Lots of variations throughout the years, isn’t it?
Tell us about the challenges you faced getting fit postpartum
First things first. Not every BODY shrinks back to pre-pregnancy weight and size as fast as “the many women” we see on social. Well, I’m one of them.
In fact, my body refused to budge, nor respond to anything I did for a good 3-4 months post birth of my 3rd kid.It was infuriating and annoying.
I’m supposed to know how to do it. But my body just wasn’t responding to good exercises and good food that I put in. And I see all these mamas on social media, fitting back into their skinnies almost after birth. It was depressing.
I know what effect social media can do to us. But I was still depressed. So as a professional in my field, I would have to confess that social media and personal expectations were my biggest barriers to healing after this pregnancy.
Obviously the logical mind wasn’t present, because the postpartum period is when hormones can rule over logic and emotions.
In fact, it wasn’t the exercises, nor was it the food. It was simply my body telling me it wasn’t ready to do all that I wanted it to. The textbooks and multitudes of programs out there can guarantee magical results about their programs. But my body just wasn’t ready to respond.
In addition, my body was probably still recovering from yet another traumatic birth. You can read more about my birth story here.
So once I finally accepted this fact, I made the decision to focus on what’s important.
- Heal and strengthen my core from inside out
- Not to subject myself to unnecessary stress (something I did not learn to handle as effectively 10 years ago). That means saying NO to many things and people.
- Re-look at my expectations.
There were good days and bad days. But mostly I had to be flexible with my workout plans. Because my time is divided into caring for a baby, a pair of ten year olds and an adult baby (you know who). 24 hours is not enough!
Unless you have help at home, recognise that it can be very challenging to follow a rigid fitness program. As such, the workouts I kept to, are mostly repetitive and revolve around the principles of healing my core muscles from inside out. They have to be “fuss free”, time efficient and effective, all at the same time.
What is fitness to you?
Fitness to me, is freedom of movement and thoughts. The ability to move freely as we like, is taken for granted by most of us. We assume that our bodies can do this now and be physically and mentally abled forever. And we forget to care for our bodies and help support our bodies to thrive.
So, while most of us enjoy the freedom of movement now, I’d like to remind you not to take it for granted. Keep Moving, nourish our bodies with good wholesome foods and we can keep fitness in body and mind forever.
Why should mums make time for exercise?
For the same reason as above and more.
Firstly, happy hormones! With all the stresses of motherhood and the 1001 burdens we shoulder, it’s inevitable that our bodies will naturally find things to make ourselves happy. Be it ‘happy food’, that glass of wine, buying that nice dress, scrolling through social to see how many likes etc ….these are just ways to try to get our moods up by getting spikes of dopamine. But these activities bring along with them other disadvantages as well.
Simply exercising will give us the injection of endorphins to keep moods up, minus the disadvantages that other activities can bring along!
Secondly, it can delay the onset of osteoporosis. Yes, research shows that we tend to get the onset of osteoperosis earlier than men. And we can definitely prove the research wrong by starting now. Making time for exercise, weighted training etc … will all help us build stronger bones and defy what the research says!
What are some exercises recommended for expectant mums?
When exercising during pregnancy, mummies have to adopt the mindset that we are not training for athletic performance during this period. What I believe to be true, pregnant mamas all want the same thing – to have a healthy baby, have a fast & smooth birth, have a great recovery after and be able to wing motherhood with strength in mind and body.
As such, any exercise routines that we choose to do during this period should support the above objectives, and not work against it. For expectant mums, I will recommend that you start with the right breathing technique to learn how to protect your core so that it helps your abdominals with a smooth recovery after birth.
You can watch a short training video on “How to exercise to manage diastasis during pregnancy” to get started on this essential skill.
How about for postpartum mums?
For postpartum mums, the initial stage for fitness recovery has nothing to do with crunches and sit ups. Note that the issues in your abdominals had been stretched maximum, and your pelvic floor muscles haven been weakened from carrying all the extra load the past 40 weeks+.
So your initial focus is to start supporting your core muscles to heal so that they start “speaking” to each other again and get stronger from the inside out. If you had not learnt how to breathe right to protect your core from the inside out, I recommend that you start doing that first. It is the fundamental skill to learn first, which is akin to strengthening the beams of a house first, before laying bricks and furnishings on it.
You can easily get started with my free 7 Days Challenge for New Mums, “TummyCare Right After Baby”.
Any advice for mums aspiring to get fitter?
If you have the intention to get fitter, it means you do not need any more reasons to tell you why you should move and get fitter. You already know the benefits of it. However, it’s not quite happening because you might possibly not have a plan.
Without a plan, everything is lassez faire and ‘comes and goes’, sabotaging your attempts to get fitter. So the first thing you could do is to schedule in movement time. It’s goma be in your schedule for it to happen. If you are lost and not sure how to get started on a plan, engage a trusted women’s fitness specialist to help direct you in the right direction. It’s all about momentum. Once you get the ball rolling steadily, you will naturally wanna keep it moving. And that’s how you will get fitter over time engaging in movement activities that make you happy!
Thanks Kareen for your honest and insightful sharing about your journey.
A Fitter Mum is a Happier One
As emphasised, fitness is not about looking slim – regular exercise is needful to ward off sicknesses, lift moods and energy levels. Fitness is both body and mind, as Kareen has shared. If you would like to know more about getting fitter, check out Kareen’s site.