An Interview with Dr Joanna Helcke

Way back when I was still pregnant (just!) I was offered the chance to review on online pregnancy and postnatal Pilates class. I jumped at the chance intending to start straight away in the final weeks of my pregnancy. Instead Baby Boy made his dramatic entrance into the world and postnatal only it was.

After having chance to test and review the online system I also got chance to speak with the founder Dr Joanna to ask her any questions I had.

I have 2 issues with exercise; one I lack motivation (as seen in my current #Miles4MAMA challenge!) and two I am a chronic hypertensive so with this in mind I set about interviewing Dr Joanna.

dr joanna

Interview with Dr Joanna

As a chronic hypertensive it’s recommended I do gentle exercise regardless of whether I’m pregnant or not. While pregnant my exercise needs to be monitored and tailored to need, what’s your best advice to exercise for those with chronic conditions (doctor approved).

There is most definitely no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Each condition has to be treated differently when it comes to tailoring exercise, whether it be diabetes, hypertension, hypotension, heart disease or any number of other less common conditions. My main advice is to make sure that you exercise with someone who takes the time and the care to ask you if you have any conditions that might impinge on your ability to exercise, and who then follows this up with advice and exercise adaptations if required.

You might have noticed that the very first thing my online Pilates programme makes you do when you sign up is fill in a medical questionnaire. If any answers come back in the affirmative then you receive feedback relating to your condition and exercise. If a member indications that she has a condition which would make exercising a dangerous thing to do in pregnancy (preeclampsia, for example) then my online programme will automatically block the membership and ask the person to contact me directly to discuss the condition. I don’t know of any other online fitness programme that works this way.

I can vouch for this my membership was halted until I spoke with Dr Joanna personally, spoke with my doctor and had the all clear! We discussed what I could and couldn’t do then I got on with the program

What was your favourite way to exercise during pregnancy?

I have to confess that I didn’t do a great deal of exercise during my first and second pregnancies. It was only after the birth of my second son that I caught the fitness bug – so much so that I completely changed career, retrained and now look where I am! So anyway, when I fell pregnant with my third son, I was very much a convert and was determined to carry on as normal. I was very lucky in that I had a pretty easy pregnancy and I carried on doing my beloved weight training until precisely 3 days before giving birth!

Is it better to exercise morning or evening?

Whilst debates rage over whether it is best to exercise in the morning (to burn fat) or the evening (watch out it might keep you awake) I think that the reality for most busy mums is quite simply a case of how on earth to manage squeezing in exercise round family commitments. Motherhood tends to be one great big juggling act and exercise is but another juggling ball to keep up in the air. If we manage to fit some fitness into our lives that has to be good enough!

What exercise do you recommend for each trimester of pregnancy? Especially first trimester where Pilates is not recommended.

First things first: there is nothing wrong with doing Pilates in the first trimester of pregnancy. The general advice is not to take up a completely new form of exercise in the first trimester, whether it be running, weight lifting or even Pilates. However, if these are forms of exercise that you were already doing pre-pregnancy then there is no problem with carrying on just so long as there are no specific contraindications.

In terms of what I would recommend for each trimester, I always think it best for mums-to-be to do the forms of exercise that they genuinely enjoy. So if someone is a passionate runner and is feeling fit and well, then then is no reason why she cannot simply carry on until the day comes where her body says “I’ve had enough of that, give me a break”, at which point it is time to switch to something more gentle.

Of course, certain forms of exercise are out of bounds once into the second trimester – contact sports and dangerous activities – and others need adapting as the body changes and the bump grows – abdominal exercises – but other than that it is possible to simply carry on with pre-pregnancy activities performed at a more moderate pace.

In general I find that by the time mums-to-be reach the third trimester they are usually ready to switch to pregnancy-specific exercise, such as aquanatal, pregnancy Pilates and antenatal yoga, all of which are excellent options when taught by people qualified in the field of prenatal fitness.

Having said all of the above, I would certainly recommend all women in pregnancy to start including exercise that keeps the deep abdominals (the core) toned as this will help protect from back pain – pregnancy Pilates is an excellent option for this. I’d also encourage all mums-to-be to really get into the routine of doing daily pelvic floor exercises and to make absolutely sure that they are being done correctly. And a final word on pregnancy exercise: posture! Any exercise that can help to strengthen postural muscles is going to be a great choice.

Postnatally what have you found to be the best motivation to get exercising?

Do you want the standard fitpro response or do you want to know what I really think as a mum of three boys?

The mum of three boys of course!

The standard fitpro response is going to be the usual “lose the baby weight, lose the mummy tummy blah blah…” (all true by the way). As a mother of three boys I’ll tell you that the true motivation to get exercising postnatally is that it keeps you SANE! Exercise is incredibly powerful when it comes to keeping emotions on an even keel. Motherhood is indeed very lovely but it’s also pretty hard work and fitness is the best tool I know of for keeping truly happy!

Where do you see your programme going in the future?

Oh goodness, I have so many dreams and so many ideas filling my mind that sometimes I find my head buzzing when I’m in bed trying to get to sleep. It’s all hush hush at the moment but I’m currently working on developing a completely new brand and a physical product designed for pregnancy and postnatal fitness. I’m so excited about it as I can finally see all my hard work coming together. It looks (and IS) amazing and it’s launching early next year. So watch this space!

I’m also working on about a dozen other things, including a healthy cook book for busy families and a host of products for my online shop which is currently being built. Something tells me 2016 is going to be a busy year!

Who inspires you?

The people who truly inspire me are those mothers I have met over the years who have had to overcome heartbreak and tragedy. Their inner courage blows me away. I don’t know how they do it but my heart goes out to them and my respect is immeasurable. Only a couple of weeks ago one of the mums-to-be in my pregnancy Pilates class asked me at the end of the workout if I could help publicise her charity event – raising money for HistioUk – her 13 month old son having died earlier this year of this terrible cancer-like disease. These are some of the unsung heroines of this world.

What were your driving factors in setting up Dr Joanna Helcke?
I started my Leicestershire-based pregnancy and postnatal fitness business in 2009 with a range of face-to-face classes which I absolutely adore teaching every week. But I knew from very early on that I didn’t want to fill my days up entirely with teaching. I love working directly with mums but I also adore writing, blogging and creating. So it was then a case of deciding how best to offer more mums and mums-to-be high quality pregnancy and postnatal fitness. For a while I looked into franchising my business but I soon realised that I’d be a pretty hellish franchisor as I’m the ultimately annoying perfectionist (and I don’t say that with pride).

What attracted me down the online route was the ability to have complete creative and quality control over what I produced – I have written all the material that accompanies the online programme and I created and presented all the weekly online videos. This means that I can rest assured that what people are receiving is really good and is also accurate. The perinatal period is such a special time in people’s lives and so it’s incredibly important that they can trust that the exercise they are doing is safe.

Thank you Dr Joanna – what about you? Do you exercise? Did you exercise during pregnancy? Just how do you motivate yourself….

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments


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