Pregnancy weight loss

Weight Loss After Pregnancy
By Kelli Calabrese MS, CSCS

Do you feel that varying an exercise routine helps in revving a woman’s metabolism and jumpstarting weight loss?

Variety is absolutely one of the main components to seeing progress with an exercise program. If you continue to repeat the same exercise sequences at the same intensity and for the same duration, you are missing out on one of the key principles of training which is to overload your body. By using a variety of cardiovascular techniques including continuous training, cross training, interval training, speed play as well as a variety of strength training techniques like super slow, break downs, and changing the repetition range you continually keep your body challenged and steer clear of a plateau.

Is there a trend towards interval training or short bursts of exercise to prevent a plateau in weight loss?

There is significant research to support bursts of exercise for burning additional calories both during the acceleration period as well as in the time following the cessation of exercise – known as after burn. These periods of acceleration can be performed during cardio sessions and can also be incorporated in to a strength training session. One example of a strength can cardio combined format would include performing 3 leg exercises followed by 3 – 5 minutes on the stair master. Then 3 back exercises followed by 3 – 5 minutes on the rower, then 3 chest exercises followed by 3 – 5 minutes on the elliptical trainer and so on until all of the major body parts had been exercised. This is a highly efficient way to combine strength training with cardiovascular conditioning and burn the maximum amount of calories during a strength training session.

What is the optimal amount of time (minutes per day/days of the week) for women to exercise for weight loss? And can it be divided up into shorter chunks and still be beneficial?

The cardiovascular prescription for fat loss is 20 – 60 minutes. Time and intensity are inversely proportional. Those who can work at higher intensities can burn more calories in a shorter period of time. For example, a walker may burn 100 calories in 15 minutes, where a runner may burn closer to 200 calories in 15 minutes. 20 minutes is thought to be the minimum amount of time to see health benefits and add to a negative caloric deficit at the end of the day. Once cardiovascular exercise exceeds 60 minutes, the risks of injury begin to outweigh the benefits. The goal is to have approximately 500 – 1000 caloric deficit at the end of the day to average 1 – 2 pounds of fat lost at the end of the week. Burning 250 calories through exercise and eating 250 less calories is a safe and effective way to lose a pound of fat a week – permanently.

Concerning health benefits, studies have shown that intermittent bouts of exercise are just as effective as continuous sessions of cardio exercise. As long as the total time adds up to 20 – 60 minutes in your target heart rate zone, you can expect similar benefits as someone how had performed their exercise in one session. Regarding fat loss, you may actually be better off having several short bursts of activity during the day because of the after burn effect. If you rev up your metabolism several times throughout the day, your metabolism may remain elevated for up to an hour following activity. When exercise is preformed several times throughout the day, those after burn calories do add up.

Why are small meals throughout the day better for weight control? Do you recommend this type of eating plan for your clients?

When you eat, your body heats up. This is known as the thermic effect of food. The heat is the result of the intense metabolic action involved in digesting and absorbing the food you’ve eaten.

It can last for as long as three hours following a meal. By eating 5 – 6 smaller meals throughout the day you are putting this scientific fact to work for you. Think of it as breakfast, mid-morning snack, lunch, mid-afternoon snack, dinner and evening snack.

Most people unconsciously eat this way, but in the form of BLTs. BLTs are Bites, Licks and Tastes which add up to considerable calories by the end of the day. A handful of pretzels here, a few French fries there, a biscotti with your Starbucks and suddenly those non-nutritive, empty calories count. This is known as grazing and is not what is meant by 5 – 6 small meals a day.

When you eat mindfully, using a combination of lean protein, complex and fibrous carbs and low fat, you turn your body into a fat-burning machine instead of a fat-storing machine.

Skipping meals, especially breakfast leads to low energy, cravings and overeating later in the day. People who don’t eat breakfast tend to be heavier than those who eat a lean breakfast. By eating every 3 hours you will never be hungry and never feel like you are on a “diet.” Eating smaller portions of food every few hours helps with digestion. In addition, the brain will never send the body into starvation mode and you shouldn’t crave sweets. Because of the balanced natural foods consumed, blood sugar will remain stable, there are dips in energy and there is a chronic feeling of satisfaction.

Frequent fueling is a great way to stave off hunger and fuel your metabolism, but the meals will likely have to be smaller than what you are currently accustomed too.

Active women can eat considerably more on a daily basis and yet weigh less than those who exercise at low levels or are sedentary. Active women maintain a lighter and leaner body with a lower body fat percentage even though they eat more than their sedentary counterparts. Consciously or unconsciously, active people tend to eat a small meal every few hours.

I personally eat this way and I encourage all of my clients to do so. More information can be found about this topic in my program called Feminine, Firm & Fit which will be available in January 2003.

Do you have any fitness tips or specific exercises for your postnatal clients?

Delivering a baby and taking care of a newborn are probably the most physically challenging times of a woman’s life. Combining the fatigue during the ninth month of pregnancy, with the energy required for labor and delivery, along with the tireless effort necessary to care for a new born, typically moves exercising off of the to do list. Regardless of the exhaustion felt, new mothers are more often than not at their highest point of motivation to get their bodies back – especially following a cesarean section.

In a cesarean delivery (c-section), a surgical incision is made through the mother’s abdomen and uterus to deliver the baby. After a c-section, physicians will likely recommend a new mother can begin cardiovascular exercises after the 6th week following delivery. How soon after a c-section a new mom can begin exercise normally depends on her level of fitness prior to pregnancy, her exercise levels during pregnancy and how the incision is healing. Cardiovascular exercise will be preceded by the reintroduction of strengthening and stretching exercises.

Returning to exercise should be thought of like going backwards through pregnancy. As pregnancy progresses, exercise naturally tapers off. After birth the reverse should happen to gradually work towards pre-pregnancy status.
Benefits of Exercise
Regular exercise can help restore muscle strength even in an abdominal muscle that was cut through. Exercise raises energy levels, provides a sense of well-being and can ward off post partum-depression. It can also help restore pre-pregnancy shape, increase metabolism and
regulate hormones. I’ve seem some new moms transform their bodies to better condition than before they were pregnant.
Getting Started
Cardiovascular conditioning: Once cleared for activity by your physician, walking is a good way to get back in shape. Start with as little as 10 minutes of moderate exercise and gradually work up to longer and more vigorous exercise as energy levels increase. Strive for a minimum of 20 minutes 3 – 5 days weekly.
When walking, focus on keeping good posture including keeping the chest lifted. When the spine is erect in a natural position, the abdominals will be lengthened which is encouraged, since they are shortened when sitting.
Walking should be performed on grass, sand, a wooden or carpeted surface. Allow plenty of time before you return to any competitive activities. Exercise in a temperature controlled environment to avoid overheating.
Warm up for 5 – 10 minutes and cool down for 5 – 10 minutes proceeding and following each cardio session.
Eventually swimming, cycling and other pre-pregnancy exercises can be reintroduced, but, jumping and jarring motions and rapid changes of direction should be avoided to prevent possible overstretching and injury.
Physicians, should determine a target heart rate and establish the duration and frequency of the exercise program.
Strength Training: Even in the absence a vaginal delivery, it would still be beneficial to perform kegel exercises for the vaginal and pelvis area. The abdominals should not be lengthened beyond their natural position, however they can eventually be shortened in exercises like the basic crunch. Isometric exercises are also recommended where the abdominal muscle is contracted, but no movement takes place at any of the joints. Simply, contract, hold for 6 seconds while breathing and then relax for 2 seconds and repeat 10 – 15 times.
The knee, hip, and back are particularly susceptible to injury during and after pregnancy, so resistance training can help to strengthen these lax area’s.
Flexibility Training: Stretch cautiously. Joint tissue laxity continues after pregnancy and therefore, stretching should not be the focus of your exercise routine The abdominal region should not be stretched for some time. Wait until the incision is completely healed and you have approval from your physician prior to stretching your torso. You should however stretch other joints like the neck, ankles, hips, shoulders and wrists.
When approved to stretch, perform mild stretching where each pose is held for 10 seconds. Never stretch to the point of pain and avoid ballistic (bouncing) movements and deep stretching.
Be careful when rising from the floor after stretching. Get up slowly to prevent fainting or dizziness.
Hydration: Water is very important during this time of resuming activity. Drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after exercise. If necessary, stop your exercise to drink fluids.

When to exercise: The time taken for exercise should be guilt free. The better care taken of a new mothers body, the better she will be able to take care of a new born.
If breast feeding, breasts may be full and tender, and it is important to adequately support them. It will be more comfortable exercising after feeding the baby.
Exercise scheduled earlier in the day is usually best for a new mom. As the day progresses, fatigue sets as do obstacles to taking the time for exercise.
When to stop exercising: A number of symptoms may develop in the postpartum period which indicates that exercise should cease and medical attention should be sought. According to Dr. Raul Artal, a nationally renowned researcher on exercise and pregnancy, they are:
• Pain of any kind, including headache and chest pain
• Vaginal bleeding or leaking fluid
• Dizziness or faintness
• Shortness of breath
• Palpitations (pounding heartbeat) or tachycardia (rapid heartbeat)
• Persistent nausea and/or vomiting
• Back, pubic, hip, or knee pain
• Difficulty in walking
• Generalized edema (swelling)
• Soreness, tearing or infection at the point of incision
Any pain associated with exercise means all activity should be stopped immediately.
Any rush to achieve peak condition is likely to result in injury, even if you haven’t undergone the extreme physiological changes of pregnancy and a c-section.
Exercises to Avoid – Exercises that require jerky, bouncy movements and being outside in hot weather should be avoided. Also avoid sports involving speed or possible collisions like downhill skiing, rock climbing, and horseback riding. Take care in engaging in any inner thigh exercises.
This is a time to pamper yourself, enjoy your new baby, and plan a gradual, pain free return to pre-pregnancy state.
This article does not provide medical advice and should not be relied upon as a substitute for visiting your doctor. If medical care is needed,, please contact your obstetrician-gynecologist.

Kelli Calabrese MS, CSCS. Kelli is an Exercise Physiologist and 17 year fitness industry veteran and international educator. She is the co-author of Feminine, Firm and Fit a 12 week woman’s fitness transformation program. She is on the advisory board for the American Association of Personal Trainers and an expert fellow for the National Board of Fitness Examiners. She is the 2004 Personal Trainer of the Year for On-Line Trainer. She can be reached at or 908-879-1469. For more information, go to