Postnatal exercise with Jessica Ennis-Hill

by Emily Gilbert |
Updated on

Whether you're keen to start some postnatal exercise or it's currently the last thing on your mind, it's important to get back into postnatal fitness gradually.

Not only has your amazing body grown your gorgeous baby, providing both you and her with constant nutrients, but it’s brought your little bundle of love into the world in some way or other. But there may come a point – whether that’s eight weeks or eight months ­– where you consider taking up some form of postnatal exercise following the birth of your baby.

‘I was really lucky after the birth of Reggie, my first son.Because I planned to go back to professional athletics and I had the Rio Olympics ahead of me, I was working with an amazing team of physios and together we created a plan to help me gradually get back into fitness,’ says Olympic Heptathlon Champion, Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill. ‘The biggest challenge after having my babies was wanting to get back into fitness super quickly. I wanted to do dynamic things like start running and doing ab exercises, but they weren’t the right exercises at all and it took a lot for me to mentally trust the process of getting back to fitness patiently and in the right way. It took me time to understand that the gradual approach works best after having a baby.’

And whether you’re a complete novice or it’s something you enjoyed pre-baby, there’s still a lot to consider. After all, it’s been a busy nine months!

‘You forget that your body changes in really small ways over a gradual period of nine months when you’re pregnant, so you have to take time to get it back. And all those small, deliberate exercises are actually incredibly important in helping that happen,’ explains Jess. ‘People look at me and think that because I was fit and had abs before I got pregnant that I would just get back straight into it (and I think part of me thought that would happen, too). But I didn’t realise how much my body and abdominal muscles had changed. Spending the time getting back into fitness after having a baby will put you in a much better position fitness and health-wise for the future.’

But remember, every mum and every body is different. If you’ve decided you’d like to start exercising, how do you know if you’re ready? If you’ve had a straightforward birth, the NHS recommends gentle exercises as soon as you feel ready. ‘If you feel up to it, you can get started with very gentle pelvic floor exercises which are designed to help you build up strength in specific places and which you can then build on later on,’ says Jess. ‘It will feel tender, so start gently and be kind to yourself. If you have stitches too, it could feel quite numb and uncomfortable. But starting the exercises as soon as 24 hours after the birth can relieve the numbness and aid the healing process.’

If you’re keen to start high-impact exercises such as running or aerobics, it’s a good idea to wait until after your six-week postnatal check so you can get the go-ahead and if you’ve had a caesareanor complicated delivery, talk to your midwife, health visitor or GP as your recovery time will be longer.

While you might not naturally be exercise inclined, the benefits might convince you otherwise. ‘There are so many benefits both physically and mentally. Exercising post-birth can have huge psychological benefits by reducing anxiety and decreasing depression,’ says Jess. ‘Starting pelvic floor exercises after birth helps reduce the risk of urinary incontinence and also helps to increase the recovery from an abdominal split. Exercise can also help to increase bone density and can improve your body awareness and thus improve posture.’ Now that’s all very well and good but if you’re wondering exactly how you’re meant to fit exercise into your hectic life to reap such benefits, we don’t blame you.

‘Finding time to exercise is difficult and requires lots of planning and organisation as a busy mum,’ agrees Jess. ‘With both Liv and Reggie, as soon as it was nap-time I’d do a quick 20-minute circuit. I could never 100 percent plan it, but as long as I had that in my mind as my plan, more often than not I would make it happen. Using nap time or someone to watch the baby for 20 mins whilst you exercise is a great way to fit in a bit of exercise.’

It might not be time that is the issue for you. Even just considering exercise when you’ve been running around after a baby all day and you’ve had no sleep can feel a bit much. But it’s worth pushing through when you can.

‘The hardest thing is probably not the exercises themselves but the mental motivation to do them, so my biggest advice is to look at exercise time after as time for you, almost like a date with yourself,’ recommends Jess. ‘It’s so, so important that you do that, not just for your physical health but for your mental health – especially when you have so many changes taking place in your life and routine and your body.’

Jess’s top five exercise tips

  • ‘Plan your sessions in advance and put them in as dates for yourself. I always used to do my plan on a Sunday night, even when I was pregnant. You should see it as me time.’

  • ‘Pelvic floor everywhere: I am passionate about pelvic floor and my Postnatal physio has lots of tips for doing these, one of which is to do your pelvic floor holds whenever you boil the kettle or make a cup of herbal.’

  • ‘Sessions on my fitness app Jennis are only 20 – 30 mins, so if your baby is napping or you have a spare half hour, they are easy to squeeze in. I know this is a challenge for a lot of women to find the time, so I designed them deliberately to be short and so they would fit in.’

  • ‘Exercise whilst watching TV at night – I used to do a lot of the pregnancy ache and cramp relieving exercises in front of the television. Just doing 10 mins is better than nothing, so just get going!’

  • ‘Just doing 10 minutes is better than nothing, so just get going! It’s amazing how good you feel after even a small amount of activity.’

Give it a go

Superman with hand lifts

  • Carefully get onto all fours with your hands shoulder width apart and just in front of your shoulders. Keep your elbows soft

  • Your hips and knees should be at 90 degrees and your knees and feet should be a hip width apart

  • Find your neutral (in this position your back should appear flat), tuck your chin slightly to your chest to keep your neck long. Breathe out and contract your core to 30 percent.

  • To get used to transferring your weight from side to side, try lifting alternate hands (like a cat pawing the floor)

  • Do 10 reps on each arm

Take extra care:
Take care to keep your back flat and ensure that your shoulder blades are flat and your neck doesn’t drop

Mini squats with heel raises

  • Stand with your feet a hip-width apart and your knees soft

  • Find your neutral spine position, relax your shoulders and keep head floating up tall. Breathe out and contract your core

  • Breathe out and keeping your heels on the ground, reach your bottom back and fold through your hips to squat as you float your arms to 90 degrees

  • Breathe in and life both heels off the ground

  • Breathe out and straighten knees to stand

  • Breathe in and lower heels and float your arms down

  • Do 10 reps

Take extra care:
If you are wobbly on your toes, skip the heels raises. You can always try them again when your strength and balance improve. Do this exercise near a wall or stable support in case you lose your balance


Arm reaches with Theraband

  • Stand with your feet a hip width apart and your knees soft

  • Find your neutral spine position, relax your shoulders and keep your head floating up tall

  • Breathe out and contract your core to 30%

  • Hold a Theraband between your hands so your arms are shoulder width apart and gently move your hands apart to create tension raise your arms to 90 degrees

  • Breathe out and reach your arms forward (your shoulder blades with glide out around rib cage)

  • Breathe in and return (your shoulder blades will glide down and back towards your spine)

  • Do 10 reps

Take extra care:
Take care to keep your head floating up tall and your spine in neutral

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Offering with Theraband

  • Stand with your feet a hip width apart and your knees soft

  • Find your neutral spine position, relax your shoulders and keep head floating up tall

  • Breathe out and contract your core

  • Place a Theraband around the middle of your back and hold it in both hands with your elbows at your side and bent to 90 degrees

  • Breathe out and return to start position

  • Do 10 reps

Take extra care:
Keep your shoulder blades down and the movement smooth

If you find it difficult to keep good form either slacken the Theraband or do it without it.

Best fitness apps for new mums:


12 fitness apps for mums

Jessica Ennis app1 of 12

1) Jennis, £9.99 per month, iOS and Android

Created by Olympic Heptathlon Champion and mum of two, Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill, Jennis is
a health, fitness and confidence-boosting programme. Split into three different sections: fitness, pregnancy and post-natal so you can be sure the advice and workouts are tailored to you, there are plenty of well demonstrated exercises for you to choose from with minimal equipment required.

Why it’s so great for Mums: 'Sessions on my fitness app Jennis are only 20 – 30 mins,' Jess told Mother&Baby. 'So if your baby is napping or you have a spare half hour, they are easy to squeeze in. I know this is a challenge for a lot of women to find the time, so I designed them deliberately to be short and so they would fit in.’

app2 of 12

2) Sweat, free, iOS and Android

Join the BBG army in fitness and track your progress with this app. It has everything you need, from affordable weekly meal plans, to tracking your water intake and gradually increasing your exercise, this app is design to specifically help you. With different workout options, you can select what type of workout you want to do, from postpregnancy to yoga.

Why it’s so great for Mums: The app starts at the basic level for each individual person and gradually increases its intensity as you start to progress. There's a post pregnancy option that can be used even years after giving birth as it slowly adjusts your body back into exercise - and you don't need to go to a gym to do it! The meals are also affordable to make and are appealing to children!
Offers in-app purchases from £18.99 and available on iOS and Android devices.

app3 of 12

3) Nike+ Running, free, iOS and Andriod

Compared to other running apps, Nike’s app is very basic and easy to use. It simply starts up, tracks your route through GPS and records your distance, speed and time.

Why it’s so great for Mums: The perfect app for the running mum. It’s so simple to use and doesn’t over-complicate what should be the most simple of exercises.
Available on iOS and Android.

app4 of 12

4) Myfitnesspal, free, iOS and Android

Myfitnesspal, a simple, free and easy to-use calorie counter, recognises thousands of foods and drinks enabling you to keep on top of your calorie intake.

Why it’s so great for Mums: From your favoured Starbucks brew to a slice of classic chocolate cake, this app will mean you can track nearly every bit of food you eat if you’re watching your weight.
Available on Android, Blackberry, iOS and Windows Phone.

app5 of 12

5) Sworkit, free, iOS and Android

Start your month free trial with Sworkit to see if this app is right for you. This app takes the thinking out of your workouts by creating a personilsed workout for you, based on what you want to achieve.

Why it’s so great for Mums: Do you only have 15 minutes to do a workout? Sworkit will create you a workout that will fit a time frame for you! Simply select how long you want your workout to be and the app will do the rest - minus the actual working out, that's on you! It definitely puts the fun back into workouts where you can do them in the comfort of your own home.
Available on iOS and Android.

app6 of 12

6) Pocket Yoga, £2.99, iOS and Android

If cardio isn't your cup of tea, what about giving Yoga a try? With Pocket Yoga you can recreate the experience of being in a studio and an soothing voice will tell you exactly what to do, even directing you when to exhale and inhale. Learn the poses with the pose dictionary which contains detailed explanations of the correct posture, alignment, and benefits before picking from 27 different sessions which vary in duration and difficulty.

Why it’s so great for Mums:
Being a mum can be seriously stressful and yoga is an opportunity to take some much needed me-time, however short that may be. Not only will it help you relax by decreasing your blood pressure and heart rate but it can help you sleep better and deeper too.

app7 of 12

7) 7 minute workout, free, Google Play

If you want to strengthen your abdominal muscles or lose weight, this app gives you the best results. While you'll not see progress over night, you can do a minimum of 7-minutes exercise so over time you'll notice a big difference without feeling you spent hours working out! With detailed exercise descriptions and accompanying images, the best part of 7-Minute Workouts is that it’s simple to use.

Why it’s so great for Mums: Being a mum means very little time for anything, so squeezing in a 7 minute workout is perfect for mums who want to get fit but just don't have enough time to head to the gym!
Offers in-app purchases, available on Windows phone.

app8 of 12

8) Tabata Trainer, £1.99, iOS

This interval training app is based on the wildly intense, but very popular, four-minute Tabata method of training. Pre-loaded with workout routines, this app is effective, easy-to-follow and tracks your time to help you feel the burn.

Why it’s so great for Mums: Can’t even find 10 minutes of free time a day? At 240 seconds, this has got to be the quickest and easiest way to stay fit — and it can be carried out at any point in the day.
Available on iOS

app9 of 12

9) Argus, free, Google Play

This is one for the walkies. Argus tracks everything, 24/7. It monitors every step, stride, bite, sip and more. The app monitors your daily routine producing detailed charts enabling you to set realistic health goals.

Why it’s so great for Mums: As a health diary, Argus will allow you to assess all the different aspects of your life. In highlighting important trends in your health habits, such as sleep patterns, Argus will allow you to identity those parts of your life where your kids aren’t having the best influence…
Offers in-app purchases, available on iOS and Android.

app10 of 12

10) Lose it!, free, iOS and Android

This is a great app for those wanting to focus on losing weight but feel like they don’t have enough time to do so. The app lets you set goals and then fits you with a realist and healthy daily calorie budget.

Why it’s so great for Mums: It’s easy to use and you can easily stay on track each day by recording food consumed and any exercise you do. It’s a must for those mums seeking to lose their baby weight.
Also available on Kindle, Android and iOS.

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11) One You Couch to 5k, free, iOS

This flexible program lets you choose how long you want to train for, counting down each run to music of your choice. It'll keep you motivated with voices from the likes of comedians Sarah Millican and Sanjeev Kohli, BBC presenter Jo Whiley and more.

Why it’s so great for Mums: You're probably not planning on running a marathon anytime soon, but this app is a great way to get some exercise in, building you up to be able to run 5k. It'll help you keep up your fitness, lose a bit of weight and help you get the energy to keep up with your little one when they start running around!

app12 of 12

12) Gain Fitness, free, iOS

This personal trainer app offers simple exercises, over 1,300 motion images and step-by-step commands to deliver a whole body workout. You can specify particular group muscles to target and set up a routine to your preference.

Why it’s so great for Mums: Only got an exercise ball? Not to worry. This app offers an inventory of equipment to customise appropriate routines according to what you’ve got in the house.
Available on iOS.

Jessica Ennis-Hill has launched her new fitness app, jennis, which includes jennis Fitness, Pregnancy and Post-Natal, on iOS and Android. It costs £9.99 a month.

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