Review of Jennifer Gianni’s Fusion Pilates Birth Ball for Post Pregnancy

As I was working with Jennifer Gianni’s Fusion Pilates Birth Ball for Post Pregnancy, I had two thoughts:

1. While prenatal workouts are mostly light workouts that other, non-pregnant people could enjoy, especially if they have an injury or are suffering pain, postnatal workouts are pretty specific. Man, I thought kegel exercises were detailed — it turns out that the kind of exercises you do once the baby’s out are way more internal and precise.

2. This video has some really fun Swiss ball exercises, the kind that make having that silly rubber bubble worthwhile.

I previously reviewed Jennifer Gianni’s Fusion Pilates Birth Ball for Pregnancy, and while I thought it would be good for someone advanced in their pregnancy and needing very gentle exercises, I also found it quite a bit lighter than what I could do, and sometimes a bit fussy in the set-up required. Fusion Pilates Birth Ball for Post Pregnancy, on the other hand, is a much better fit for what I was looking for. (Both are review copies, by the way.) It’s still not about sweating, but getting the exercises set up is much easier, and the moves themselves are a bit more challenging.

Fusion Pilates Birth Ball for Post Pregnancy also includes the “Fusion Essentials” intro to proper form. And then it’s straight into the workout!

The workout itself begins with pelvic floor exercises. These are very well taught, even though it’s always kind of a challenge to translate these kinds of descriptions of very internal muscular contractions into real practice. The idea is to build up the pelvic floor to offer stability and resistance before doing abdominal work that presses down on it. The exercises are taught slowly, gradually, and with different kinds of breaths. There are enough reps to really get a feeling for things.

You may not be able to tell, but this woman is working her pelvic floor.

The rest of the workout consists of gentle but targeted and, for a new mother, intense pilates-style moves on the ball. For many of them, Gianni will start with a variation for very new postpartum moms, and then build on it for women in the advanced postpartum period. I thought this was a great way to both teach moves and make the video useful to women at different points beyond pregnancy.

Just about every part of the body has an exercise — the upper back, the abs of course, the legs and glutes. There are even some exercises that build on the pelvic floor work done at the start of the workout. And there is one truly delicious upper back/shoulder stretch. When I started doing it, I thought “oh, this is so good for anyone breastfeeding,” and sure enough, Gianni’s voice piped in and said the exercise is ideal for nursing moms! And although a number of the moves require a wall, I was able to use a couch and a chair successfully, as I did not have a free wall available.

Best of all, a number of these were really fun. I’m not a master of Swiss ball workouts by any means, but I have done a few of them so far, and I find that the ball is often a bit unnecessary. It could be replaced by a chair or weights depending on the move. Gianni has you do some rolling and balancing exercises that really only do work with the ball. They were so much fun, that I think I will put the baby on his playmat tomorrow and bounce around next to it on the ball!

Fusion Pilates Birth Ball for Pregnancy is also available from http://www.fusionpilates.com/.

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Review of Chantal Donnelly’s Pain Free at Work

Although I’ve dedicated this blog to activities that make me feel physically wonderful, like dance, and yoga, and pilates, the truth is that I spend enormous amounts of time in front of the computer like everyone else. It’s not just work, though it is also work. But many things I love to do, like writing creatively (and like, well, my work) require the computer.

This means that I can reliably count on one thing: pain.

I was recently sent a review copy of Chantal Donnelly’s Pain Free at Work. The funny thing is, I’ve often wanted something just like what this video includes, namely a short stretching program that can be done in my office chair. But first things first.

Let me just pull up a seat…

Pain Free at Work is a mixed-genre DVD, made up of both informative lecture segments and sets of practical exercises. It’s about forty minutes long, and divided into multiple sections:

Pain Free Sitting
Training for Marathon Sitting – Phase 1
Training for Marathon Sitting – Phase 2
Ergonomics in the Work Place
Exercising at Your Desk
After Work Workout
Handling Pain: Elbow, Wrist and Hand Pain
Express Stress Relief

The lectures:

In Pain Free Sitting, Chantal demonstrates how to sit correctly so as to minimize the curvature of the back, and reduce pain. She uses a live model and anatomical charts. As much as I am easily bored during this kind of lecture, the truth is that I realised how much I am doing wrong when I sit at a desk. (Just right now I was sitting back with my legs crossed on the chair!) I’ve always known I was sitting poorly, but having it spelled out somehow helps me to check my own posture. (Now I am sitting up straight, abdominals in. Aren’t you proud of me?)

This is the secret to good laptop mojo!

 I found Ergonomics in the Work Place very useful. Again, this is the kind of thing I’ve read dozens of articles on, but I’ve rarely been able to control my work space to the extent needed to have an optimal setup. What I liked about this section is that Chantal and ergonomics expert Brad Hutchins deal with laptops, which I never have seen before. The assumption tends to be that you have a huge desk computer. The other thing I liked was Brad’s point that even making one improvement is better than nothing. I don’t have to have the perfect setup at work, but changing one thing is still good.

Express Stress Relief was really express. It is a short conversation between Chantal and Dr. Jeff Gero, and includes a few strategies on dealing with stress. Mainly deep breathing, meditation, and positive thinking. Honestly, I think each of these take enough training to do them right that having a short segment on them is not particularly helpful.

The lectures with some exercises:

Training for Marathon Sitting – Phase 1 is basically an introduction to connecting with your transverse abdominal muscle. Chantal provides some strategies for strengthening it while doing everyday tasks. Again, simple, but good to have the reminder. I do think that people who have not had training in accessing this muscle might benefit from even more detailed instruction. (I found Helen Byrne’s postnatal conditioning workout to be particularly focused in this respect.)

Handling Pain: Elbow, Wrist and Hand Pain is another brief segment, including two self-massage techniques for dealing with elbow and hand pain that were completely new to me. Short, but very worth while.

The exercise programs:

The real gem of Pain Free at Work for me is Exercising at Your Desk. This is a compact set of exercises you can do at your desk that will gently stretch everything from the feet to the head. The thing I particularly like about this is that the exercises do not look weird — that is, you don’t have to get into any funny or embarrassing positions to do them. You could do them around your coworkers and no one would bat an eye.

This is just a delicious inner-thigh stretch

 Training for Marathon Sitting – Phase 2 is a gentle yoga and pilates-type workout for stretching the back and building strength in both abdominal and back muscles. Chantal suggests you watch it through before doing it. This is a good idea, as the cuing is minimal. (I would have liked for everything to be cued.) That said, she does give good prompts on form and using the abdominal muscles for support. And she has one of the demonstrators show modifications, sometimes using a Swiss ball.

Finally, there is an After Work Workout that uses a thick foam roller for stretching and relaxation. I didn’t have the prop, so I didn’t do it! I can say that the other two workouts are simple but definitely relaxing.

In short, I think Pain Free at Work can be very useful to anyone spending a lot of time at a computer. Watching the lecture segments is not as much fun as doing the exercises, but I did get some good tips out of them. I think the best way to use it is to keep it in your office and do the stretches and self-massages on a regular basis, once or twice a day, as a preventative measure!

Review of Jennifer Gianni’s Fusion Pilates Birth Ball for Pregnancy

Jennifer Gianni is a pilates instructor and doula, and she has a number of DVDs out that offer pilates-based exercise programs for women to use while pregnant, after giving birth, and even with a baby in tow! Her most recent offering is a 3 DVD Box Set offering all of these options but using the Swiss ball (or “birth ball,” as it’s sometimes called) to guide the exercises. I received the set as a review copy, and since I’m still waiting for my little one to arrive, have worked with the first video in the series, Fusion Pilates Birth Ball for Pregnancy.

Modifications for different trimesters are often shown and explained

Gianni’s expertise in crafting careful prenatal workouts really shows in this program. The first section, “Fusion Essentials,” is really a long introduction to working out with the ball, doing pregnancy posture checks while sitting and standing, safe abdominal work, and pelvic floor exercises. This isn’t a workout: it’s more like a lecture interspersed with exercises you can do. Some sections, like “ab curl safety,” were not relevant to me yet, but I found the pelvic floor section really interesting. This is the first video I’ve ever seen that has suggested different pelvic floor exercises for different periods of pregnancy. More precisely, Gianni gives you exercises for strengthening and tightening the pelvic floor during the first and second trimesters, but for the end of the third trimester has you segue to practicing the relaxation of the pelvic floor. Kind of makes sense, no? Most of the pregnancy is about keeping the baby in, and the very last bit is about getting it out!
The workout itself is composed of careful, small movements that work a variety of muscles. However, the point is not to feel the burn. I did this workout at 36 weeks and on a day when I really wasn’t feeling very strong, and still didn’t really feel “worked out.” Instead, the program seems to be more about using the ball to complete movements safely and veeeeeery precisely. Most of the workout is performed by a model who is well into her third trimester — and I think this would be the best target audience for the video anyway — but modifications are often shown in an inset window.

I think this program is really ideal for women in their third trimester, or women having pains or other difficulties during pregnancy. Jennifer Gianni is clearly aware of a pregnant woman’s potential limitations, and no exercise feels like it would be unsafe or jarring in the slightest. Some exercises are really delightful variations on moves you might know from other workouts — for example, doing squats with a ball behind you gives you a much more controlled movement that feels secure in late pregnancy.

That said, it’s really best called a “program” and not a “workout,” because if you want to sweat or feel muscular pain the next day, this is not the right video for you. I didn’t feel anything the next day — but I also didn’t feel any pain. It was a good way to get moving on a low-energy day, and to feel that I did something for my body without pushing too hard. It wasn’t a good way to tone my butt, even though there was a cool pilates leg exercise that did use those muscles.

Finally, a few small details about the DVD setup both positive and negative. I really liked that the sections are individually titled and divided, so you can skip easily to the beginning or end of a section. Also, the DVD has an index that has all the sub-chapters in both “Fusion Essentials” and the “Main Workout.” So if you want to work on “Releasing the Pelvic Floor,” you can jump right to that without the pelvic floor intro or strengthening exercises. Great.

My complaints have to do with the setup in my home, and how I do video workouts. Most of the ball exercises required a wall, and most of my walls are covered in bookcases! It was pretty hard to find a spot in my apartment where I could see the screen and have access to enough wall to make the workout work. Also, the exercises often require a bit of setup, but the section begins with ball and sometimes blankets already in place. In practice, this meant I had to get up, pause my computer, set up most of the stuff, rewind to the beginning of the section, then get quickly into position so I could do the exercise. And at 36 weeks, I just don’t move that fast. If I were watching the video on a regular tv and had a remote control, it wouldn’t be so bad, but again, my particular situation, in which a laptop is how I watch DVDs, made the video less convenient to use than it could have been.

Fusion Pilates Birth Ball for Pregnancy is also available from http://www.fusionpilates.com/.

Review of Dancing For Birth: Prenatal Dance and Birth Wisdom

Dancing for Birth is a program founded by Stephanie Larson and based on the premise that dance and movement will help women navigate pregnancy and, especially, labour. They offer dance classes for women from pre-conception to post-partum, instructor training, and the DVD, Prenatal Dance and Birth Wisdom. I received a review copy of the DVD, and have been looking forward to trying out another prenatal dance offering. Larson leads the program in a garden, accompanied by three other women, one of whom is visibly pregnant. There are motivational segments to the DVD, but I tend to find those kinds of exercises forced, so I gave them a skip.

Dancing for Birth as Prenatal Workout

The DVD is definitely at the gentle end of the spectrum. When I did it I was suffering from back pain, and at no point did it aggravate me. In fact, my pain has been gone since the day I did it, which makes me think it was just the right level of exertion for someone in the third trimester, fatigued and achy. Doing the dance program will probably raise your heart rate a little, but if you’ve been active in any other way you’re unlikely to feel like you’re exercising. There is a nice warmup on an exercise/labor ball, the moves from which could be used apart from the video. At the end, a short segment on abdominal and pelvic work introduces a few exercises you could repeat outside of the video.

The movements Larson presents are inspired by bellydance, African, Caribbean and Latin dance. There are a few small combos in the bellydance section, but for the most part this is a one-move-at-a-time program. They generally feel good to do, and many of them resemble what I’ve learned in labour prep classes. Larson is a certified doula, so this is not a surprise!

Dancing for Birth as Dance Program

If you have dance training and especially bellydance experience, you will probably be confused by much of the DVD. I’m not as good a judge of the other dance forms, but most of the dance movements are introduced as bellydance, and they would probably be better described as “bellydance inspired.” I found myself repeatedly correcting movements when I performed them, making sure, for example, that my horizontal figure-8’s were truly horizontal. And wondering why I was stomping before doing a hip bump.

The strangest aspect was the arm work. It generally did not look bellydanceish (and I think that’s a shame, since this is such an easy way to look graceful when feeling massive and pregnant), and at one point it was confusing for me precisely because I do study bellydance. To wit: the “go-to” arm pattern for large hip circles is generally to fold the hands to the chest when leaning forward (thus also modestly covering heaving cleavage), and to open the arms out when leaning backwards. In this video, the arms do the opposite — they open out with the lean forward, and fold together during the lean back. Someone else may not have trouble with this, but I found myself floundering constantly because the movement was so counter-instinctive to me. Again, when doing hip sways with snake arms, I’m used to having the arm and hip on the same side go up at the same time — the instruction on this video has you do the opposite.

The individual movements and combos are usually performed for a random amount of time, and then abruptly stopped. Larson does sometimes count out the moves, sometimes to 8, sometimes to 10, but repetitions on the other side might be done without a count, and may vary in number. Cueing is not mirrored. There is soft background music, but the movements are not performed to the music. Again, if you’re happy to just follow along and go with the flow, you may not mind. But if you’re used to the structure of balanced sides and reps of eight, you will probably be frustrated.

At the same time, I think the instruction is not really detailed enough for a beginner. There is some attention to posture, which is always good, but the moves are done in “follow along” format, and some of the background dancers struggle to follow too.

In short, Dancing for Birth is fine as a gentle movement practice for labour, but not solid dance instruction.

Review of Patricia Friberg’s Belly Beautiful Workout – Prenatal

Patricia Friberg’s Belly Beautiful Workout – Prenatal Fitness for a Beautiful Pregnancy is an excellent addition to a prenatal workout collection. While most prenatal workouts are yoga-based and focus on stretching, Belly Beautiful Workout is Pilates-based and will make you feel some burn, but it is also gentle and precise enough to be done even by a seven-month pregnant woman!

I received a review copy of this program, and was excited to try it because of the props. Patricia uses a Swiss ball and an elastic band in her exercises, and suggests you set up on a sticky mat. Now, this could be annoying if you don’t have the items, though the mat is really optional and the Swiss ball can be replaced in most cases with a chair. But I was glad — for a while, every exercise DVD I bought came with a free elastic band, and I somehow have acquired two Swiss balls I don’t quite know what to do with. So I’m happy to play with a program that teaches me how to use them.

The workout is divided into several sections:

A segment on Pelvic Floor Work (separate from the full workout)
Warm Up
Upper Body
Lower Body
Stretch
Relaxation

There is also an intro and a section on Diastitis recti, and Patricia tells you throughout the workout which moves to avoid if you have the latter.

In general, this is the kind of video that looks super easy to do when you watch it on screen, and is in fact much more challenging. The warmup is probably the only one I’ve done on a prenatal video that really warmed my muscles. The upper body segment uses the elastic band. Most of its moves are not terribly strenuous, but you will definitely feel some of them. (And the upper body tends to be neglected on prenatal workout videos, so I think it’s valuable.) And the lower body segment has some moves performed leaning sideways on the ball that are very difficult by the end. Patricia makes leaning on that ball look easy, but I fell off multiple times while trying to perform the exercises! The one thing I would say is that if, like me, you have weak knees, you should be careful performing these exercises and the lunges in the lower body workout.

This is much harder to do than it looks

The stretch segment is short, but effective (it also uses the ball, to my surprise!), and it leads to what I think is the real gem of the program: the relaxation segment. Now, most programs, even the yoga ones, tell you to relax during shavasana, or in a best case scenario, tell you to picture something relaxing or to relax particular body parts. Patricia sets you up in a position safe for pregnant women and then guides you through a progressive relaxation that is very similar to one in Preparation for Birth: The Complete Guide to the Lamaze Method. It involves tensing each muscle for five seconds and then relaxing it, which is much more effective than just “trying to relax.” How effective? Well, let’s just say that by the end of the relaxation segment, I had relaxed right out of consciousness. Even though I had been awake and alert just a few minutes earlier! I wound up having a wonderful nap on the floor (yes, right on the yoga mat) and will use that segment again just to practice guided relaxation.

I only did parts of the pelvic floor segment, but exercises do teach you how to access the Kegel muscles in a slightly different way than I’ve seen elsewhere, and I can imagine them being very useful. Most of them could also be done sitting at a desk.

You will love this video if:
– you want a bit more of a challenge than prenatal videos usually offer
– you like using props
– you like Pilates-based movements
– you want to focus on your upper body
– you want to practice deep relaxation as recommended by some natural childbirth methods
– you want practice building your Kegel muscles

You will not love this video if:
– you are primarily looking for stretching
– you have weak knees
– you hate having to buy or use props

You can get the video at bellybeautifulworkout.com/.