When I wrote a list of 50 things you don't have time for after having a baby , one of the things that seemed to resonate most with people was number 16: exercise. It's one of life's sick jokes that new mums are generally in the worst shape of our lives, and the least able to do anything about it.
So Get the Gloss asked me to try out a few toning workouts that could be done at home, perhaps while the baby slept. I pointed out that I wasn't bloody Gwyneth Paltrow, and had better things to be doing than tone my triceps during a nap: like laundry, or working, or wiping down the highchair for the millionth time. But they argued that a) the endorphins might stop be being such a grumpy bitch, and b) they would pay me. Thus, here we are.
This isn't actually my first foray into exercising at home. I tried it once before, in the brief period after I'd given birth, but still looked as if I was pregnant (“I thought you’d had the baby,” said next door’s builder on Day Three – thanks for that). Each time the baby went down for a nap, I'd do a little circuit of sit-ups, tricep dips and so on. Trouble was, doing a plank on the landing just made me FEEL like a plank. There was none of the structure that made me push myself in exercise classes and I quickly gave up, accepting my saggy fate.
The only people I know who have tried and stuck with exercising in the house had either a bit of equipment like a treadmill or a PowerPlate in the garage, or an exercise DVD of some kind to help them. I don’t have the money or space for a treadmill, and somehow I can’t see myself setting aside an hour to do high-kicks in the living room with Natalie Cassidy.
So instead I went in search of a home workout system that would be quick, inexpensive, effective and require minimal setup. I was pretty chuffed to find three that would fit in a drawer, cost less than £15, and take less than 30 minutes.
The 10-minute home workout: The Bodyism Band
My immediate reaction when my Bodyism band was delivered was: “Twelve quid for a big rubber band?” But what you’re paying for are the clever exercises developed by James Duigan and his “clean and lean” team, which are explained with pictures and instructions on a leaflet that comes with the band.
I start with 'tube walking', a simple move where you put the band around your ankles and step 20 paces to the side. Troublingly, the leaflet doesn’t say which way to step, but I settle on doing ten either side. (If there is a room in my house where I could do 20 sideways steps, it’s pretty much a certainty that I’d have trodden on a Duplo brick by the time I got to the other side of it.) Although this looks easy, it’s surprisingly effective, pulling on the inner thighs and glutes.
Then there’s an exercise where you pull the band up above your knees, squat and turn one knee in towards the other 15 times, before repeating on the other side. The instructions fox me at first – “Switch on your hip and thigh muscles”? How does one do this? Is there a button that I’ve somehow missed? – but I have a go, clenching my tummy, bum and thighs and hoping that my hips get the message. Whether or not I’m doing it right, it’s quite painful (in a good way) as the lactic acid builds up, working the thighs and glutes.
Doing three sets of these exercises takes no more than ten minutes, and while it’s not a full body workout, it’s a great way to tone the bum and thighs. You don’t even need to change into sports kit to do it. I’m hooked.
The Bodyism Exercise Band , £11.95
The 20-minute home workout: Fitness-Mad Studio Pro Safety Resistance Trainer
My sister got me this as a birthday present but I left it in the box for ages because I thought it would be complicated to set up and use. Not so: a stretchy, covered latex band with a handle at either end, you secure it either by standing on it (for arm exercises) or shutting it into a door (for leg exercises, situps and so on). They recommend that you use a lockable door in case someone opens it while you're mid-exercise and causes you to fall, injuring and/or making a complete tit of yourself. But I question how much of a risk this is when the only other person in the house is an under-two.
Like the Bodyism band, the Fitness-Mad resistance trainer comes with a leaflet outlining some exercises you can do with it. I use the door attachment and run through some fairly standard moves such as crunches and bicep curls. The reverse curl, a tricep exercise where you pull the band down from elbow height down by your sides and back up again, is particularly satisfying – it’s much easier to get the right posture than it would be using dumbells. I also like the reverse leg extension, where you loop the band around one ankle and lift your leg behind you, working the bum and hamstrings.
Fitness-Mad aren’t pushing you with these exercises, recommending 3 sets of 8-12 for each, and once I get the hang of them I can complete the circuit in about 20 minutes. Not bad for a workout that covers arms, tummy, legs and bum.
Safety Resistance Trainer , £13.99
The 30-minute workout: Barrecore EXPRESS online
If you want to tone up, you can’t beat a barre workout. Using fairly small, isometric movements to target specific muscle groups, the studio classes typically use props such as a ballet barre, a resistance band and a medicine ball, but Barrecore have created several videos that you can follow at home without any special kit – having grippy barre socks and a mat is useful, but not essential.
Once you’ve signed in (you can use Google, Twitter or Facebook to make it quicker) and paid (by credit card or PayPal), the class pops up in Vimeo. At least, it does on a modern browser – I did have to switch before I could get it to work.
I selected the BarrecoreEXPRESS class, because that was all I had time for before the baby woke up, but I suppose I also hoped it might be slightly easier than the usual 60-minute class. Not so – instructor Megan has us doing high leg lifts within seconds, speed-talking us through a range of Barrecore moves that work our legs, seat and core especially.
The online classes are probably most useful if you’re used to going to the studio classes and know the exercises already. Not being terribly experienced or co-ordinated, I struggle slightly to keep up, moving my laptop from a table to the floor and back up again as Megan and her class switch rapidly between planks and ballet jumps. But at least she can’t see me cheating.
At the end of half an hour (it’s billed as 25 minutes, but with five minutes of core work at the end and a quick stretch, I make it 31.5), I feel pumped. I also need a shower, however, so do allow five minutes for that if you’re as sweaty and unfit as me. I'm still not convinced that I'll be able to make this a priority on a regular basis, but nevertheless, as I step into the water a word pops into my head that is not part of my usual vocabulary. It is: BOOM!