How do you follow Olympic glory and a damehood? Share your health, fitness and pregnancy secrets with the masses if you’re Jess Ennis Hill. Here’s why ‘Jennis’ is a workout app like no other (and not as tough going as you’d think…)
A health and fitness app devised by an Olympian may have you backing away from the App store with ironic haste, but Dame Jessica Ennis Hill has been quite literally sweating it since her retirement in 2016 to create a programme that delivers the kind of goldust advice that only elite athletes are partial to, applied to “normals” like you and I. The portmanteau titled ‘Jennis’ is set to blast out of the blocks on 10th June, so until then here’s what’s in store, from the exercises not to do after birth to how to squeeze super effective workouts into a busy week.
1. Jess works out three times a week
Normally in 20 minute slots, so she emphasises that her sessions need to be “intense and effective.” Fittingly, Jess explains that “three workouts a week is the training concept we have built Jennis around”, with the app and website’s fitness routines centred around strength, conditioning, pilates and yoga, all informed with Olympic level expertise, as you might expect really. That doesn’t mean you need to be gold medal level, rather that you’ll be benefitting from exercise and recovery programmes designed by Jess herself alongside world class trainers and Jess’ physio Ali Rose. Each workout within the Jennis Fitness division is 30 minutes from start to finish, including a warm-up and cool-down, and you can follow routines at home, at the gym, in a hotel room, at the park and pretty much wherever works. For the queen of ‘Super Saturday’ this is seriously grounded, achievable stuff.
2. She wants every woman to have the same pregnancy intel that she did
Even Jess frequently turned to Dr Google during her first pregnancy, revealing that “like most women I had loads of questions about how to exercise safely among other things and I couldn’t find the answers I needed at first.” Clearly, being a pro athlete, it didn’t take her long to seek out answers from top dog health and fitness experts, and her Jennis Pregnancy programme aims to work through common pregnancy worries and queries as much as it does provide a framework for fitness.
As an Olympian, Jess possibly had more fitness and recovery related wonderings than most during her first pregnancy especially (weight gain, muscular health and what on earth would happen to her rock hard abs were up there), and her team rallied round to support her, solve any niggles and crucially advise on what to do, and what definitely not to. She’s turned this wisdom into a platform for all and the Pregnancy and Post-natal programmes are split into stages, because a blanket ‘before and after baby’ plan simply won’t cut it. Ennis Hill is nothing if not thorough, which is why…
3. Jess ‘reads’ her body (and she wants you to as well)
Throughout the three trimester plans, the Jennis Pregnancy programme has a ‘read your body’ function that encourages you to map out how you’re feeling both physically and mentally on any given day. This is vital to ensure that you’re not taking a fitness plan to extremes during pregnancy (Jess’ physiotherapist emphasises that you should be able to talk during fitness sessions) and to monitor how your body is changing as your pregnancy progresses. Here are a few not so welcome shifts that Jess noticed in her first pregnancy especially (other than the obvious bump), and how she dealt with them...
In the first trimester of her first pregnancy, Jess describes “feeling incredibly sick” and that her nausea certainly wasn’t simply limited to the morning. It was this part of her pregnancy that made having a baby feel like “a world of unknowns” and as if she had no control over her body, but eating simple, nourishing food to prevent hypoglycemia (low blood levels that can be common in pregnancy) and staying hydrated really helped as she rode it out. She only worked out during the first trimester when she felt like it, focusing on gentle cardio and light resistance, a specialised yoga routine for early pregnancy and core stability exercises to strengthen her pelvic floor muscles. You can follow Jess’ lead in the ‘trimester one’ stage of the Jennis Pregnancy plan.
Having previously slept like a baby (the irony), Jess found that she was tossing and turning in pregnancy, but light exercise helped to alleviate restlessness by making her feel more tired at the end of the day. Trimester specific guided meditation sessions also helped to calm her mind - she’s included these in the Jennis app too so plug in if you’re struggling with sleepless nights or stress. Which leads us to…
Pregnancy can be a very exciting time, but less widely discussed is the impact that hormonal, lifestyle and physical changes can have on your mood and mental health. Jess reveals that she suffered with low mood in the third trimester in particular when she felt as though she’d lost a part of her identity. Transitioning from an agile, powerful medal-winning athlete to seeing and feeling her body getting bigger and bigger made her feel as though she had to stay on the sofa all day and that she might never get her fitness back, but the sense of achievement in even just getting out for a walk or practicing third-trimester specific pregnancy yoga boosted both her mood and energy levels and reminded her of her strength and how far she’d come - abs or no abs.
Light exercise gave her headspace, an endorphin hit and helped her to cope with the stresses of pregnancy while also preparing her body for birth, and she did it for the benefit of her wellbeing rather than for “gains” (you’re preparing to have a baby not training for Tough Mudder).
Cramps, constipation and heartburn
Digestive issues are common in pregnancy, which makes sense when you consider that your organs are being ‘rejigged’ to make room for a growing human. Gentle exercise can help to relieve constipation and digestive discomfort and upper body stretches helped Jess to tackle heartburn.
Now this is a weird one but Jess’ physio Ali affirms that feet can become flatter during pregnancy. Clearly Jess’ feet are the tools of her trade so keeping them nimble was top priority - you’ll find tailored stability exercises in her Jennis app for just this reason. Chances are you won’t be competing in a heptathlon straight after birth (and neither did Jess), but if you’ve noticed changes in your feet the physio guided moves will help.
Getting very sweaty
Feeling the heat? Body temperature is naturally higher during pregnancy which is why it’s important that you don’t overheat during exercise. Clearly Jess is used to clamminess in the day job but she combatted pregnancy sweats by wearing light, breathable workout gear, never going beyond her limit (if you can’t hold a conversation, slow it down) and exercising with a fan to hand.
Upper back pain
Jess noticed this in her third trimester in particular so Ali included more freeing upper body exercises to release tension and work on maintaining posture. Getting these in motion also paid off when it came to feeding and holding a new baby, so it’s a win win for all involved.
4. There are a LOT of misconceptions about post-baby bodies
Think that you ‘should’ be doing ab exercises to knit yours back together? That’d be a big no from physio Ali. First off you need to feel well enough and have sign-off from your doctor before you even consider formal exercise and secondly, there are moves you definitely should not be doing in the crucial post-baby period. Even gentle fitness workouts shouldn’t be embarked on until at least the 16-24 week period and Ali stresses that press-ups, sit-ups and planks are a no-go, even for the likes of practised sports women such as Jess.
Ennis Hill was keen to to get back on the track for get Olympic fit after her first pregnancy but while keeping active has obvious health benefits and can even make subsequent pregnancies easier, it’s never worth rushing back to the gym or going too hard - Ali highlights that you’re more likely to injure yourself. You need to slowly ‘teach’ your abs to fire again , so don’t launch straight into vigorous burpees (likelihood is you really won’t want to anyway…). Jess’ recovery followed the pattern of the first two stages of the Jennis Postnatal programme (from 0-16 weeks after birth), when she practised small, slow, basic moves to encourage her abs to draw back together and align correctly to prevent problems down the line. As soon as you can complete reps more easily and with flawless technique, you can move onto the next stage, but as always consult your doctor if in doubt. Getting moving slowly also has the added benefit of improving incontinence and regaining general muscle mass, not to mention making lugging car seats around far easier (the first payoff that Jess noticed).
5. Confidence is as key as any training plan
Jess could give you a ‘balls to the wall’ Olympian level bootcamp app, but while goals and training plans have clearly been integral to her career success, confidence and a holistic outlook is essential, as is having access to expert coaching and advice. Hence guided meditations, thought-out playlists, yoga to stretch and chill you out and ‘read your body’ screening exercises to help you to tune into what your body needs and any issues that could be brewing. Jess got back to Olympic champion fitness post baby so clearly her plan of action is gold, but she’s applied the general principles to our real lives, routines, bodies and challenges so that we can tap into Olympic success in an achievable way. Less Tokyo 2020, more slip it in after work before the Tesco shop.
Why Jessica Ennis Hill proves that we should never, ever underestimate a new mum