A long, long, long time ago, I told you I was working on a certification in prenatal fitness. I wanted to start zeroing in on pre/postnatal fitness as my “specialty” and had been hunting around for programs that fit my criteria.
Specifically, I wanted something that: a) was compatible with NASM (so I could use it as continuing ed to keep up my personal training certification) b) focused on corrective exercise (say what?) and proper alignment, and c) took a holistic approach to fitness, as one piece of overall wellness.
Enter Fit for Birth.
These guys fit the bill, and I couldn’t wait to learn about all things pregnancy + fitness. I also happened to be pregnant at the time, so the information was particularly relevant to me, and some of it hit very close to home.
Anyway, then I had the baby and (shockingly) got a little distracted…so here I am, months (and months) later, finally ready to share a little about my experience with Fit for Birth!
First, a disclaimer: the folks at Fit for Birth allowed me to take the course free of charge, in exchange for my honest feedback and a few mentions on the blog. Honest, meaning that they didn’t coach me on what to say, and everything you read here is representative of my real thoughts on the program.
Let’s make this all nice and simple with a good old pros and cons list, shall we?
—Great team. James and the rest of the team at Fit for Birth are all extremely kind, genuine people, who are truly committed to helping students succeed and thrive. I found them to be very responsive, helpful, and just a pleasure to work with. Not something you can find just anywhere these days!
—Easy to follow online class format. All of the reading materials and quizzes were accessible online, through an easy-to-navigate dashboard that walks you step-by-step through the course. There were also videos to accompany each section, which were actually recordings of a live class.
I loved that I could get snippets of work done here and there, and the website would check things off for me as I went along, so it was easy to keep track of where I was.
—Emphasis on corrective exercise. This was a big focus in my personal training program through NASM, and I learned to really value it. So I was pleased to see that Fit for Birth upheld the same training principles. You can learn more about Fit for Birth’s take on corrective exercise here.
—Emphasis on breathing. I always knew breathing was important (I mean, duh), but I had no idea just HOW important it is to wellness, in terms of both physical and mental health. This program really opened my eyes to the connections between breathing and things like stress, hormones, toxins, weight loss, illness, and of course, pregnancy. (I wrote all about it here.)
—Ideas on alleviating/preventing common pregnancy symptoms with exercise and proper alignment. This one is kind of a double-edged sword to me. On one hand, I totally agree that exercising during pregnancy can help keep moms more comfortable during and after pregnancy. I also think it’s empowering to give moms “something to do” to be proactive about managing all of the side effects of pregnancy.
However: I think we also have to be careful about the way we talk about these ideas. There were times, as I was going through the course, that I thought, “Huh. Well, I thought I was doing ok, but I still have [pelvic pain/vericose veins/swollen ankles/digestive issues/what have you] – so I must be doing something wrong.”
I think pregnant women have enough fear about “doing things wrong” without the added guilt that any physical issues they’re dealing with might actually be in their control—that if they’re having any symptoms, it’s their own fault. (Even worse: that they may be harming the baby in the process. For example, Fit for Birth talks a lot about the impact of the mother’s stress on the baby…the last thing we want is moms-to-be getting stressed about being too stressed!)
—Focus on pelvic floor health. This is hugely important in the world of perinatal health, and I think we (the general public) have a long way to go to fully understand what’s going on down there. Moms love to joke about peeing when we sneeze long after childbirth, and although that is super common, I don’t think it’s necessarily “normal,” or something we have to put up with for life. Fit for Birth did a good job covering this topic (I even learned a better way to kegel!).
—Lots of super interesting info. Like all of THIS.
—Too much focus on labor and delivery details. There was a LOT of time spent on this, and I just don’t think it was appropriate for a pre/postnatal fitness certification. It started to feel like a midwifery class (which makes sense, since the creators are closely connected to that world). Personally, I don’t think fitness trainers need to know a thing about the stages of labor or the statistics about C-sections to be effective in their roles, and it’s time that could have been better spent on other topics.
—Too much focus on natural birthing practices. It’s very, very clear that the creators of this course are pro natural birth. And that’s fine, but again, I don’t think their opinions on birthing methods belong in a fitness course. If I was pregnant and being trained in the gym by someone who I felt was either directly or subtly encouraging me to pursue natural birth, I would be extremely turned off. Personal trainers need to remember their place, and this isn’t it.
—Not enough time spent on exercises. This was the primary reason I’d pursued the course in the first place: to learn more about which exercises are appropriate for pregnant women, and to get ideas of new moves I might not have thought of. But we zipped by this information, and there was no exercise repository of any kind.* Many exercises were only mentioned by name in passing, without any information about what they are or how they’re done. I was very disappointed about this—especially given how much time we’d spent on the birthing information.
*NOTE: James has mentioned that his team is working on an exercise repository that will eventually be part of the class. That will be a great resource when it’s available!
—Recommendations possibly not up-to-date. Since taking the course, I’ve read information from sources I trust that conflicts with information Fit for Birth teaches. For example, many prenatal fitness experts are now saying that it’s a good idea to stay away from planks and any “front-loading” core exercises during pregnancy, where the belly is in line with or below the hips. (The older recommendation was just to stay away things like crunches.) I’ve also discovered new exercises that would be even more effective (and equally safe) than the ones Fit for Birth mentions.
I understand that there are many opinions out there on this, and the general consensus on recommendations is changing all the time (plus, it’s not easy to be constantly updating a course like Fit for Birth’s), but it’s something I’d want anyone going into this course to be aware of.
—Selling the “small belly.” Fit for Birth teaches a concept called “belly-pumping,” which as far as I can tell, is a complicated way to teach women to use their cores and breath properly in exercise and in daily activities. They make a big deal about the fact that many women report having smaller bellies after using this technique—which, I admit, was very appealing to me when I was pregnant. Now, I’m disappointed that they would focus on belly size as an indicator of health, or that they would draw women’s attention to this as, again, something they can and should control. Every woman’s pregnant belly looks different, and we shouldn’t be putting women with smaller bellies on a pedestal (especially as health professionals).
—Confusing physical assessment process. The course spends a lot of time teaching a process for assessing the physical capabilities of new clients. This is a great practice, which was covered in depth in my personal trainer certification too, but I wasn’t completely thrilled about the way Fit for Birth approached it.
As we watched the instructor assess a few of the students on video, it was clear that some of them just didn’t know how to do the exercises with proper form (example: a squat), which led to them getting lower assessment scores. I would have liked to see an assessment process that focuses more on clients’ ability levels, to be used as a guideline to drive program design. Improper posture and form issues should be corrected on the fly during training. Basically, it doesn’t seem fair to test someone on something they haven’t been taught yet.
(P.S. The final step in Fit for Birth’s certification is actually to complete an assessment on camera with one of the instructors—via Skype or Google Hangout. I haven’t done this yet – partly because I’ve just been swamped with other things, and partly because I don’t completely agree with the process and won’t be using it in the future myself. I think a better final assessment would be an assignment to design an exercise program from scratch, for either a real or fake client. That said, since I haven’t actually completed the call, I can’t comment on its value. I could be really missing out!)
So those are my thoughts on Fit for Birth!
Has anyone else taken a perinatal fitness course? I’d love to hear your experiences!