Motherhood and Fitness can go together: Zareen Siddique-Shaikh

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New mothers have a hard time with fitness during the period immediately after childbirth. Most of them intend to get fit again but have no clue how to go about it. Here’s help.

Sportsjoy’s Mayur Didolkar caught up with post-natal fitness trainer, ultra-runner and a very busy mom, Zareen Siddique-Shaikh at her residence in Sopan Baug, Pune for a chat. Excerpts.

About becoming a post-natal fitness coach and nutritionist.

Zareen: My younger son was born through a Caesarean section when I was thirty-six. I have been a fit person all my life. Therefore, I was determined to get back to fitness as soon as I could post delivery. However, I learned that there was almost no information or guidance available for post-natal fitness, especially for women who delivered through a C-section. I decided to take thinks in my own hands. I researched online and built a post-natal fitness program by myself. It worked well because within 5 months of delivery, I had regained my six pack abs. [laughs]

About formal training to become a fitness trainer.

Zareen: Formal training is useful no doubt. I attended a basic program from Abs fitness for trainers to understand fundamentals like which muscle group is activated during certain exercises. I also completed an online program from an institute in Delhi to study and understand nutrition.

About transformation from fit mom to coaching moms.

Zareen: Seeing how well my post-natal fitness worked for me, a number of women came to me for informal advice. I started to them and saw it helped them immensely. Soon I decided to go professional and business has been growing very well. The most satisfying part of it is that the business growth has been entirely through word of mouth. I realise that in this business one’s own fitness is the best advertisement.

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Awareness of post-natal fitness among new mothers.

Zareen: Lack of awareness is the least of the problems. Else one wouldn’t see the proliferation of “weight loss” centres in each gali and nukkad of the city. Women choose to go to absurd lengths to lose flab e.g. surgical intervention. The core problem is of setting unrealistic targets vis-à-vis their capacity and taking shortcuts to get there.

How do you set expectations with clients?

Zareen: I conduct two counselling sessions with the woman before staring. This helps in educating the woman and setting up realistic goals. For example, regarding weight loss, I will never allow her to aim at losing more than 2.5-3 kg per month. Besides, in our society there are a lot of misconceptions about exercising post-delivery. Women are afraid to do abdominal exercises or lift weights. My own example definitely helps clear the misconceptions.

In my assessment I develop a thorough understanding of the woman’s physical limitations post child-birth and also factor in the psychological restrictions years of conditioning puts them under. I would never ask a woman who has recently delivered a child to do a one minute plank. But at the same time, I would emphasise that depending on the nature of delivery, you need to go back to exercising within 2-3 weeks of giving birth.

About your initiation into running.

Zareen: To my mind, running is the best cardio exercise. I stumbled into long distance running by accident. Some years ago I met Utpal Burman from PUNE RUNNING during one of my morning walks in Koregaon Park. He informed me about these group runs in Magarpatta. I decided to try it out and joined them for a couple of days a week. Shortly thereafter I ran my first 15 km in a respectable time of 1hr 38min. Later on I joined Jeetu Nair’s FreeRunners group. The best part about FreeRunners for me is that we run freely without using any of the modern gadgets.

I come from an athletic background. Both my parents were runners in their college days. My father in the 800m distance and mom in 100m and 400m. My grandfather used to participate in athletic events even as a veteran.

About the events you participated in.

Zareen: Satara Hill Marathon was a wonderful experience. I finished the 21km half marathon in 2hrs 07min and was a podium finisher in my age group. Satara is an uphill run in the first half and downhill in the second half. I have strong quad muscles which is very helpful while running downhill. I intend to go back there and maybe shave a few minutes off my previous timing!. My best time over half marathon distance was at Pune Running Beyond Myself (PRBM) last year where I finished in 1hr 53min.

About the 50 km ultra-marathon run.

Zareen: It happened without much planning. Jeetu was organizing the inaugural edition of this ultra –marathon and simply instructed me to run, no choice [laughs]. I was thoroughly underprepared. A couple of 20 km runs before the event is all I did. I didn’t stress about it at all. The biggest worry was my sensitive skin. My skin reacts badly to prolonged exposure to sun so that was my biggest worry before the start. I applied a sunscreen combination prescribed by Dr. Tawade and went for it. The event was a massive success thanks mainly to the exemplary work of the FREERUNNERS volunteers. They iced the runners at each aid station. This helped immensely and, believe it or not, I felt progressively stronger during the run. It was an amazing experience and I finished in 6hr 15min against the cut off time of 6hr 30min. I was one of only three female runners who completed the 50km distance within the cut-off time.

On the debate between people who go to gym against runners.

Zareen: I think it should be running and gym rather than running or gym. Many people take up running enthusiastically and take part in events within 3-4 months. Before long they are hit by injuries and then stop running altogether.

There needs to be a balance. Along with running, one needs to strengthen the body muscles in order to increase endurance. Gym can often help with the building blocks of endurance. You ignore one of them at your own peril.

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About protein supplement for your clients.

Zareen: I never use protein supplements nor do I prescribe them to my clients. I believe these days there is overemphasis on protein supplements. At the same time, you must remember that I don’t train pro athletes or body builders. My clients are women aged between 20 and 50 who look at toning and and weight loss and not muscle mass increase. Therefore, protein supplements are not necessary.

I also take account of the client’s background and traditional diet before devising a program for them. North Indian staple diet includes a lot of dairy products while South Indians have a number of coconut based recipes. I prepare a nutrition around it and avoid tinkering with the basics.

About fads in the fitness scene.

Zareen: These days I see a lot of posts on social media like “one month abs challenge” etc. It is something I can’t relate to. Pushing your body to high stress in a short period of time may lead to injuries. Same with the “ x minute plank challenge” type events. What fitness activity would require you to hold your ab muscles in a plank position for ten minutes? To me, exercise is all about improving your body’s functionality.

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About men’s support for their wives.

Zareen: It is absolutely essential. But I am happy to report that most of the time it is husbands who makes the first contact with me to set-up consultation with their wives. Last year, I remember one couple in Magarpatta, where the husband actually used to exercise along with his wife to motivate her in the initial days.

Message for new mothers.

Zareen: Make your health a priority. Your baby will become independent in a few years. But if you ignore your health in the immediate post-delivery time, the bad effects will haunt you for a life time. Two weeks after a normal delivery, you can start going for easy walks. For C-section, you may take an additional week off and then do some light stretches. Do your running or any other activity with enthusiasm and passion and not as a burden.

Let it be fun at all times.

Interviewer – Mayuresh Didolkar. Mayur is a marathon runner, a novelist, a financial advisor and a standup comedian!

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