“Being active and having fundamental movement skills allowed me to run, ride my bike and go white water canoeing in Nahanni River in the Northwest Territories. Snowshoeing while winter camping was a real experience for me, one that made me feel so alive.
"And then I had a kid.”
That’s Gillian McKay, a new fitness instructor at the North Shore Winter Club. For Gillian, the experience of having a child changed her life in more ways than one (as it often does), but it’s an experience she’s determined to explore further and use as a catalyst to help other new or expectant moms.
Kelvin: What was it that led you to your focus on postnatal movement? Did it occur to you before you had a child, or was it a sudden epiphany?
Gillian McKay: The main thing about having a kid was that I wanted the outdoor experiences I loved to continue. It’s outside of the gym that we still need to live and experience life. And I want those experiences to continue for a long time.
I grew up coming to the north shore winter club, my parents were members, my grandfather was actually one of the first members. My brothers played hockey, I did diving, we swam, my parents curled, my dad played tennis. In my teens, I grew up on the North Shore playing basketball. I played for Cap U and Queen’s U in Kingston, Ontario.
After school I started working as an athletic trainer focusing on runners. I transitioned into cycling as well, having experienced that in Whistler and the Penticton Gran Fondo. I was into running so it was a natural progression, but cycling was interesting too, it was a relief from running. It’s easier on the body in some ways, so this is the point where I started consciously thinking about the impact of exercise on the body.
What brought you back to North Vancouver?
I wanted to take the registered holistic nutritionist program at the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition. Once I achieved that and became a registered natural nutritionist, I transitioned into working for a charity established by Innovative Fitness, the 60 Minutes Kids’ Club. As the western manager I oversaw BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan. The program works to establish healthy habits and fundamental movements skills for Canadian children aged 6-12 years.
The storyline is starting to come into focus. Is this when you started focusing on fitness as it pertains to pre and postnatal?
During that time I had a baby boy and got to experience fitness pre & postnatal, and that’s what’s brought me to bringing a specialized postnatal program to the club. There are corrective exercises that these women need to be doing, which is hard to find being taught in a decimated class setting.
For example, we spend so much time hunched over, but right after you have a baby there are things out of whack. Holding a baby, nursing, you’re hunched over. I’ve done programs which are great, but we need adjustments and specific movement while you’re pregnant or after having a baby, and sometimes that's years later but we still focus to build the core in our classes. Strengthening your lower back, proper muscular balance. If you do crunches after having a baby you’re putting inter-abdominal pressure on your pelvic floor. This can weaken it even more and you may have difficulties you just can’t ignore. So we’re rehabbing the core first so you have a solid foundation to rebuild your strength after.
How do your personal beliefs about fitness play into your postnatal focus?
It’s about taking steps to find specific ways to make them feel good. The main thing is to feel good first. That could be mentally, finding ways to de-stress just by organizing things in life and prioritizing. Getting to sleep 15 minutes earlier each night, increasing hydration and putting less emphasis on the ‘more, more’ mentality. More is not necessarily better.
I’ve been through all this. I’ve lifted heavy, I’ve worked out for long hours. Now that I’m a mom those things don’t interest me as much. As a mom I’ve adjusted my priorities. Moving my body is a priority. I enjoy moving my body. Maybe I’ll go for a hike with my kid on my back instead of going for a 24 K run. Even playing on the floor with my son I notice things with my body that I now focus on and take care of in the gym.
As long as you’re moving your body each and every day it will help you mentally and physically.
How often should new moms be training?
There’s a lot of great stuff out there and I tell people they need to do something active, something they like and enjoy 3 times a week. If you want to improve something specific like movement prep then it’s a minimum of 3 times a week to see and feel the differences. For instance if you want to build more strength, then hiking once a week combined with some weight training is a good plan. But 3 activities each week, that's the magic number.
After having a baby, there are things like diastasis recti abdominis people might not know about, or even simple things like breathing properly. In the postnatal series we’re going to do you can find out what makes your body unique. If people are having issues like just getting up off the floor, then we learn about what’s going on and why. We can take steps to correct it, but understanding things like lower back pain is the start of a journey to getting your body back to being pain and discomfort free. You don’t have to live with discomfort.
How can people get into the program?
I really wanted a specialized program where people knew exactly what they would be getting. A supportive environment to learn about the deep core muscles and how to train them correctly.