“Take a step back and realise how much your body has changed,” is the crucial piece of advice Dame Jessica Ennis offers to anyone who has just had a baby. After returning to athletics after her first baby to win another medal, the three-time athletic world champion understands the pressure of getting back into shape post-pregnancy better than anyone. Now, the mother-of-two has launched a fitness app to support women through pregnancy, post-pregnancy and beyond. Jess sat down with My Baba at the Adidas Studio in Shoreditch to talk about the challenges of raising a family and upholding a career, all while keeping check on your own physical health and wellbeing.
On pregnancy and fitness
During her first pregnancy, Jess recounts feeling overwhelmed, reducing her exercise regime down from a full-time professional athlete level was a big step and it took time to understand which exercises she could and couldn’t do. “I had to cut a lot of things out, adapt things and make it safe to do during my pregnancy,” Jess explained. Each trimester required slight changes to the routine and adaptation of standard exercises. Jess welcomed the support of her professional team: “My fitness team, including my physio Allie Rose and my Pilates teacher Clare, were there to talk me through how my body would change physically and the hormones and ligaments.”
Her fitness app, titled jennis, is divided into three sections: fitness, pregnancy and post-natal. It brings together advice and exercise regimes that Jess followed throughout her pregnancies, after the birth of her children and the fitness sessions she follows today. All of the sessions can be done at home and provide 20-to-30 minute bursts of exercise. “I literally do all my workouts at home!” Jess told us when asked where she likes to workout, which instilled much faith that if a former Olympian can exercise at home, so can we. “The exercises I do on a weekly basis are all really high intensity. All you need are a kettlebell and dungbell, then you can beast your body in twenty minutes then you’re done,” she added, with the jennis fitness supporting you along the way.
The pregnancy and post-natal sessions are gentler and centred staying active, in comparison to the fitness section that comprises of 20-to-30 minute workouts of quite high intensity. The pregnancy exercises, specific to each trimester, “aren’t about trying to get fitter or better at exercise, but rather to maintain your current level of fitness to support a healthy pregnancy,” explained Jess. “The exercises suit each stage of the pregnancy and should be done at the level and pace that you’re able to cope with. It’s about keeping in touch with exercise and doing the right workouts at your own pace.”
On post-pregnancy fitness and going back to work
“I didn’t realise how much pregnancy would affect my speed and strength,” Jess admitted. “When I did start training again, it took a long time to get back to the speedy explosive athlete I once was.” And like almost all women post-pregnancy, she felt the pressure to rebuild her body — not to mention to the professional athletic standard it was before. “The people around were guiding me and saying if you can’t do these basic exercises, there’s no chance you can get up and run or do these press ups or whatever you want to do,” she told us.
Having dealt with the pressure, Jess emphasises that during and post-pregnancy that “you must realise how much your body has changed and know that if you build your fitness slowly and follow the process, you’re won’t pick up any problems after pregnancy. You’re essentially injury-proofing your body for the future. It’s all about being sensible and acknowledging that it’ll take time to get back to normal.”
On being a woman and a mother in the sports industry
Jess appreciates how the sports industry has changed for women: “One of the greatest things you can do is have a family and for them to see your career and what you’ve achieved,” she gushed. No longer do you have to decide between being a professional athlete and starting a family. “It’s great that I was able to have my career, step away and have my son and then get back into training” she told us. She was fortunate that Adidas, her sponsor, supported her decision but has recently spoken out about how other companies don’t necessarily support female athletes in the same way.
While the industry is beginning to support women and pregnancy, it still has a some way to come in its view of body image. Jess has admitted in the past to feeling self-conscious about being muscular. “I was so paranoid about my upper body, thinking I don’t want to look like this but in my mind had to justify that this is my job and this is what I have to do — my body has to be like this.” Yet, there has been a shift in recent years, with Instagram fitness models certainly playing a part. Jess said: “I do think now women want to look strong and have a bigger shape. It’s much healthier to have a strong body… definitely.”
While watching the summer athletics makes her miss the adrenaline rush, “the feeling when you’re in the best shape of your life and you’re ready to absolutely kill it.” Jess admits she doesn’t miss all the gruelling training sessions and the injuries. “Now I can pick and choose when and how to train without the pressure of having to reach that elite level,” she added.
On relaxing into and enjoying parenthood
“Everything about motherhood is so unexpected and every day is completely different,” Jess said when asked her favourite part of parenthood. “Seeing your children as a part of you and the people you love developing and changing, then everything that they achieve, large or small, every day is just incredible.”
It hasn’t all been easy. On balancing a career and raising a family, Jess said, “I think it’s one of the hardest things that women can do: dealing with the physical and mental changes of having a baby, having a family and then going back to your career. It’s hard because you’re faced with so many challenges; you feel so physically and mentally different.” Yet, she doesn’t doubt that having a family is one of the greatest things she ever did.
For now, Jess is most looking forward to taking her children to the Olympics next year in Japan. “Having that experience as a five-year-old and seeing what life is like on the other side of the world would be pretty special. I had such an amazing opportunity to travel around the world with athletics so I want them to be able to do the same.” Yet, when she’s not rushing around, Jess likes to do nothing. “When I do have days to myself I just like to sit, put on a box-set and chill out completely, just do nothing. It doesn’t happen very often!” she laughed.
Finally, we asked.. what was the one baby product you couldn’t live without?
For Reggie, now 5, it was the Fisher-Price Jumperoo but Liv, her 3-year-old, absolutely hated it. “Liv has long, curly hair so the Bloom and Blossom Matilda’s Miracle Detangler & Conditioner was really good,” she added.
To find out more about the Jennis app, visit JennisFitness.com or download from the app store on Apple or Android.