Did you know there are Mermaid fitness classes in Toronto?

Aqua Mermaid Toronto – Review by resident Mommy Blogger – Shannon Fisher, And Now I’m A Mom

I’ve said many-a-time, to many-a-people, that if I could perform my day to day tasks while being in water, I would. And I meant it. So when I was offered the opportunity to try out a mermaid fitness class with Aqua Mermaid, there was absolutely no hesitation before saying yes, and then quietly humming the Little Mermaid song to myself. I was vaguely familiar with the concept of mermaid fitness, but I couldn’t have told you anything real about it, and I didn’t know something like this was possible here in Toronto, especially for newbies like me. I was super excited about fulfilling my lifelong dream of becoming a mermaid. 

I didn’t really know what to expect in terms of class size or structure, but when I packed my bathing suit and towel and headed out, it turns out I also didn’t know how much traffic I should have predicted. Refreshing my google maps every 5 seconds while my husband took as many side roads as possible, I started to panic that I was going to be late, and I wouldn’t get to wear my tail. I awkwardly changed into my bathing suit in the front seat of our SUV, and waved at a guy who couldn’t stop staring at me while I was changing into my top. Angry at myself for not leaving earlier, I called the number for AquaMermaid and asked how bad it would be if I arrived just at class start time, instead of the recommended 15 minutes early. I was happily reassured that it wasn’t an issue at all, and I breathed a sigh a relief knowing that I hadn’t messed everything up. (But this doesn’t mean you should also show up late- that 15minutes would be key with a larger class!)

We pulled up with two minutes to spare, and I rushed through the change-room, whipped off my clothes and headed out to the pool deck, expecting to see a full class of women waiting for me in their tails. Instead, there was simply the instructor, and two gentlemen happily chatting away holding onto what looked like flippers, but would unroll to reveal the tail. I was originally taken aback by the small size of the class, but it didn’t take long for me to appreciate the ability of the instructor to be able to keep the class personalized to our wishes and capabilities. I also loved the fact that is was men, and not just women who wanted to be mermaid for a day. One mentioned it was his goal to be like Zoolander, and he instantly got my respect. 

I got the fin on, and boy, was I excited! I stuck the fin in the water as I sat on the edge of the pool, and eagerly smiled at my husband as he snapped away with the camera, my daughter playing with a small floatie in her car-seat nearby. We then had to take the fins off again to learn some of the basic moves before adding the extra difficulty of essentially, having only one giant leg. Brianna, the instructor, made her fin-less dolphin kicking look graceful and flawless as she used her entire body to glide through the water, and when I tried, felt- and looked- more like a dolphin who had somehow made it’s way onto land and didn’t know what the hell to do. Luckily for me, there were only a couple of manoeuvres like this, because I sucked at them all and I just wanted my tail on. I got my wish and the three of us shimmied back into the long, glorious tails- mine pink, of course. Repeating those same initial manoeuvres but with the tail made a world of difference, and getting to glide so swiftly like that under water is something I have never experienced before, and I loved it. I felt like I just wanted to swim under water forever and never come up for air. If I had regular access to a pool, you better believe I’d be buying a tail. (You can actually own your own mermaid tail!) We were casually taught a few basic moves, like using our arms to propel us (which turns out to be a major arm workout), and swimming with our tail both face up, and face down, before moving onto some enjoyable (and instagram-worthy) tricks, like handstands and fin-high-fives. 

Everything was pretty relaxed, and the instructor just followed our lead to allow us to learn skills we wanted to, have fun, and have pictures taken all the way throughout. I felt like I was super unskilled, but afterwards in talking with Brianna I learned that many of the trial classes don’t attempt some of the stuff we did, or even venture out into the deep end- which we did almost right away. In my attempt to do a dive off the side into the water, I thought I would never even make it pulling myself out of the water, and flinging my body beached-whale-style up over the side. I made it though, it was amazing, and I’m sure it was super graceful. We ended our class with a group-choreographed synchronized routine that was completely random, but also awesome.  Once the class was done, I chatted with Brianna a bit to find out more about the classes they offer, and what they’re like. There are drop-in classes, for people like me who are new and looking for something cool to try, and there’s also packages for weekly classes, which are geared more towards the fitness aspect. AquaMermaid has been around since early 2015, combining the love of water, exercise, and all around fabulousness. The founder, Marielle Chartier Henault has done an incredible job of bringing forward this wonderful and unique option for a workout choice, and AquaMermaid is now offering classes not just in Toronto, but Montreal, Ottawa, Quebec, Edmonton, Chicago Las Vegas, Fort Lauderdale and Phoenix. Classes are offered for kids and adults of any gender, and just about any age- as long as you can swim independently. But if you’re looking for a new way to spend some time on a Saturday, or are trying to add some flavour into your workout routines, I highly suggest giving these classes a try, no matter what your age or gender- as long as you can swim, you’re good.  Worst case scenario? You get some cool photos wearing a mermaid tail at the end of it, because let’s face it- if it’s not on Instagram, did it even happen? 

For more information and to sign up for classes, go to www.aquamermaid.com 

Best Pregnancy Exercise: Trimester Specific Training

Guest Blog Post By Nikki Bergen, creator of The Belle Method: A Fitness Philosophy for Women

UntitledWe know that exercising during pregnancy is good for both mom and baby – from boosting your energy and sleeping better, to reducing the risk of gestational diabetes and joint pain. Still, the current pregnancy exercise guidelines are vague at best. “Warm up, keep your heart rate under 140 BPM, stay off your back, avoid dangerous sports and stay hydrated” pretty much sums it up.

I remember taking my first pre and postnatal certification course years ago, and the guidelines were just as generic.  I was disappointed as a fitness professional, especially one yet to have kids. There had to be more guidance.  Pregnant women in gyms were uncertain as to what was safe that they often quit working out all together.  Those who did persevere with their regular classes often received no direction other than “take it easy” while trying to self-modify the group exercises.  

So naturally I nerded out and learned everything possible about pre and postnatal fitness.  From interviewing PhD’s in women’s health and becoming a Labour Doula, to taking three different courses on diastasis recti, aka ‘mummy tummy’; the separated connective tissue that leaves many postpartum moms with flabby bellies and a compromised core.

The search for a better pregnancy workout led me to discover pelvic floor physiotherapy.  It turns out that a functional pelvic floor is pretty much the most important thing ever.  Want to prevent pregnancy back pain and reduce your risk of mummy tummy? Want your body to bounce back after you deliver your baby? Want to avoid organ prolapse and incontinence? It comes down to keeping your pelvic floor – the base of your torso and centre of your stability – strong.  It comes down to your “kegels,” and whether you’re doing them right (hint: most aren’t).

Here’s how pregnancy and the pelvic floor works: picture a bowling ball (your baby) bouncing on a trampoline (your pelvic floor). As the ball gets bigger and heavier, your trampoline needs to keep up with demands. We need to ensure the trampoline is strong enough (not too taut, not too lax) to support things properly.  Unfortunately, telling women to do their kegels just doesn’t cut it.  These exercises were originally created and taught by Dr. Arnold Kegel in the 1940s during gynecological exams. Most women today are merely guessing whether they’re doing kegels correctly, and many are forgetting to release. They’re just “holding their pee.” (Picture someone with very tense, elevated shoulders holding heavy weights over their head at the gym for minutes on end. Bad idea. Tension gets worse. Tension dysfunction  weakness.)

Pregnancy exercise must include instruction on proper pelvic floor engagement and postural alignment, coupled with key strengthening and stretching exercises to assist women through pregnancy, labour/delivery and postpartum recovery. Here’s the breakdown:

First Trimester: 1 – 13 weeks 

Issues: Your body is building the placenta and hormone levels are doubling each day. Mood swings and fatigue are common. Blood pressure is lower than usual due to vasodilation from the new hormone relaxin, which can lead to increased heart rate and dizziness on exertion.

Goal: Connect with your deepest layer of abdominals (the transversus abdominis) before this muscle stretches out from the growing baby in the 2nd trimester. Learn how to breathe using your diaphragm to help manage hormonal related dizziness and nausea.

Second Trimester: 14 – 26 weeks 

Issues: Your hormone levels have stabilized now that the placenta is built.  Blood pressure has normalized and energy levels have improved so this is the best time for introducing more intensity to workouts. The growing baby has started to stretch the transversus muscle so it may feel more challenging to connect with the deep layer of abdominals.

Goal: Add new dynamic movements to build on the diaphragmatic breathing learned in Trimester 1. Focus on preventing postural changes as the belly grows. Strengthen pelvic floor and outer hips for balance and stability, and stretch shortening muscles to maintain alignment.

Third Trimester: 27 – 40 weeks 

Issues:  In this final stage of pregnancy, your body is coping with the greatest amount of intra-abdominal pressure from the large baby. The strain on the abdominal wall and pelvic floor is significant.  Postural compensations due to this increased load can create discomfort and fatigue.

Goal: Practice releasing the pelvic floor (no more kegel lifting) in preparation for delivery. Prevent mummy tummy or diastasis recti (overstretched abdominal tissue) by avoiding front loaded positions like plank or quadruped to minimize forward pressure on the abdominal wall.  Focus on both stretching and strengthening to manage discomfort in this final stage of pregnancy.

[Here’s an explanation of mummy tummy with Dr. Sinead Dufour]

All pregnant women will benefit from following these trimester specific guidelines, regardless of their prior fitness level. Each trimester of pregnancy presents different challenges and calls for a different workout focus.

Make it a priority to take care of yourself. Try coming from a place of self-kindness. Too often the message we internalize around pregnancy is one of self-criticism and competition to “get your body back fast.” This mindset leads to negative self-talk and frantic stroller baby bootcamp injuries.  We either give up with a defeatist attitude and do nothing, or punish our bodies back into our skinny jeans.  Either way, our body suffers.

Let’s find some middle ground and work not only on that pelvic floor abdominal connection, but on that positive mind body one too.

Check out the Bump Method four-part video exercise series designed for each trimester of pregnancy, including the 4th trimester “restore your core” program to repair diastasis recti aka “mummy tummy.”