Megan Brown learned the hard way that new moms face a complicated dance after giving birth. They want to lose the baby weight, but intense exercise can lead to injury.
“I was so eager, so impatient to get my body back, that I overdid it,” says Brown, mother of two and co-owner of Mind the Mat, a Pilates and yoga studio with locations in Arlington and Alexandria.
“I found myself in physical therapy eight months after my C-section because I had scarred down all my abdominals — because I was working them too hard.”
Brown wanted to help other women avoid similar mistakes, so she developed pre- and post-natal classes for the studio. One particularly popular offering in the lineup: Mommy and Me Pilates Barre.
For the past six months, the classes have given Emily McCarthy, 34, an excuse to bring her 8-month-old daughter Maude to the barre. Although they’re only drinking milk and water, it’s a pretty happy hour.
“It got me out of the house,” McCarthy says. “It helped me have structure in the beginning; now it helps me feel stronger.”
The class emphasizes safe abdominal training, which is especially critical after pregnancy. One potential issue: The two sides of the rectus abdominis — the “six-pack” muscle — may have separated as the fetus grew.
That’s the kind of information an ob-gyn doesn’t always share with patients, says Amy Barnes, owner of Barre-Tech, a pair of studios devoted to ballet-inspired toning classes. Barnes, who is about to give birth to her first child, devoted several workshops this summer to postpartum strengthening techniques.
They were such a hit that Barre-Tech will be launching a weekly Saturday class at its Del Ray location this month. (Students can expect to see a class soon at Barre-Tech’s Clarendon studio, too.)
Xtend Barre Old Town, which opened this summer, plans to get in on the trend by offering “Babies on Board” classes this fall. The national chain’s new program addresses muscle imbalances developed during pregnancy and combats strain in the neck, arms and back caused by nursing.
What moms won’t see in any of these classes are traditional abdominal crunches, or “super-dynamic” moves, such as switch lunges or jumps, Barnes says. What makes barre exercises effective for moms is that they often have a range of motion of less than an inch, so they are far safer to do, she says.
One of Mind the Mat’s signature moves, which is designed to strengthen the lower abdominals, is jokingly called “twerking” or “The Beyonce”: While holding the barre (either with the baby in one arm, or a carrier), go into a squat with your legs wide and your toes turned out, and do a series of tiny forward pelvic tucks.
There might always be some impromptu steps added to the routine — moms and instructors have come to accept that this variety of barre has quirks you won’t find at other ballet-inspired classes: babies squealing, moms breast-feeding, toy rattlers noisily shaking.
But watching a room full of women juggling their babies’ needs while still managing to work out is always inspirational for Brown: “I’m like, ‘Can I take a picture of you, or is that weird? You’re a supermom!’ ”
Details: Mommy and Me Pilates Barre ($20) is offered at Mind the Mat at 11 a.m. on Thursdays, 2214 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria; 703-683-2228, mindthemat.com.
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