The Mutu System by Wendy Powell.
This is not technically a book, but an on-line exercise and eating program designed for mothers. I found it after looking for a program that would combine the short intense workouts from The Women’s Health Big Book of 15-Minute Workouts with the diastasis protection and healing found in Lose Your Mummy Tummy. You pay your fee, and get a 100-page pdf right away, a new video link each week for 12 weeks, and email and phone or Skype support from Powell as needed. The exercise components include four levels of 5-minute core workouts designed to strengthen and heal a diastasis to be done daily; three different 20-minute intensive routines for aerobic and strength training, to be done five times per week; and two different yogic healing breath routines to be done once a week. There’s also a posture section and a diet portion, because as Powell often says in the booklet and the videos, if your abs are covered by a layer of fat, you won’t be able to see how toned they are. Full details of the program and my results included.
I had some problems with the whole system organizationally. Instructions are split up between the weekly tasks, photo guides to workouts, and the videos. The print-out log includes the names of everything you’re supposed to do each week, but you have to refer back to the text to see how many times a week to do each thing. The pdf didn’t seem to be indexed, so I kept flipping around trying to find everything. Also, the videos for the workouts included shorted sections of the exercises followed by longer explanations – but nothing that seemed that you were meant to be exercising right along with the video, which is what I’d expected. However, the photos and videos explain the exercises clearly, and Powell’s overall tone
I’d been initially hesitant to pay for the program, because it is a fair chunk of money – $100 US if you sign up for the email list before joining. I justified it in part by looking at the equipment cost of the Mutu System versus the Women’s Health program. The Mutu System uses a yoga ball, resistance bands, and an interval timer. I already had the first two, and found a $4 app for the iPad to use in place of the $20 timer. The personal support while still being able to work from home was also a factor, because I know that I need both support and the ability to exercise while my daughter is sleeping.
Weight-loss diets designed for nursing mothers make me nervous in general, so I was anxious to see what Powell recommended even though I didn’t plan on following it. Basically, she recommends drinking lots of water, cutting out processed food, sugar, alcohol, severely limiting caffeine consumption, and eating red meat only in moderation. She’s all in favor of fat consumption, though, and especially warns against buying naturally fatty food processed to be low fat. Yay! The only advice to watch portions rather than just eating to appetite comes in the week 6 video, where she says that if you’re following the food advice, exercising, and not losing weight that you might then want to double-check your portions. I really hate advice that says “Really you only need an extra 200 calories a day when you’re breastfeeding, so don’t eat more than that even if you’re think you’re starving.” I was very glad to see Powell advocating a diet that’s very close to what I naturally do. Powell assumes that it is a big change, though, and spends the first couple weeks of the program easing into the diet, making just a couple of changes at a time, and including shopping, menu and cookbook recommendations, all of which looked just fine.
I really appreciated the progression of difficulty with the exercises, and the way things are added gradually, with time to learn them before adding something new. The biggest problems that I had were my knees and wrists. Powell uses jogging in place frequently to raise the heart rate, and I discovered right away that jogging kills my knees. For some strange reason, jump roping is fine, so I mostly substituted that. It also took me a couple of weeks to figure out how to do the stretch salutations without making my knees ache. Many of the exercises and stretches from both the core and the intensive workouts are done from hands and knees or hands and toes. I was overconfident in this regard, given the chronic tendinitis in my wrists, and tried just doing things from my hands at first. Powell recommends doing things either from fists or from forearms in case of wrist pain, but I didn’t find either of these suggestions helpful straight-up. It took a lot of thought and trying different things to find modifications everything except for push-ups and Downward Dog. Push-ups are the real killer, and I don’t want to stop doing them because I’m so proud of finally getting strong enough to do them, plus they are amazing in how many muscles they work. Fritz_et_al, an exercise therapist himself, recommended that I try push-ups while gripping dumbbells, so my knuckles aren’t jammed on the floor and (I hope) the extra weight would give me some more stability. I’m a little torn on this overall, though. Obviously Powell has had a lot of experience with a lot of women, but I also know a lot of women with wrist and knee problems that I think would also have difficulty with some of her exercises. Overall, though, I was quite pleased at the balance of the exercises and the thoughtfulness put into getting complete workouts done in a very short amount of time.
As far as the support side of the program, I emailed Powell asking for support with my problems. She emailed back saying she thought we should talk about it, and gave me her phone number and Skype contact. It is totally on me that I’m having a hard time finding a good time to call someone in England, since my free times aren’t usually decent times there.
I stuck with this for the whole twelve week program, though I won’t say that it was easy nor that I made every single workout. But, even in the last couple of weeks where I only did four of the main workouts a week instead of five, that’s so much better than the previous three years where I worked out a couple of times a year. I went in trying not to lose any weight, because I’m already at a healthy weight. This maybe made it hard to lose circumference, but I lost 2.5 inches around my waist (maybe mostly posture, but that still counts, right?) and gained half an inch around my skinny upper arms, which is great. I have spiffy new muscle definition in my legs and arms especially. I know I’ve made a lot of progress in the core, but I feel like that was lagging so far behind the rest of me that it’s going to take longer than just twelve weeks to get them visibly in shape. More importantly, my diastasis went from a gap a finger and a half wide (still pretty small, but after doing the Tupler Technique exercises) to one I can’t feel at all. I wish I could say I was still doing the exercises, but it took every minute of my spare time to do them, and I have to get my Pennsic sewing done so my kids aren’t running around naked. I’m planning to return to it once that’s done.
In summary, I had a few small problems with this program around the wrists and knees. All in all, though, it’s the best postnatal exercise program I’ve found, with thoughtful, kind advice and workouts that really take the beat-up body and very limited time that come with being a mother into account.