Fitness Focus: Body Conceptions

Mahri Relin’s energizing workouts are a must for the pregnant set.

One thing you miss when you’re pregnant is the dancing. You know, the out-all-night-in-heels, a few-too-many-drinks, sweaty-bodies-on-the-dancefloor dancing. The kind of dancing that makes you forget about everything else in the world except the thump of the music. But we’ve got good news, pregnant girl: you don’t have to give it up (ok, except maybe the all night and heels and drinking part).

Listen closely: Body Conceptions. Founded by fitness guru and former dancer Mahri Relin, Body Conceptions (or for those in the know, BoCo) is an exhilarating workout set to an amazing playlist. Not only can you get your groove on, but you can also create long and lean muscles, and build stamina and functional strength….which is a whole lot more than I ever gained from those late nights of rocking out pre-pregnancy. And since instructors are either pre- and postnatal certified (or on their way to certification), BoCo has become a hot ticket for pregnant gals all over the city who are looking for a fun, challenging and totally safe alternative to those late nights on the town.

Below, Relin fills us in on how she fuses dance and fitness for a can’t-miss class for pregnant gals, new moms and anyone looking for a generally good time.

What happens in a typical Body Conceptions class?
A signature BoCo class intertwines dance sections consisting of simple, high energy dancing and jumping movements with sculpting exercises that focus on the arms, thighs, abs, and seat. While each part of the body has its own dedicated section of class, many exercises integrate several muscles at once and require recruitment of the core. The exercises can range from very small, exhaustive movements (like pulsing up and down repeatedly in a low lunge) to bigger dynamic movements (like throwing in a few mountain climbers or punching the arms with weights), all set to music. There is also a strong emphasis on stretching, both in the middle and end of class.

Once we have methodically targeted all parts of the body, we turn off the lights and dance with abandon. I don’t care about form at this point. This is the moment to feel sexy and strong! We then stretch and breath together to end the class.

Give us the 411 on the studio and classes – where are you located and what’s the vibe?
We offer most of our classes out of Stepping Out Studios at 37 West 26th Street on the 9th floor. We have also started offering some classes in Jersey City and will be collaborating with FiTiST to offer classes in the Hamptons this summer. (Contact us for more information on our classes outside of the city!)

I have always believed very strongly in creating an environment that is welcoming and supportive for everyone. To me, fitness classes should never make anyone feel excluded. This does not mean that the classes are easy or simplistic by any means! We want to encourage everyone to have a blast and to push themselves beyond their limits but in a place without any judgment or competition. Our trainers are hard-core, but they are also some of the warmest and most helpful people you’ll meet.

Which classes are ideal for pregnancy?
We have a great pre- and postnatal private training program, but we don’t currently offer public classes specifically for pregnancy. I recommend that someone who is very nervous about modifying for pregnancy should consider trying a private session with us before going to our group classes. For those who are a little more comfortable, our class can be a great option. Make sure to come early to discuss modifications with your instructor, and don’t do anything in the class that feels uncomfortable. The instructor will also likely make choices that keep you in mind.

Although this isn’t prenatal, per se, why are so many pregnant women drawn to this workout?
Pregnant women love our workout because they find it challenging, fun and effective. This workout keeps them flexible and strong. Many of them go through their pregnancies without any aches and pains because of the muscles we target, and they also feel happier and more energized after their sessions. It also helps them continue strengthening their abs so that they feel stronger during labor and recover more quickly after the pregnancy.

How are your trainers tuned into pregnancy? Postnatal?
All of our trainers are either certified pre- and postnatal exercise specialists or are in the process of obtaining their certifications. In addition, we run a special BoCo pre- and postnatal training program focused on adapting the BoCo method to pregnancy, and I work very closely with my trainers when they have pregnant clients. We are not doctors of course, but we encourage our clients to keep an open dialogue with us about any issues that arise, and we will communicate with their doctors if they request it.

After a client has a baby, it’s important that she waits for her doctor to clear her to exercise. There are also issues to consider that are unique to post-pregnancy. We will not throw our clients back into classes as if they were never pregnant. We are very aware of issues like diastasis recti and the continued presence of relaxin in the body, among other things. Women need time to re-condition after they have a baby!

What adjustments do you make to the concept for pregnancy?
This is a little complicated to answer because every pregnant woman is different and because things change from trimester to trimester. I tell every pregnant client that they are in charge of our workouts and that they need to tell me the minute something feels uncomfortable. These thresholds may be very different from person to person. Also, clients who have been working with me for a long time tend to train at a completely different level because they can tolerate greater intensity, and they’re not asking their body to do anything that feels new or crazy (which is never a good idea during pregnancy!).

Regardless of the person I’m training, there are still a few universal adjustments I tend to make:
-Some clients continue to do a little cardio, which consists of lots of jumping. By mid-second trimester, we usually end the jumping and choose different methods of raising the heart rate. We pay attention to the rate of exertion (which can be different for different women). On a scale of 1-10, we never take it beyond 8.
-We never put our women on their stomachs
-We don’t do extra deep lunging that can stress the lower pelvic ligaments and tendons
-We don’t do any extreme twists
-We don’t ask women to lie directly on their back for extended periods of time after 19 weeks. (We’ve worked around this using rollers – very fun discovery for us!)

What about postnatal?
Postnatal training is cognizant of the labor recovery process and how deconditioned the client may have become during or after pregnancy. Most women have trouble feeling their abdominal muscles post-pregnancy, and this can be especially true after a C-section. It’s important for all postnatal women to rebuild their abdominals from the inside out – starting with the deep transverse and pelvic floor muscles. We also look out for abdominal splits and adjust the abdominal exercises accordingly. Women still have relaxin present in their bodies for several months post-pregnancy, so it’s important to keep in mind that their joints can still be a bit loose and more vulnerable to injury. We might not throw them right back into complex cardio in the beginning, and we might also try to use more stable body positions through the session. As with pregnancy, it’s important to treat each postnatal woman as an individual and let her body guide the process. It’s also important to reassure her that her commitment to exercise is so great. She will “bounce back” for sure. But she should also be patient with herself!

What are some of the Body Conceptions exercises that benefit a pregnant woman in particular? What about a postnatal woman?
We have a pretty big roster of exercises, so it’s a little hard to be too specific here. For the most part, our pregnant women really benefit from the thigh work, which gives them lots of leg strength and joint stability. Our abdominal work adapted for pregnancy has been key for getting women through labor and regaining strength post-pregnancy because it focuses so much on the pelvic floor and deep transverse “corset” ab muscles. Our glute work is also essential to supporting the body during pregnancy and taking pressure off the quads and lower back.

Any advice you’d give a pregnant gal who wants to keep up with her regular exercise routine?
Many women who have been exercising regularly can keep their exercise routines through their first trimester at least. The exception is if they are in danger of getting hit in the stomach, falling, laying or putting pressure on their stomach, twisting, or shifting their weight or direction too suddenly. The other danger is if they’re engaged in something that makes them stop paying attention to their body signals. Examples might include competitive sports, teaching fitness, and stage performance. In these instances, you purposely ignore any sign of pain or discomfort in order to achieve your goal of performing at your very best. You can often miss signs of danger that are very important.

I would encourage any active woman who becomes pregnant to contact her trainer or fitness studio and ask lots of questions. Find out how knowledgeable they are about pregnancy and how much they can guide you. Even if it’s too expensive to get a trainer regularly, consider having one or two seasons with a pregnancy/fitness expert to walk you through the things you should or shouldn’t do through the pregnancy. See if you can meet your instructors early before class to walk through possible modifications. (We do that regularly!)

Regardless, I am a broken record when it comes to pregnancy and exercise. Go for it, but put your body front and center. You will know when something feels wrong, so always pay attention to those signals. Try not to put your body through new or extreme exercise, but lots of what you’re doing already can continue. And in terms of exertion, you can definitely sweat, but keep the intensity at a level where you can still talk and breath well.

Can you give us one Body Conceptions-style “do-at-home” exercise that pregnant women can try during pregnancy when they can’t get out to a class?
One of my favorite thigh exercises during pregnancy is called “Wide Second.”
-You stand with your feet turned out and placed slightly wider than the hips.
-Bend both knees to about 90-degree angles, keeping the knees aligned directly over the feet (not rolling forward).
– Adjust your position so that your feet are not too wide apart and hard to control or so close together that your knees are bending past your toes.
-Make sure your upper body is straight up and down (not tilted forward), and your chest is lifted with the shoulders relaxed.
-I always recommend doing our exercises to music. Try using something with a medium tempo.
-Start with your hands on your hips. Staying deep and low in your Wide Second bend*, pulse your body slightly up and down 30x to the beat of the music.
-Stay deep in your lower body position*, and reach your arms wide out to each side of your body.
-Keeping your legs still, alternate reaching your arms out to each side 20x to the music.
-Reach long through the arms. (In fact, you can even let your ribcage pull out to each side as you reach.)
-Keep your lower abs engaged.
-Put your hands back on your hips.
-Staying in your Wide Second position*, pulse both knees back at the same time 30x. These are very tiny movements that should make you feel the back of your upper thighs and glutes engaging.
-Repeat 1-3 as needed.
*If you need to straighten your knees in the middle of this exercise at any time, please do. Take one or two breaths, and return to your Wide Second position. If you have trouble keeping your balance during this exercise, feel free to keep at least one hand on a chair or tabletop in front of you.

Photography by Matt Simpkins Photography.

Jessica Pallay

Jessica Pallay

JESSICA PALLAY is Co-Founder and Editor of Well Rounded NY. She is a Brooklyn mama to Libby and Elsie, and writes about all things pregnancy and new motherhood.

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