Flamenco Dance-Fitness for a Surprisingly Joyful, Graceful, and Confident Pregnancy, Birth, and Postpartum Journey
By Dr. Coco Cabrel, The Flamenco-Dancing MD
Four pregnancies, four different fitness “plans,” and four completely different births. Two constants: I gained 50 pounds every time. On. The. Nose. And… when I danced more, I felt better. Full reveal: I was a Flamenco dance professor during my third pregnancy, teaching and performing full time – and that was my easiest delivery by far. I’m not proposing cause-and-effect. As an MD, I know there were many other factors at play. But here’s inspiration and some guidelines for you from a mom who blended anatomy, physiology, and dance – four times.
Are you a recreational dancer? Or do you have “two left feet”? Either way, I imagine you want to feel graceful and confident on those preggers days when you’re feeling, well… not so much. Maybe you want to move to music you love while your baby-JLo or baby-Baryshnikov leaps and twirls inside. How could Flamenco dance-fitness help you physically and emotionally during your pregnancy? What should you look for in any dance-fitness program to properly prep for birth? And how can you keep your baby safely growing while you’re safely glowing?
As a 30-year professor of anatomy, physiology, neuroscience, and Flamenco dance, I’ve taught the basic sciences – and yes, Flamenco dance, too – to students who have become nurse midwives, labor and delivery nurses, and doulas, as well as chiropractors and acupuncturists who specialize in maternal health. Once you’ve gotten clearance from your maternal healthcare provider, regular exercise can help with appropriate maternal and fetal weight gain,1and it’s recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to improve mood and body image.
Dance and dance-fitness certainly qualify as exercise. Bonus that there’s emotional uplift from music you love, and mental stimulation from learning new movements. And there’s spiritual freedom when you’re “in the moment,” aligning those movements with the music.
Let’s look at four exercise goals that Flamenco dance-fitness serves particularly well. We’ll look at each goal along a continuum: pre-pregnancy pregnancy, birth, and post-partum.
Weight Goals = Down, up, and then…
Institute of Medicine recommendations for healthy weight gain during pregnancy actually vary according to your pre-pregnancyBMI (Body Mass Index).4 Get your BMI into a healthy range now, and you’ll have more leeway during your pregnancy. Flamenco dance-fitness happens to be an effective way to fire up your metabolism and get your body into that range.
Rule of thumb: A woman at a healthy pre-pregnancy BMI should gain 25-35 pounds. Ten minutes of movement per day, and working up to at least 35 minutes per day, will keep that on track.
Remember when I said I gained 50 pounds every pregnancy, despite four different fitness “plans” – even when I was teaching and performing full time as a Flamenco dance professor? That seemed genetically encoded; my mom had a similar pattern. But for me, fitness was more about conditioning, stamina, and feeling beautiful. Read on!
Depending on your baby’s birth weight, you’ll lose 10-15 pounds during the birth itself, plus an additional five of retained fluids during the first week after. But don’t think about weight. This is a time to rest – your body just accomplished an amazing feat!
After a few months, you can think about healthy weight goals. Whatever your weight goals, find a dance-fitness program that you simply love – and your reason for loving it can be all your own. Whether it’s the music, style, instructor, community – go for the love. This way, you’ll look forward to showing up – and consistency is the name of the post-partum game.
Muscle Strength Goals: Will I have what it takes?
Pre-Pregnancy The denser your muscles, the easier it is for your body to burn fuel, and the easier it is to hit your healthy BMI. Surprise! No weights required. Flamenco dance-fitness works! Think grounded footwork, solid bullfighter stances, and strong arm work.
Good muscle density and strength also help you carry that extra weight around. And of course, you’re getting in shape for…
— pushing a baby out! It’s not just about abs, though. Birth is a full-body effort, and your dance-fitness regimen needs to be a full-body workout to get you ready.
Our physiology is set up to “use it or lose it” when it comes to muscle density and strength. Commit to the long game, and aim for consistency. If you love your dance-fitness program, you’ll join class on those days when you’re exhausted from being an awesome mom. Your muscles will reward you by getting more dense. Won’t that feel empowering?
Stamina Goals = Eye-on-the-Prize
When trying to get pregnant, stamina means patience. Dance-fitness floods the body with feel-good endorphins to make those impatient moments easier.
Open communication with your maternal healthcare professional is key to knowing where your body and your baby are in the growth process. This informs the intensity and length of your individual dance-fitness workouts as well as the intensity and length of individual movements.
During my second pregnancy I had not yet discovered Flamenco dance; I was continuing my beloved non-professional modern dance classes. At the halfway mark, though, my obstetrician and I agreed that I should switch to another form of exercise because even little jumps were too demanding for my body at that time.
Contrast that with the final month of my third pregnancy, when I was Flamenco dancing professionally. My OB and midwives agreed that I had the stamina for a full performance. That green light translated to a 3-hour time commitment, 1 1/2 hours of on-stage presence, and an hour of dancing at full energy in choreographies of 5-10 minutes each. With a very big belly.
It was the most grounded, most joyful, and most powerful performance of my career (so far).
On the one hand, the birth process requires stamina of body, mind, emotion, and spirit. However, many factors go into the birth experience besides stamina. For example, first births generally take longer than third or fourth births. The baby’s position is another factor.
Ultimately, though, mental stamina rules all. And mental stamina can be developed by building physical stamina. To build physical stamina, make micro-choices in your brain to overcome your fatigue to do one more rep, and then just one more rep. This builds reserve physical muscle strength and hones the mental skills to make micro-choices to continue in the face of difficulty.
Your first 3 post-partum months are all about recovery. You’re also taking care of a new human and learning about yourself as a mom. It’s a lot. In this phase, stamina comes in spurts. For example, do five minutes of Flamenco footwork while brushing your teeth, do two minutes of bullfighter shoulder rolls while washing breast pump flanges, and do ten minutes of belly button in-and-outs while nursing. And pat yourself on the back for 17 minutes of Flamenco dance-fitness! Hey, patting your back counts as bonus arm work minutes! Over time, you’ll extend to longer spurts and then full workouts.
Flexibility Goals vs Physiologic Joint Loosening, AKA I don’t wanna fall down
Your flexibility goals could range from doing wheel pose in yoga class to comfortably getting out of your car. Aim for overall joint health and mobility.
Especially in the third trimester, your body prepares for a large head to pass through a small pelvic opening. The hormone, relaxin, is released in increasing amounts to produce a normal loosening of the joints, especially in the pelvis, and very especially at the front and center of the pelvis: the symphysis pubis. It’s a common occurrence for women to fall while simply standing due to this loosening.
It is crucial to choose a dance-fitness instructor who knows this phenomenon well, has a keen eye for body alignment – and can recognize when someone looks “wobbly.” Find an instructor who will cue you and demonstrate a seated version of an exercise when this time comes.
I always teach my students that the body is smart – usually smarter than we are. Your body will have loosened your pelvis joints with enough relaxin hormone by the time your birth begins. All you may need are some refreshing, light muscle stretches, and you’re good to birth a baby!
Again, the body is smart, and it will take up the slack in your joints by dialing down the relaxin hormone. This takes 3 – 5 months. Don’t push your stretches during this time. Go for the sensation of a refreshing muscle stretch, and rejoice in that. After you’ve recovered, evaluate your flexibility and set your goals – preferably with an insightful dance-fitness instructor.
Takeaways for Your Own Joyful, Graceful, and Confident Journey
Whatever your unique dance-fitness goals are during your pregnancy journey, my three key takeaways are these:
1)Listen to your body each day and with each dance-fitness movement. Trust that your body is smart and will always work to help you. Yet know that you can develop your mental stamina to build the physical strength you want and need.
2)Keep an open dialogue with your maternal healthcare professional so that you both know what your body can handle as it changes, what is safe for your baby as it develops, and what type of dance-fitness you want to do to feel uplifted, beautiful, and confident.
3)Find a dance-fitness program that you are in love with. Find an instructor who inspires you, music and movements that make you feel gorgeous, and a community that will keep you consistent. Of course, my love is grounded in Flamenco dance-fitness, informed by my medical science background. While I hope my stories have given you insight and ideas, this is all about you and your journey.
May you find your joy, grace, and confidence through your choice of dance-fitness during your pregnancy, birth, and beyond. Olé con olé! That’s Flamenco for “Woohoo You!”
About the Author:
Dr. Coco Cabrel, The Flamenco-Dancing MD and Founder of Coco’sFlameFit, draws from 30 years of award-winning professorship in anatomy, physiology, and Flamenco dance, and her own victories over bulimia, bullying, and a back injury, to help women choose themselves and find their joy, grace, and confidence through MD-designed, Flamenco dance-inspired fitness. A graduate of Northwestern University’s prestigious Honors Program in Medical Education, Coco has been featured on Spectrum News 1 LA and in Authority Magazine, has been a wellness panelist for Digital Hollywood, and has been interviewed on several podcasts including Birth Re-imagined, which you can listen to here: https://anchor.fm/birth-re-imagined/episodes/22–Flamenco-Dancing-During-Pregnancy-and-Cocos-Birth-Story—with-Dr–Coco-Cabrel-ertt23. Her podcast interview for Northwestern Intersections was voted one of the Top 3 Podcasts of 2020 by Northwestern University alumni around the world.
To join Coco’s Waitlist for her next Coco’sFlameFit for Birth and Beyond Cohort for joyful support, graceful strength, and confident stamina and flexibility throughout your pregnancy and postpartum journey – and for your free “Top 10 Safety Tips for Fun Pregnancy Fitness” – please visit www.cocosflamefit.com/birth-and-beyond
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