Coaches Corner Coming back after having a baby by Dani Alexander

Training to play elite ultimate is already extremely difficult, but what is it like returning to play after having a baby? We asked one of Australia's top players for her insights

Babies are miracles of nature, grown from a microscopic seed into a complete human solely fuelled by bacon & egg rolls and orange juice or whatever else you can manage to eat when you’re pregnant. The host is willing, loving but maybe not quite ready for what toll this process is really going to take on her body. This is what it was like for me to return to the field after a year and a half.

November – Baby

I get home and try and spend as much time lying on the couch as possible, battling to breastfeed this tiny human. I can walk, slowly, for about 20 minutes if Mike makes me go outside. People ask me if I’m going to play Nationals and, instead of laughing directly in their face, I instead opt for, “I think I’m just going to take it easy and sit this one out”. I confidently return to my pelvic floor exercises believing that at 6 weeks postpartum I’ll be circuiting the Bay Run again.

Weekly training plan:

  • walking, slowly

December – Christmas

It’s the first Christmas in a long time where I haven’t been spending a couple of hours each day trying to maintain my physique while gorging on Swedish meatballs. It’s nice. I dutifully head to the physio when I get home to get back on the bandwagon. New year, new me and all that. I leave with a light bodyweight routine that seems like a joke. I’m pretty sure Winkie was playing Worlds by now.

Weekly training plan:

  • walking, normally

January – u24 Worlds

I take my exercise by walking up and down countless sidelines next to an inspiring group of young players. I wish I had found Frisbee young enough to be part of a cohort like this. I’m a bit jealous that I can’t rush the field and jump up and down to celebrate big wins, but I’m mainly just glad that I can fit into the coaching uniform, that was in real question for a while – my bust has calmed down from an E to a D. My voice is hoarse and my pelvic floor is tired from all the yelling.

Weekly training plan:

  • Walking, quickly
  • 2 x bodyweight sessions
  • a yoga session when I’m at home

February – Squats

The strength work feels good and by the end of the month I’m back in the rack, lifting about 20kgs. I’m on track and loving it. During one session, Mike and I get a call asking whether we’d be keen to join a new mixed league that is raising the bar for gender equity. I’m pumped physically and emotionally. It brings back my start date a few months but it’s on my birthday weekend so that’s got to be a good sign.

Weekly training plan:

  • 2 x strength
  • 2 x yoga
  • 1 x bike ride

March – Running

I get clearance for my first run so I put on my fave full kit and walk out. I’m suddenly scared as I walk down to the canal but start trotting after Mike ostensibly gives me a ‘you’ll be right’ pat on the head. I make it about 50m and panic. My body feels foreign, loose. Tears are falling and I curl up in a ball on a park bench. I book in to see a pelvic floor specialist who checks me out and doesn’t seem worried. My pelvic floor is strong but my connective tissue is loose. I stop adding weights and roll back to a graded running program. I can run for longer without feeling super weird, but it still all feels weird. Mike breaks his arm.

Weekly training plan:

  • 2 x strength
  • 2 x run/ride
  • 1 x yoga

April – Broken

Mike can’t hold our baby anymore, or do much at all really. The community steps up to help but I give up coaching and try to keep up my training as much as possible. I start squatting and deadlifting Pan during the day to fit in my strength sets. I set up Mike on the floor with a smattering of toys to keep Pan entertained while I dash out for a half hour run or ride. I walk to and from baby yoga as much as possible. The running starts to feel weirder. The physio gives me a pessary support, which is a nightmare to use. I can run and even do push ups while using it but afterwards I feel terrible. Way worse. She cuts me off weights and planking. I use the ‘devil cube’ some more and feel all sorts of bad. We decide I shouldn’t run or do any strength training for a month.

Weekly training plan

  • 2 x strength
  • 2 x run
  • 2 x yoga/ride

May – Swimming

I start swimming, which I haven’t done for about eight years, ever since I started playing frisbee. I begin with a slow 500m, working up to a good paced kilometre over the month. The weather is cooling down but the days are glorious. While I feel myself getting fitter, I also feel some weight creeping back on – I looked pretty lean by the end of April. I love my rides around the bay run as the sun is setting and Mike, a bit more mobile, is able to play with the boy after work. I test a bodyweight session around Mothers Day, which doesn’t feel great, so I just let go and enjoy the things I can do.

Weekly training plan:

  • 2 x swim
  • 2 x ride/walk
  • 1 x yoga

June – Pilates

My physio told me that reformer pilates might be the best option to build support for my ‘dropped organs’. It is expensive and I’ve tapped my private health insurance but I decide to just do it and stop buying lunch at cafes during the week. The new pilates physio lady asks me a few questions and I launch into the above two pages, crying a little at the end. She tells me to stop panicking and overmedicalising the whole thing. “Of course it feels weird, you just had a baby”. I test some drills at low speed after a couple of weeks and it feels fine. She says I’ll most likely be able to play in August. I don’t really believe her but I feel nice.

Weekly training plan:

  • 2 x pilates
  • 1 x cardio swim
  • 1-2 x jogging pod
  • 1 x yoga

July – Europe

Winnie (the pilates guru) sends me off to Europe with a plan to increase my running sets by 20% each time and add some small (<10kg i.e. Pan) weights to my strength set. She tells me not to sprint, do planks or play any frisbee. I do an agility set and a running set each week, building up the duration and the speed. I keep swimming for cardio, which in tougher than I’m expecting in open freshwater. The water is also cold in Norway and Slovenia but it is one of the most scenic things I’ve done. Plus, as Anna Rogacki might say, hard is often good. By the end of the trip I'm running and feeling strong before, during and after. Weekly training plan:

  • 1 x pilates
  • 1 x strength
  • 1 x glorious swim
  • 2 x running!
  • Walking a lot

August – Frisbee

We get home and get sad, jetlagged and sick but I’m ready to give frisbee a crack. I go see Winnie who gives me the all clear to start sprinting and to play. I turn up to Tuesday DUFF league and try to seem cool, instead of showing how scared I am. There aren’t really any subs so I start slow, handling a lot, then try a few big cuts towards the end of the game as I get more confident. My heart feels big as we drive home and I still feel strong, but maybe also a bit miffed that my team didn’t win. I guess the competitive bugger never dies. We get ice cream to celebrate.

The next week I turn up to our first Sydney Suns training, skinny and knackered from two days of gastro. Still no subs so I’m scared again. I suck at the beginning, missing my first catch of the game. Surprisingly, I get better as we go on and even score a goal and get a block. Another ice cream tastes wonderful as I bask in the afternoon sun afterwards, revelling in the fact that my insides stayed inside. Finally, I think this is going to be fun.

I don’t know how I will perform in Melbourne, but I will be grateful that I have the opportunity to be there on the field playing the sport that I love with my friends and family there beside me.

Weekly training schedule:

  • 1 x FRISBEE
  • 1 x agility pod
  • 1 x pilates
  • 1 x strength with dumbbells
  • 1 x cardio swim
  • 1 x bike ride
  • 100 x pumped to be here

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