Celebrity Health - Jessica Ennis-Hill

Olympic champion and three-times world champion heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill speaks to Liz Parry about her new pregnancy fitness venture

In 2012, Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill secured her place in history as one of Britain’s most famous athletes when she won the gold medal in the heptathlon at the London Olympics. She went on to win the heptathlon world title in Beijing – her third world championship gold medal in a row – followed by the silver medal at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Having retired from athletics, she received a damehood in 2017 and now lives in Sheffield with her husband Andy and her two children, Reggie and Olivia. Here she tells YHL about her new fitness app which focuses on pregnancy and post-natal exercises.

Q Tell us about your new fitness app.

Jessica: When I first became pregnant with Reggie, I spent a lot of time Googling what I could and couldn’t do to stay active and found the information available complicated, confusing and contradictory. I was lucky that I had a team around me who could help me bust the myths and create a programme that was really safe and really worked with the needs of my body as it changed throughout my pregnancy. I passionately believe that every woman should have access to the same level of expertise and the same guidance I had when I was pregnant, which is why I decided to create Jennis Pregnancy. The programme features all the same workouts that I did throughout all my pregnancies and with every exercise I explain what muscles each exercise is good for, why it’s good for a pregnant woman’s body and how to get the form spot-on.

Q Why is it important for mums-to-be to keep up their fitness regimes during their pregnancies?

Jessica: There are so many reasons – medically, physically and mentally. Medically, it helps you avoid excessive weight gain, which is linked to other health problems, like gestational diabetes. When it comes to pregnancy aches and pains, like lower back pain, swollen ankles and pelvic girdle pain, the right exercises when pregnant can really help with these. Working out during pregnancy helps you recover your fitness quicker afterwards and – the big one for me – it helps you feel better. When I was pregnant, it gave me back a feeling of being in control, reduced my stress levels and really improved my mood, which is so, so important.

Q How important would you say that post-natal fitness is?

Jessica: Postnatal fitness is incredibly important. But, the most important thing is that women take it gradually and build up the right muscles in the right order for long-term health and fitness. I think there is a big misconception that you should ping back to fitness instantly. But, when you have spent nine months growing a baby inside of you, it makes sense that it should take time for your body to recover and return to full strength. For your long-term health, you have to take this slowly or you can really damage yourself. That’s why we offer a three stage Postnatal programme, so you can build your postnatal core and pelvic floor strength, then move on to other areas of fitness.

Q You won the heptathlon world title in Beijing, just 15 months after giving birth. Did you find it a challenge returning to athletics whilst juggling the demands of a new baby?

Jessica: Oh my god, yes. It was so hard. In my head, I was planning to bring Reggie down to the track every session, and he would watch mummy quietly from his buggy. But babies and trackside don’t really work, so I had to set up a home gym in my garage, and whenever he was having a nap, I would slip in a quick training session.

Training was incredibly tough. My body wasn’t working like it used to, my speed had disappeared, and the sessions were harder than they’d ever been. I doubted myself and constantly questioned whether I could do it and if it was going to be worth it – all alongside the awful, persistent ‘mummy guilt’. But I kept pushing on.

I remember having one moment that broke me. I had the longest night with Reggie, where he just wouldn’t settle, and was awake every 45 minutes. Then I got up on Sunday morning and dragged myself to do hill runs with the group. I found it so hard, and was at the back of the pack the whole time. After that session, I broke down crying on my coach, asking myself and him, ‘what am I doing?’

When I got home and had time to think and clear my head, I realised that I’d never get another opportunity like this again. I told myself that I’m going to do it, and I’m going to do it properly. And that became my mantra.

Every time I was training and away from Reggie, I made sure that I trained as hard as I physically could because those moments away from him had to be 100 per cent worth it. I wasn’t going to do it half-heartedly. It was hard but I did it and that is now one of my proudest achievements.

Q You retired from athletics in 2016. What is your current fitness routine like now?

Jessica: After retiring I had to change my mindset and create an exercise routine that fit around being a really busy mum – juggling two children and lots of work commitments. On average I will run once a week – either a hill session or an interval session and then I fit in two circuit sessions – these are around 25 minutes long and are intense and tough. I get so much out of these sessions – mentally I feel much happier and physically stronger and I sleep well too.

Q Can you give us an idea of what you might eat during a typical day?

Jessica: I have always approached my diet from a position of moderation – nothing is off limits. I like to cook from scratch and like to buy good quality ingredients. I usually start the day with porridge and fruit in the winter or a bircher muesli and a milky coffee.

For lunch I will usually have a salad – with chicken, salmon and pulses – or soup is a favourite too. Dinner is always a meal cooked from scratch. I really love Asian food so a Thai curry with rice is a family staple. I think it is important to have a balanced diet – so I use foods from all of the main food groups and I definitely weave chocolate into my diet! In terms of supplements, I take Altrient Vitamin C. I find this really helps me in the winter months to avoid all the winter bugs that are going around.

Q You now devote a lot of your time to helping to inspire others to live a fit and healthy lifestyle. Is this a cause that you feel passionate about?

Jessica: Definitely, being healthy and fit has defined who I am as a person and I recognise both the health and mental wellbeing benefits of exercise. I have a particular passion about helping women who are pregnant and post pregnant with exercise as there simply isn’t much information available when you are undergoing massive change physically and mentally.

Jessica Ennis-Hill has launched her new fitness app, jennis, which includes jennis Fitness, Pregnancy and Post-Natal, on iOS and Android. It costs £9.99 a month. Visit www.jennisfitness.com/pregnancy

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