Review: Joanne Helcke Online Pregnancy and Post Natal Pilates Programme

*This post reviews a paid membership service, but you can access a 2 week FREE trial of the programme reviewed below, with no obligation to sign up to paid membership, over here.
Towards the end of my pregnancy, I was asked whether I'd like to review an online pilates programme, specifically designed for use in pregnancy and post-partum. Perhaps we should take this opportunity to reflect on the last time that I did pilates, in earlier pregnancy, when I fainted, spectacularly, in a class of nimble OAPs. I'd avoided pilates ever since for no sensible reason, and had spent most of my pregnancy focussing on yoga and walking, as a means to keeping fit.
I liked the structure and features of the online programme though and as it wouldn't involve actually leaving my flat - I thought, "why not?" and so my membership was active.
The following review is influenced heavily by the fact that I was already practicing yoga, daily, and at 36 weeks was still able to adopt a head stand - I was also walking a good few miles when I had the opportunity too. I'd always taken a consciously proactive approach to being active in pregnancy, and exercising in such a way that developed, rather than simply maintained, my health and fitness. It was only in the last couple of weeks, when the swelling in my lower body began to effect my mobility and flexibility, that I pretty much retired from challenging myself through yoga. I have tried to consider the programme through the eyes of someone who perhaps wouldn't be otherwise active as well!
Joanne Helcke, I have to begin by saying, comes across as one of the most sincere and sweet women - as a specialist in pregnancy and post natal fitness, and a qualified pilates instructor, she has developed the UK's only (at time of writing) online pregnancy pilates programme. In review terms I can treat this much as I would a fitness DVD - you're at home, you clear yourself a space and hit play, and someone from behind the screen talks you through an exercise cycle. However, Dr. Helcke has gone out of her way to take this popular "at home" form of exercise instruction, and create a community around it, with an active and interesting blog, regular newsletters, and a member's forum for discussion, not just about pilates, but all things pregnancy and baby.
There is, however, a cost involved (not that classes at your local gym would be free). It's £12 per month - around here, outside of a membership arrangement, you'd be looking at paying between £7 and £10 for a pregnancy specific fitness class - so the cost is the equivalent of less than 2 group classes, or less than 40p per day - sounds like good value to me, but what do you get?
I used the following features in differing amounts in pregnancy, but, for your £12 each month you'll have:
  • a weekly pilates video, specifically tailored to the week of pregnancy (or how many weeks post-partum) that you're in - so rather than go along to a class that doesn't differentiate between those at 12 weeks and those at 40, these workouts will take in to account the individual challenges bought about by your stage of pregnancy. This was the service I got the most use from.
  • Weekly "to do" lists, developed by Dr. Helcke, an expert in pregnancy and post natal fitness, to allow you to make the best decisions, tailored to your stage of pregnancy (or post-partum). These can include anything from links to appropriate content elsewhere, to healthy meal ideas or additional work outs.
  • A members-only online forum for discussion with other Mums and Mums-To-Be, centred around anything from baby names to workout inspiration. The website is still in it's infancy, and as a new site it's still building it's user base, so I'd expect to see activity pick up more on the forum very soon - at the moment it's relatively quiet, but that will change as more and more people take up membership. Unlike many similar forums, Joanna Helcke's forum includes interaction with a number of experts, who use the message boards as a means to answer member questions - this includes qualified midwives, doulas and breastfeeding support workers among others.
  • Access to a private Facebook community. I completely forgot that this feature existed during my pregnancy and so have only just signed up to the Facebook group (a link is provided once you become a member) - however, the group has over 2000 members, so gives access to a large like minded community that, unlike the forum, is already established and active.
  • A weekly newsletter from Dr. Joanna, which, unlike some, is not just a rehashed version of her weekly blog post!
So far the programme appears to offer pretty good value, right? But is it worth forking out for? Especially given the number of other expenses you might have in the run up to your baby's arrival or in the first few weeks that follow birth.
Of course, it's difficult for me to say either way because your budget will differ from mine, as will the results you'll expect and receive. For me, I operate on an almost non-existent budget. I already pay for gym membership because it's the cheapest way for me to be able to regularly take my children swimming, so I have to see this as an increase in my monthly spend on fitness activities, rather than my sole expense in this area. In that regard, when my gym membership already allows me to go to 3-4 pilates classes per week, it would be difficult for me to justify paying for membership. Yes, the online programme is not only pregnancy specific, but also tailored to the users very week in pregnancy - but that's a bonus rather than a necessity, and a bog standard pilates class can still be tailored to meet your needs if you have a willing instructor.
Dr. Joanna's videos are safe to follow prior to your six week post natal check once your baby arrives, where most instructors would probably be resistant to you joining their classes until you had an OK from the doctor. Saying that, most of my friends who're into their exercise, were very active before the six week mark anyway.
In addition to paying to be a member of a gym, I was also already active throughout my pregnancy anyway. For the first and well in to the second trimesters of my pregnancy I was still training for a walking challenge, and I was practicing yoga (for free) at home, at a relatively challenging level, up until 38 weeks. For me, I wanted to be pushed, and this programme didn't really seem to put me through my paces, or challenge me enough - but then someone who'd otherwise not be exercising would benefit so very much more. Even in later pregnancy I was flexible and strong thanks to the yoga, so I have to admit, at times, when following Joanna Helcke's videos, I did find myself getting a bit bored. That is not to say that the videos are boring, they aren't, but if you're already exercising in pregnancy at a relatively challenging level, and you're looking for a pilates based work out - this might be too basic for you. Even for someone with little to no pilates experience, like me, it doesn't quite meet the needs of those already following a higher intensity fitness programme. That's not necessarily a bad thing though, but I think I'd have preferred to find it harder and to have felt as though I were developing skills and strength in return for my payment, whereas I felt as though the videos were more aimed at those who would otherwise be napping. Of course in a physical class the instructor can suggest ways to enhance exercise based on an individual's ability, whereas the Joanna Helcke videos, whilst tailored to your individual week in pregnancy, assume that everyone in, say, their 37th week, is limited by the same challenges and capable of the same range of movement - which isn't the case.
To find out whether the exercises are your kind of thing, you can at least take out a two week free trial to give it a whirl.
On this basis I probably wouldn't sign up to a £12 per month membership, but then I couldn't really suggest ways that the programme could be improved to change my mind. Dr. Helcke would have to be capable of seeing me from behind my laptop screen, and suggesting ways that I could push myself when the exercises are uninspiring - and that's simply not a benefit of tutorial based exercise.
Joanna Helcke membership would increase my monthly spend on exercise by almost 50%, when I already have access to a similar workout with what I already pay each month on fitness.
However, I probably would still recommend the programme to friends who otherwise wouldn't be exercising in pregnancy, didn't already have a gym membership, and liked exercise videos over physical classes for whatever reason.
The Joanna Helcke website itself is a thing of relative beauty. It's easy to navigate and well laid out and whilst there isn't an awful lot of content at the moment (only eight recipes in the "meal planner" section for example) I would imagine that this will grow and grow as the site attracts more members with it's videos. You can clearly see that it is ready to become a great site, bursting with relevant and interesting content - the structure is all there.
The idea behind the videos is fantastic, a lot of people can't get to a class, won't go to a class, or just don't like the idea. The pressures of family life make "me time" difficult to access sometimes and this certainly fills a gaping hole in the market. I'm about to start the post natal exercises now - I know I've left it five weeks, but Quinn's been so demanding, the little pest, that a pilates work out in the lounge hasn't been top of my list of priorities. I've had to admit however that any weight that I was going to lose simply by giving birth, along with the much promised breastfeeding weight loss, has been and gone, and what I'm left with is going to have to be worked off! So here goes - I'll let you know what I think!
If you'd like to try a free trial of Joanna Helcke's pregnancy and post natal programme, with no obligation to take out membership afterwards - sign up here.


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