Mamava Mama: Suzy Shulman
Holistic health coach and new mom Suzy Shulman will not force you to eat kale. She won’t focus on your weight. What she will do is help you get strong and have fun doing it. “My goal is to help women find themselves and find movement that suits their lifestyle,” says Suzy, a personal trainer and owner of Strength X Balance, a fitness studio in Winooski, Vermont (just outside of Burlington).
Ten years ago Suzy tried a free Pilates class and it changed her life. “It was a revolution of mind and spirit,” she says. “It was the best thing I’d ever done. I’d never felt so strong and capable.” She’d spent her life involved in sports, ballet, and yoga, but it wasn’t until she found Pilates--and its focus on building core strength—that she felt truly empowered in her own body. That class inspired her to recreate her own experience of self-empowerment for other women. Now a certified pilates instructor and strength and conditioning coach, Suzy leads fitness classes that blend the best of Pilates, yoga, dance, and free-weights. “We all walk through our day feeling pretty shitty—tired, hungry, over-worked—especially mommies. So I want women to come to my one hour class and feel perfect for that one hour.”
As a CEO and business owner, Suzy used to work 12 hour days, 6-7 days a week. Since becoming a mom seven months ago, she’s reworked her schedule to prioritize her daughter Catherine. She still teaches group classes and one-on-one sessions—and brings Catherine with her to most of her classes. Because she can. And it just feels right. “It's been so empowering to be teaching a fitness class, doing squats, and breastfeeding a babe all at the same time.”
Here, Suzy’s top tips for new mamas.
Let your body recover.
Suzy’s job is to be fit and strong, so she continued doing Pilates and strength training (after consulting with her doctor) through her pregnancy until the day she gave birth. But she didn’t return to her former fitness routine until Catherine was three months old. And when she did, she was shocked at how hard everything felt. “It was eye-opening,” she says. Suzy strongly discourages postpartum women from intense exercise. “Your insides are still squishy and your ligaments are, like, hanging off your bones,” she says. “It’s not a time to exercise, but to let your body recover because it’s major work. Getting back into your jeans is NOT important right now.” Rather than thinking about exercise, take long walks with your baby. Talk with your healthcare provider about when and how to return to your regular pre-baby workouts.
Be okay with where you are.
Suzy’s classes emphasize alignment-based movements that focus on proper form, balance, mobility, and a Pilates “pelvic curl”—a small tilt and contraction of the pelvis that strengthens the core. But she recommends that women wait at least eight weeks after having to a baby to take her classes. And then she stresses the importance of meeting your body where it’s at in that moment. “Go slow. Don’t push yourself. And love that pelvis.” More than anything, Suzy wants women to stop comparing themselves to other bodies. “It’s okay that your body looks weird or lumpy. You don’t have to love it, but you’ve got to be okay with it. You’re perfect exactly where you are. Keep breathing. You got this.”
Tap into your mama village.
Suzy has always wanted to serve other women, to help them get what they need. Even before becoming a mom, she welcomed babies and children to her fitness studio. Depending on their ages, some kids draw with crayons, others work out with their moms, and the babies get scooped up by Suzy while she teaches the class. “Whatever the mom needs, we accommodate her. We have moms who regularly bring their children because that’s how they’re going to work out,” she says. And now that she’s a mom herself? “The whole studio has literally become my mama village. It’s amazing.”