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Should pregnant women exercise? Yes, says an Australian in Hong Kong

If there was a competition for the fittest pregnancy, Zara Balfour would have our vote. A regular at Central’s H-Kore studio throughout her pregnancy last year, Balfour sported a crop top, toned body and bump, even at 39 weeks.

But it wasn’t just how the Australian mum-to-be looked, but how her Pilates regime helped her have a smooth labour and a speedy post-partum recovery.

“For a first-time mum, I was surprised that my labour was over and done with very, very quickly. It was actually a shock as it was only five hours and 15 minutes, when I was expecting about 20 hours,” says Balfour, 29. “My obstetrician was taken aback that a first-time mum was able to push so effectively.”

She credits her almost-religious commitment to the Lagree Fitness Method practised at H-Kore during her pregnancy for her strong core and dream-like delivery. The method combines cardio and strength-training with Pilates, performed on a multifunctional machine.

Another benefit of the workout, she says, was no back pain, even though her daughter Ana was 3.9 kilograms and measured 54 centimetres at birth.

It was a different story more than a decade ago, when Balfour slipped three discs in her back after quitting ballet aged 17.

“When I stopped dancing, I didn’t move onto another fitness regime, and then I did my back in. I was out of action for about six months, flat on my back, living at my family home and unable to walk up the stairs to my bedroom. It was hell: I spent a fortune on physios and chiropractors and osteopaths and every form of holistic everything. It wasn’t until I really focused on the Lagree Method that I recovered.”

So convinced of H-Kore’s effectiveness for mums, Balfour has started working with the company to develop a specialised programme, gathering a trainer, nutritionist and physiotherapist.

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There’s a lot of controversy surrounding mums-to-be exercising. Were you concerned about doing H-Kore while pregnant?

When working out at 39 weeks pregnant, many people questioned my commitment. Personally, as I was cleared by my obstetrician, I had no concerns. My body was familiar with the workout. And the trainers are all educated on what you can and can’t do, so there were modifications for me throughout the pregnancy.

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How important do you think it is for mums-to-be to develop and maintain their core strength?

You need a strong core to be able to push effectively – that’s just a fact. I have heard of many horror stories of women becoming physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted during labour. Personally, I have never worked harder at anything in my life – I passed out three times while pushing – but was done in 15 minutes. I was up and walking around within the hour. That’s basically unheard of first time around.

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How did you feel post-baby?

My body did exactly what it was supposed to, when it was supposed to. I was in no rush. I gave myself six months of total rest to let my body recover. As I was so active during my pregnancy, when I did get back into it I found my body responded very well and everything went back to a lovely new normal. Muscle memory is a beautiful thing.

How did you first discover H-Kore?

I actually heard about it through a Pilates instructor. I was talking to her about wanting “something more” and assumed the only way to get that was to up my classes, but then she mentioned H-Kore and I haven’t looked back.

What was your first thought before stepping on the [machine] Megaformer?

“This looks easy.” I looked at the machine and naively assumed it would be exactly like a reformer Pilates class. Oh how wrong I was. After my first class my thoughts were, “Oh my god, my body hurts without even moving.”

Do your muscles still hurt when you work out?

Yes. I think that’s why I love it. As a creature of habit, I love that I know the workout but it still never gets easier.

One thing that surprised you about the workout?

Just how much impact it can have, without being high impact. There’s no jumping around. When I broke my foot last year, before I got pregnant, I was still able to do a full workout with assistance for modifying some of the moves. And because it’s low impact, with controlled movements that focus on isolating muscle groups, it also means you fatigue your muscles to the max with every move. Because there’s tension throughout the whole exercise, you tend to see faster results in terms of strengthening and toning.

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Words of advice for anyone trying it for the first time?

Don’t give up even though you think it’s too hard. It’s your body telling you what muscles you need to strengthen.