Carolina Gunnarsson is the founder and CEO of Fit Pregnancy Club (FPC), a fitness studio created specifically for pregnant and postpartum women. She is also the mother of three: Annalisa, Gustav, and Ragnar.
I was born in a tiny village in Sweden. At the age of 19, I moved straight from there to New York to go to the Fashion Institute of Technology. I met my husband almost right away, so I didn’t get a chance to be completely on my own for very long. When I was alone, though, I was working out.
Exercise is essential to me. If I miss a few days of sweating, my mood gets pretty dark. I crave that mid-workout exhaustion and the post-workout feeling of accomplishment. For me, it’s about getting stronger and feeling good. During those early days in New York, my workout regime included classes at Equinox as well as doing the treadmill and the Stairmaster. I also took classes at SoulCycle and SLT (Strengthen Lengthen Tone) two to three times a week.
I was young when I got pregnant with my daughter — only 26! — and I stopped working out altogether because there wasn’t a lot of information about what you could do during pregnancy; there was only information about what you couldn’t do, and so I was too nervous to exercise. As a result, labor and recovery were a challenge. No one told me how important it was to stay in shape, so I ended up losing most of my muscle mass and gaining more weight than I probably should have.
More importantly, I completely lost my sense of identity. I went from being this energetic, young woman to a mother-to-be who had a hard time getting up off the couch.
Eventually, I went back to fitness classes. I did SoulCycle, started running, and began seeing a personal trainer. I was in the best shape of my life. Then, I got pregnant again and faced the same conundrum. The only thing the doctor told me to do was prenatal yoga, as if any other type of fitness would be too much. It seemed like the medical professionals back then were coming from this place of fear, of being sued if something went wrong, so they fell back on being super safe.
Yoga was a snoozefest to me, so I began working out with a trainer instead. She was certified as a pre- and post-natal instructor, so I felt confident that I was being safe. Working with her, I learned that you’re not going to lose the baby just by working out hard. That was my number one fear: not that I was going to injure or hurt my own body, but that I was going to force a miscarriage. But we did sprints and held planks, and I realized the baby wouldn’t pop out. I also learned that there were limits – if I went too hard I could actually injure myself.
While I came out of that pregnancy fit, there was one thing missing: a sense of community. Since I was working out solo, I missed going to classes with my friends and then going shopping or getting juice after. That’s when I had the idea to create a place where moms-to-be can work out safely together. I desperately needed a group like this for my own well-being, but nothing like it existed yet.
Fast forward about two years to 2017 and Fit Pregnancy Club opened its doors in SoHo while I was 20 weeks pregnant with my third child, Ragnar. He’ll be three in March and we call him the FPC baby because he arrived just as our momentum was building. I remember texting with my cofounder the night before I gave birth, and she was like, “Well, we start class at 9:30 tomorrow. Can you have the baby before so we can announce it?” He just missed the deadline, but it was so great to have the additional support of the studio members.
What we do is not totally different from other workout classes in the sense that we sweat, we move, we do cardio, we do weights and core and glute activation. But what differentiates us is that we use the “Pump and Kegel Breath” so that everyone stays safe. This means that when you breathe in you relax, and when you exhale you contract. So, for example, in downward dog you relax, and then you do the pump and kegel when you go into plank. This technique helps to build core strength while you’re pregnant. Women are told not to do any core exercises during pregnancy, but that’s wrong. You just have to do them correctly.
At FPC, we have women who have just found out they’re pregnant, women who are only at three weeks and are nervous, like I once was, that the baby is going to pop out in a traditional fitness class. And then we have women who are in class at 9:30 in the morning and give birth at 3 that afternoon.
So many women have told me FPC has been a lifesaver; that they don’t know what they would have done without it. Before Covid, entire classes would go and get lunch together after their workout to share resources and stories. You’d have women come in post-partum with their baby, take a class, sit and breastfeed, go out for a little, come back to change a diaper, and then take the train home. Communal motherhood is much easier, and more fun than doing it alone. The studio is now closed because of Covid, but we are lucky because we launched our online classes in early August 2019 and have been able to spend the last year building out those offerings.
Even though I’m now three years post-partum, I still take our classes, though, I’ve almost graduated out of our program. During the pandemic, I’ve also been enjoying the opportunity to practice a completely different form of exercise: horseback riding. I go four times a week near our home in Millbrook, NY. And, you know what, I still use the “pump and kegel” core and breathing activation. It helps so much with my posture and keeping me safe — and on the horse!
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