Chemmy Alcott received disapproving glances and unsolicited advice when she was spotted skiing with a noticeable baby bump protruding under her ski jacket. But now a self-help guide has allowed her to deflect the implied criticisms, and she is keen to share the book’s message with other like-minded active women. Laura Winter talks to Alcott and her ‘guru’, the author and eminent professor Greg Whyte
While waiting in line for a ski-lift, or lifting weights at the gym, Chemmy Alcott has become acutely aware of the stares and the hushed whispers. She has grown used to people who approach her to have their say. But it is not the four-time Olympic ski-racer’s mind-boggling speed and athleticism on the slopes, or her strength and power in the gym, that has drawn attention. Instead it is the 32-week bump with the tiny baby boy growing inside her. There are no end of ‘experts’ who are keen to tell her why she shouldn’t be exerting herself.
So it is not surprise that Bump It Up, a new book by eminent professor Greg Whyte, which focuses on exercising and eating correctly while pregnant, has become her bible.
Alcott says: “I did come across some stigma and shame. When you google things on the internet there are so many conflicting opinions on what to do while pregnant. I’ve been reading Greg’s book for a while. He really does know his stuff. I’ve been using the book when I go to the gym and do exercise. Maybe twice a week, as I started showing, people would come and judge me and say, ‘Chemmy, you shouldn’t be doing that’.
“I didn’t want to tell them my life story, that I’ve been to four Olympics and I’ve been doing these movements with my body for 20 years. It got to a point where other women would come over and defend me to these guys. For a while I did have that uncertainty and I would stay at home, doing the same workouts there where I knew no one would judge me. But then I thought, ‘No, I should be proud to go out and show people you can do this’. Now I can turn to the book and say, ‘Well, actually, on page 80 it says I can do this’. I owe a lot of my recent physical regime to Greg.”
Alcott was speaking at a breakfast club for pregnant women, where both she and Whyte emphasised the individual approach that pregnancy requires, rather than blanket, one-size-fits-all advice. There were a variety of people in the room, from new mums to mums-to-be to women who have suffered miscarriages.
Alcott, who is due to give birth early in the New Year, continued: “I know learning new sports can be dangerous and is a big no-no. But I am a ski racer, I’ve been skiing all my life. I am better at skiing than I am crossing a road. When I went to New Zealand this summer, I’d forget I was pregnant until I couldn’t do up my ski jacket because the bump got in the way. Then I did get people staring at me in the lift queue and asking if I should be doing this – they didn’t understand that I started at a relatively high level and I was downgrading what I was doing. It’s great for Greg to describe in the book how individual it is. If you feel good, and your baby is moving around and healthy, it’s very important to stay active. But you have to have a base level to start from.”
For Whyte, who has trained the likes of Davina McCall, Greg James, Eddie Izzard, Jo Brand and David Walliams to take on brutally tough challenges for charity, pregnancy should be viewed as part of normal life. When his wife became pregnant, he was struck by the lack of evidence-based, objective information on exercise and health. And so the book was born. His simple message is that exercise, as in ‘normal life’, is crucial for the social, mental and physical health of mother and baby.
He explained: “Sometimes we think of pregnancy like a disease process, which it isn’t. I have three children, and when my wife became pregnant we thought we could read a book on exercising while pregnant, but that wasn’t the case. There was nothing out there and what was on the internet was confusing and at times dangerous. That spawned the idea of putting together a concise, one-stop shop of exercise during pregnancy.
“We all know that physical activity is good for us. Physically it reduces the chances of a variety of different diseases, improving our agility and mobility, and our quality of life. Then there are the mental and emotional health benefits, and critically the social aspects of that – interacting with people, building a social circle, and adding to that circle. These things are equally true when you are pregnant, and more important as you are not only thinking of the health of the mother, but also the health of the baby.
“I may be biased but I’d like to think the book is very important – that’s why we write books. The key issue is that on the bookshelves there is nothing else like it. It is the one-stop shop where a woman and her partner can read information, solid evidence-based advice you can trust when it comes to exercise and lifestyle, in terms of optimising your chance of fertility, dealing with pregnancy, and post-partum when you will have a beautiful new baby.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Laura Winter is a sports journalist, presenter and event host. She worked in sports communications for the International Rowing Federation for two years, before working and training as a journalist in Gloucestershire, covering a variety of sports including rugby, boxing, football, and triathlon. She then turned freelance at the end of 2014 and is part of the team who founded Voxwomen, a women’s cycling show that seeks to give the female elite peloton the coverage they deserve. Laura’s latest articles.