IT'S THE WEEKEND: The Great Outdoors - Getting Buggyfit in Newport's Shaftesbury Park

A buggy is the new outdoor fitness accessory in Newport as a group of mums at Shaftesbury Park showed. NATHAN BRIANT was there to find out more.

MUMS were running up and down the path in Shaftesbury Park, alongside the River Usk. The rain arrived but they continued to exercise. They were not going to let that put them off.

Most of the babies slept soundly; certainly none of them cried. They seemed to be literally rocked to sleep as their mums pushed them along. Other toddlers looked on contentedly as they were pushed around at speed.

These mothers were attending the first ever Buggyfit class in Shaftesbury Park in Newport. It was organised by Clare Wheeler, who has previously run other classes around the city and across Gwent.

The mother of two said: “When I had [her daughter] Emily I started exercising with the buggy and then I spoke to the girls at Buggyfit about setting classes up.”

Cardiff-based Ms Wheeler had been a personal trainer after studying sport science at university, but with Buggyfit was able to work on her own and when she wanted to.

And Buggyfit really is very simple: mums and babies, or their slightly older children, get fresh air by being pushed around; mums get fitter by having their children's weight to push around.

As Ms Wheeler has written on her website, Fit 4 Two: “There is no reason why being a mum needs to mean you don’t feel good about yourself anymore.”

So too, she said, there is no reason as to why mums shouldn’t be able to enjoy their time with their baby, enjoy the outdoors and have fun at the same time.

The rain fell more heavily in the park but the mums were still able to go at their own pace.

The workout session started with walks around a small tarmacked area at the entrance of the park. They first walked round in circles and stretched so that when the real, more strenuous workout happened they would not feel worn out or cause themselves any damage. The pace increased gradually but they were not sprinting around, for obvious reasons.

Clare encouraged her class throughout. “Stride it out, ladies” she told them. All the mothers were encouraged to keep their own pace, too. Clare is aware of the stages women go through after giving birth and knows that some bodies are more sensitive than others.

One bemused baby clearly did not understand what was going on but seemed to be enjoying it nevertheless.

But the class was not simply mums walking about.

At times, Ms Wheeler used ropes and other equipment she had bought along and used them to develop other, shorter workouts. Buggyfit is based around buggies, yes, but it is not just about that.

It is the second time Buggyfit has been based in Newport. A session was run in Belle Vue Park but was cancelled when the winter edged closer last year and numbers dropped.

There have also been other classes at the Cwmbran Boating Lake in Llanyravon and at St Peter’s Church, near Newbridge.

At the end of the class, mums said they had enjoyed it and would be back for more at the next session.

Natalie Young, who lives in Newport and has two sons, said: “When you have just had a baby it is good to move your body properly.”

Another mum, Rachel Gibson, also from Newport, said she enjoyed how the classes were in the afternoon. “It would be really good to have it [permanently] in Newport. I will be back next week.”

Buggyfit in Newport is being funded by Communities First, who are using their money to reach out to people in the Shaftesbury area and the North Newport cluster more widely.

There are a number of activities people can use to get fit in the area, all arranged by Communities First’s John Reynolds, who is based at the Shaftesbury Community Centre.

He said giving the people who use the services a “range” of activities was an aim of what he hopes to do there. He joined Communities First in October last year.

The activities are free and can be used as gentle encouragements for people to stay healthy or pick up physical activity for the first time in a while.

It is difficult for people to do exercise themselves, let alone mothers who have just given birth. According to a survey carried out for Nuffield Health, 41 per cent of people “rarely” use their home gym equipment. If people who are living normal lives do not get the chance or do not have the inclination to exercise, the urge to lounge around doing nothing must be even greater for new mums.

The classes, if run independently, are reasonably inexpensive in comparison to other physical activities like gym membership. For four sessions, Clare charges £20, for ten - £40 and for 17 sessions - £55.

The founder of Buggyfit started teaching her own classes after giving birth in 2002, and piling on four stone. Emma Redding knew she wanted to shift weight if she could.

She was dissatisfied with any other exercise classes she tried and decided she would be able to do better.

She cancelled her gym membership, and started to walk every day with her son in front of her in the buggy.

Then, when he was 10 months old, she retrained as a personal trainer choosing a course with an emphasis on pre and postnatal fitness.

She says she is “astounded” by the number of women who have joined Buggyfit, which describes itself as "the ultimate fitness class for mums and babies".

It has increased in size to the extent mums can receive their own Buggyfit vouchers, which can be bought from its website. These can be exchanged for classes run around the country. At the moment there are more than 400 of them in the UK.

For more information on Ms Wheeler’s classes around Gwent, contact her on info@fit4two.org.uk. For more information on getting involved with the Buggyfit classes in Shaftesbury or in any other Communities First projects, contact John Reynolds on 01633 842602.

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