Kelly Rennie’s top health tips for busy mums

When I had no time to exercise, I figured there must be other mothers in the same boat.

You wouldn’t think it to look at her, but Kelly Rennie was once overweight, suffered from panic attacks and relied on anti-depressants to drag herself through the day.

Ironically, it was that dark period that led the Christchurch-born single mother to becoming a global fitness star, not only one of the UK’s leading bodybuilders and sports models, but also the 2010 World Sports Model.

When Rennie co-wrote a book about getting back into shape after having a baby, even the Duchess of Cambridge had a copy.

Two years ago, having successfully battled her own demons, 34-year-old Rennie decided to help others with Busy Mum Fitness, an eight-week online programme that helps mothers regain control of their fitness and confidence.

Now based on Australia’s Gold Coast, Rennie’s approach is fast gaining popularity here.

“Mums are under a lot of pressure to get fit and lose the baby weight quickly,” says Rennie while in New Zealand for a speaking tour. “They see people like Kim Kardashian drop the weight in a few weeks and wonder why they can’t do the same.”

Her approach is kinder, simpler and, more important, sustainable.

“For me, it’s about taking away the fear and pressure around post-natal exercise and eating, of giving mothers a lifetime of healthy habits. Mums will say to me, ‘I don’t have the time to go for an hour’s run’, and I’ll say, ‘If you’ve got six minutes to spare, let’s set you up with some squats or lunges. You don’t need a gym or a magic shake diet, just a system that fits around your family life’.”

Busy Mum Fitness, says Rennie, gives mothers the tools and confidence they need to manage their lives, stress and exercise to “get their best body now”.

It’s familiar territory for the personal trainer, who co-authored a book, The Fit Mummy Manual, in 2012. The how-to guide, which helps mothers develop and maintain a post-natal exercise programme, was believed to have been used by the Duchess of Cambridge after the birth of Prince George.

“We sent the Duchess our book and got a hand-written note from her thanking us for it,” beams Rennie.

But the confident businesswoman with the sparkly green eyes and blond bob is certainly a world away from the Christchurch teenager who wasn’t encouraged to play sport.

Her parents were Seventh Day Adventists and the household revolved more around religion than physical activity.

For sports-mad Rennie and her identical twin sister Nikki, that meant not being allowed to play sport on Saturdays for religious reasons. She was, however, allowed to do gymnastics and began playing women’s rugby around the time she started high school.

“My parents had divorced by then and I’d left the church, so playing weekend sport was no longer an issue.”

When Rennie finished school she enrolled in business and IT courses, then began working at a Christchurch bank. But her health was deteriorating; she started suffering panic attacks, was taking anti-depressants, and her weight crept up several dress sizes.

“I was playing rugby at the time but there was a lot of drinking involved. My diet consisted of fast food and I wasn’t taking care of myself.”

Anxiety around her weight gain and other stresses, including a relationship break-up, led to three years of debilitating panic attacks. But, with the help of medication, in 2004 she managed to put the anxiety back into the box long enough to move to England for an OE.

“As a child, I had travelled extensively with my father because he was a marketing consultant who designed competitions and we got to travel with the winners to Hawaii and the US. I love travel and was always going to do an OE.”

The panic attacks, however, followed her to London and for a year Rennie suffered from agoraphobia so severe she was sometimes unable to leave the house.

“I was working for a bank as a hedge fund assistant, and my safe places were home and work. The only way I could get from one to the other was by listening to relaxation tapes on my phone.”

During this time, Rennie stumbled across a book about overcoming anxiety.

“I realised I wanted to heal myself by pushing through the fear and committing to getting fit and healthy again.”

Having had her Eureka moment, Rennie couldn’t be stopped. Two months after that decision, she worked around the clock to lose the weight and ended up placing third in a national bodybuilding contest. Around the same time she met and began a relationship with Paul, a personal trainer and DJ.

She moved to Sheffield where the pair opened a gym. A second gym followed a year later and, although the couple had their hands full, Rennie found time to compete in national and international body-building championships.

She also travelled around Europe and the US working as a representative for major companies at fitness expos.

In addition, prior to the birth of her first child Nevaeh, Rennie qualified in pre- and post-natal fitness training.

“When we split up I returned to New Zealand after almost 10 years in the UK. I was struggling with two kids under two, a relationship break-up and a move to Nelson to be closer to my mother. I was also trying to get back into shape but didn’t have time to go to the gym. I remember thinking, ‘How do busy mums cope?’”

When she left the UK Rennie also left behind the two gyms she and Paul had set up. She knew she needed to provide for her two girls so, while trying to get her life back together, she started batting around business ideas.

“I’ve always been entrepreneurial and knew I didn’t want to work for someone else. When I had no time to exercise I figured there must be other mothers in the same boat. That was my a-ha moment – realising there was a need for tools and systems to support busy mothers with their health and nutrition.”

Rennie enlisted the help of a business coach and within a few months had written the online programme. Her only advertising was on Facebook but success quickly found her, and the programme sold out in two weeks.

It wasn’t just new mums signing up; there were mothers with toddlers and teenagers who bemoaned the fact they’d never lost the baby weight.

“I even had a 66-year-old man with diabetes join up! Not only did he lose eight kilos in eight weeks, his insulin levels also improved.”

Although Busy Mum Fitness has won fans from Europe and Australia, New Zealand mothers remain close to Rennie’s heart.

“We’ve had more than 2000 Kiwis through the programme in the past two years and New Zealand is my key focus right now.”

These days, Rennie limits the intake to 30-40 clients every two weeks, which allows her and three trainers to have individual contact with each mother.

“We ring each mum to find out where she is in her life and where she needs support. We work in a hierarchy where life management, stress, emotional eating and hydration come first, with exercise last. So we ask our mums things like, where is your head at, what are you currently eating and why, how are your energy levels and are you drinking enough water?”

Mothers have access to daily coaching sessions on stress, mindset and emotional eating, as well as a private Facebook page where they can ask questions or discuss issues. Live weekly webinars deal with everything from getting rid of belly fat and making good snack choices to using vision boards to get back on track.

The secret to her success, believes Rennie, is being realistic.

“It’s all about what’s do-able for you. Lots of our mums are high achieving types who are used to going for gold but our message is, it doesn’t matter if you don’t give 100 per cent, just do what you can. So I’ll say to a new client, let’s start with small steps. Can you take five minutes out of your day to do some mindful breathing exercises and meditation? It’s all about making it appropriate for the person.”

Rennie offers two programmes specially tailored to women struggling to rebuild their fitness. This includes both gym and home programmes (most opt for the latter), which are broken down into six, 12, 18 and 24-minute repetitions of high intensity interval training, such as squats, lunges, press-ups and tricep dips.

“In my experience, this kind of short, sharp training is the best for fat loss because it gets the heart rate up.” Mothers are also given a seven-day eating plan heavy on nutrient-dense, wholesome food.

“This is about creating healthy habits in eight weeks, which means the meal plan is flexible,” says Rennie. “So, for example, if you don’t like eggs you can substitute that for quinoa berry porridge.”

All meals are designed to be family-friendly and Rennie says feedback shows partners and children enjoy the same meals as mothers on the programme. She proudly admits her business has doubled in eight months.

“I’m in a great place right now and I love helping mums achieve their health and fitness goals. To hear a woman who hasn’t been able to look at herself in the mirror for years say she feels sexy again makes me incredibly happy.

“Our mums lose an average of between six and 15 kilos on our eight-week programme but even more than that, we’re giving them their confidence back. This isn’t a short-term fix, it’s a lifestyle change that women are doing not just for themselves but for their families.”

Not one to be idle, Rennie is currently planning a second book, as well as a fitness retreat on the Gold Coast.

“We’ll give mothers a break from their lives for four days with seminars on nutrition and exercise, as well as yoga and massage. I know I was put on this earth to help mums find a way through their personal struggles and live the best life they can. That is the best feeling in the world!”

Tips for busy mums

  • Keep your workouts short to fit into your life rather than promising yourself something that’s not doable because of time restrictions

  • Get rid of all the ‘naughty’ food in the house and replace it with nutrient-dense wholesome food

  • Always stay hydrated and replace coffee with green tea

  • Be clear with your goals and your reasons for wanting to change

  • Take time out for yourself and do something you love

Related stories