Is your body in need of a little rehab? Hettie embarks on a post-natal fitness holiday with daily physio and Pilates at a luxurious, rehabilitative retreat.
As a long-standing sufferer of ‘laptop-itis’ with a tech neck permanently craned at 30 degrees, i’m every physio’s nightmare. Add lordosis of the lumbar spine, lazy glutes and a shoulder injury into the mix, and I make for the perfect candidate for ‘Restore & Reform’. A rehabilitative retreat designed by a physiotherapist and her former patient, for those recovering from poor posture, back pain, injury or childbirth. Or in my case, all of the above.
A luxurious rehabilitative retreat
Located at Anantara Vilamora on Portugal’s south coast – this is rehab but not as you know it. In place of clinical therapy rooms is a luxurious hotel with 5 pools, champagne cabanas and a bistro serving up decadent menus with wine pairings and deconstructed desserts like something out of Master Chef. It’s also home to a world class golf course, spa and a Pilates studio kitted out with the very best reformer machines.
A post natal holiday for all the family
Whilst childcare is available around the clock at the hotel, I decide to bring along my own babysitter in the form of my mother-in-law who, rather conveniently, lives 40 minutes away. Holidaying with one’s mother-in-law might not be for everyone but apart from looking better in a bikini than me at the age of sixty, mine is a total dream. She helped to plan my wedding, saw me in labour and now shares the close quarters of my hotel suite. After a near disaster confusing which electric toothbrush belonged to whom (there are some lines you do not cross), we settle into a happy routine, consisting of daily physio, Pilates sessions and spa visits for me and ample baby bonding time for her.
But first… a facial
My Anantara experience kicks off with a Hyluronic Smooth & Fill Facial from Thalgo. It is quite honestly one of the best facials I have ever had. It comprises a trio of hydrating masks, facial massage and enough high-absorption hyaluronic acid to leave a sleep deprived, 30-something mother with a complexion glowing with youth. Whilst this facial isn’t included in the R&R programme, I highly recommend booking one for an indulgent treat – especially if you have a babysitter on standby.
Physio & baby massage session
I meet lead physiotherapist Michelle for a Postural and Bio-mechanical Assessment. The hugely likeable and enthusiastic co-founder of R&R has worked in some of London’s most esteemed practices including Six Physio, Beyond Health and King Edward VII hospital – and it shows. Her knowledge is so thorough that she might as well be speaking another language. After a lot of talk of scapular protraction and rounding of shoulders, i’m starting to feel a little like quasimodo. Perhaps it’s true what they say about tech turning millennials into a generation of hunchbacks.
But that’s not all. Tight hip flexors, weak glutes and my appalling lack of balance when performing a single leg squat means I have a long way to go before considering getting back into running properly. But on the plus side, my scar appears to have healed well and there’s no diastasis recti (ab separation) to speak of. My abs just seem to “lack strength and endurance”. As someone who used to do hundreds of crunches in my teens in my quest for Britney abs, this is hard to swallow.
“These are all postural changes commonly seen post partum”, Megan says reassuringly. “As for the reduced control of movement at your hips, pelvis and shoulders, this is most likely a result of breast feeding with relaxin in the blood stream and weakness as a result of musculoskeletal changes that occur during pregnancy”.
Her exercise prescription includes; a side lying glute series, a bridge with spinal articulation toe taps, modified side planks, side steps with a resistance band and split squats. This sort of ‘intelligent exercise’ is what my husband has been preaching as a PT at Bodyism for years. But only now on my post natal journey is it really starting to make sense.
It’s worth noting that Megan and I had a lengthly call in advance of my trip where we talked through my post pregnancy journey, issues, aches and pains, which made for a really productive hour.
At the end of our session, my baby and mother-in-law are invited back in to go through some baby massage techniques. It’s a lovely addition to the programme and bonding for the entire family.
Pilates with Stott certified Lucy Nifontova
Next, is a private Pilates session with Lucy, co-founder of R&R and Michelle’s former patient, who rather worryingly, appears to be suffering from sciatica and a slipped disc. She blames a poorly instructed class back in London “I really should have known better” and says the injury only serves to help her understand her clients better. As someone who has suffered musculoskeletal issues all of her life, a dislocating patella that resulted in two surgeries and lower back pain caused by lumbar disc degeneration, she really has experienced it all. As a result her knowledge is incredibly thorough and she has some of London’s best spinal surgeons on speed-dial.
Stott certified, Lucy’s teaching style is slow and methodical – the antithesis of “bastardised” Pilates classes, that are all too common in London. I start with some basic footwork on the foot bar, spinal mobility work, bridges and side lying glute work.
She tells me that after suffering back pain for years, at the age of 28, enough was enough. “I went to see a spinal consultant who diagnosed me with degenerative disc disease. My life had so many limitations, I couldn’t go on long car journeys and had to cancel social plans to lie on the floor at home”. After having the surgery in December, Lucy was back to work at a high pressured job in the City in January, in lots of pain and on lots of painkillers. “The drugs helped my body to function but my mind couldn’t focus. I had no time to do physio. I was overweight, burnt out and it put a lot of strain on my relationship”.
Persuaded by her mum, she packed her bags and headed off to the sunshine to embark on a self-managed rehab programme that would later inspire R&R. She settled on Mauritius and used the time to wean herself off painkillers, practice daily Pilates and work through a comprehensive physiotherapy program delivered to her daily by Michelle back in London. After returning in great shape, Lucy certified as a Stott Pilates instructor and hasn’t looked back. She still temps in the City but judging how popular the retreats are getting, it won’t be long until she is doing this full time.
By the end of our session, whilst I haven’t broken a sweat, my body feels longer, lithe and beautifully stretched out.
Sunset stretch class
With only an hour’s break, I dash back to the pool to check on the baby, who aside from having had a minor meltdown is settling into retreat life well. After a quick feed, I return for an evening stretch class on the spa’s veranda with the rest of our group. We are a real mix of ages and fitness abilities. Some are recovering from serious operations, others suffering from back pain. I appear to be the only post-natal client – but all programmes run simultaneously. The 30-minute class led by Ellen focuses on breathing exercises and gentle spinal mobilisations.
Evening meal at Vilamoura marina
The restaurant houses multiple restaurants but after a jam-packed day, I am ready for a change of scene.
That evening, we brave a trip to the bright lights of Vilamora’s Marina, which lives up to it’s reputation with colourful hen-parties pouring out of karaoke bars. But don’t let this put you off. There is plenty of delicious seafood to be had and it makes for a lively and atmospheric evening. There is the option to walk or take advantage of an efficient shuttle bus service that runs on demand from Anantara.
Morning Group Restore Class
The next morning, I meet with the rest of the retreat group for a 55-minute Restore Class with Michelle that gives us a chance to work on our individual programmes in a group setting. For me this includes; thoracic mobility using a foam roller, chest opening, hip mobility, glute activation with a resistance band and hip stability work. I finish by releasing my quads on the roller, which is something I really should do more often given how tender they are.
“With regards to returning to running”, Michelle says, “the general recommendation is that you are able to complete 30 single leg calf raises on each leg, 30 single leg squats (with excellent control) on each leg, hop in place for two minutes on each leg with equal quality and control (and of course pain free) and be able to do the full side plank with 10 lift and lowers of the top leg”. I attempt this series but by the single leg squat I start to wobble uncontrollably.
“Do bear in mind that most runners cannot do these, so they are not set in stone” she says, reassuringly, “but this is a good bench mark of your strength and control and if you can do these, it is likely to minimise the risk of injury”. She suggests that I start a ‘return to running’ programme following interval based training to minimise risk of injury.
I console myself at the breakfast buffet, which is bursting with exotic fruit, super smoothies gluten-free and vegan options. I help myself to at least three courses to “fuel” my jam packed programme and breastfeeding, which supposedly burns an extra 500 calories per day – I tell myself, reaching for an almond croissant. The Algarve is known for its almond trees after all – it would be rude not to.
I return for a second Pilates class with Lucy, this time a shared session. A soft tissue massage is included in my R&R programme but in addition, I recommend booking one at Anantara’s Spa. The standard is incredibly high and therapists have intuitive hands doubling as osteopaths.
Ice cream at the Marina
It’s almost too hot to sit by the pool, especially with a little one, so we return to the marina for a stroll with the pram to pick up some well deserved ice cream. Gran Gelato is well worth a visit for its magnificent array of gelatos with gluten/dairy free options.
Dinner at EMO Restaurant
That evening we are treated to a gourmet dinner at EMO. A restaurant with a Wine Spectator-awarded wine list combined with contemporary Portuguese cuisine. I opt for the Vegetarian tasting menu that begins with a palette cleansing strawberry gazpacho, vegetable curry and quinoa dumplings with egg plant smoked puree. Our gastronomic bliss is punctuated by visits to the cobbles to soothe the baby back to sleep. This is when an in-room iPad service would really come in handy.
Baby sound asleep, it’s time to get stuck into some dessert. I am served a beetroot, raspberry and sweet potato pudding, which is quite earthy and while very healthy, not exactly to my taste. To say that I am relieved when my second pudding arrives is an understatement. I devour the deconstructed sponge cake with almond parfait, foam, lemon jelly and amarguinha liqueur in a matter of minutes.
It sounds heavy but each dish is extremely light, delicate and exquisitely presented with a creative fusion of flavours designed to keep the taste-buds guessing. When combined with lashings of beautiful pale rosé, it’s a healthy hedonist’s idea of heaven. The best part is the amuse bouche, which arrives at the start of our meal. A green asparagus brûlée with tofu and a spicy balsamic vinaigrette. As if it couldn’t get any better, we’re served almond flavoured macaroons to finish. This meal wasn’t part of the R&R programme but I highly recommend that you make a reservation for the last night of your stay – it’s a perfect way to end the holiday.
Plan and onward recommendations
Whilst I was only able to experience a taster of Restore & Reform’s retreat, I saw first hand the care and passion the team have in delivering world class treatment to clients, irrespective of the injuries or issues they are facing. When you consider that £1,900 per person, includes 18 hours of rehab and accommodation in a deluxe garden view room and breakfast, it truly is worth every penny. Especially when the instructors are so knowledgable.
I am packed off with a programme to work on at home that aside from burning off last night’s meal, includes adding in more body weight and resistance exercises to build strength in my core, hips and pelvis. The big takeaway is that I am not to return to running until I have built more strength and control in these areas. First I must embark on a return to running program to avoid and minimise risk of injury. I already have my sights set on ‘Mums On The Run‘ by Mumhood – a 12 week programme specifically designed to get postnatal mums back into running in a safe way.
This really was a once in a lifetime retreat with expert instructors in a luxurious setting. If you are recovering from poor posture, back pain, injury or childbirth, or like me, a combination, I highly recommend this for your next holiday. You wouldn’t let your car fail it’s MOT – the same goes for your body. And after a week with R&R you’ll be running like a slick, well-oiled machine.