TV presenter Helen Skelton talks getting into shape post-pregnancy, being a busy working mum and how the Olympics inspired her…
Helen Skelton is the picture of health. Bouncing around the studio at our photo shoot, she’s naturally bronzed and bursting with energy, barely breaking into a sweat as she holds the perfect plank – smiling throughout. Life in the south of France – where she now lives with her husband Richie, who plays rugby league for Catalan Dragons, and their son Ernie, 17 months – clearly suits her.
The 33-year-old has had a busy summer, presenting the swimming and diving at the Olympics in Rio, and filming for Countryfile. The latter involved cycling to the Somme for the 100 th anniversary, joining 100-odd riders on a 250-mile route. Helen cycled two sections – 80 miles and 40 miles – without any training. ‘I don’t have a bike in France,’ she reveals, ‘so I just went and did it!’
It’s that gung-ho attitude to exercise that has seen the former Blue Peter presenter survive many an extreme challenge in the past – kayaking 2,010 miles down the Amazon river (breaking two world records in the process), cycling to the South Pole, numerous marathons, even walking a 150-metre tightrope between chimneys at Battersea
Power Station, 66 metres above ground. But, of all these extreme feats, it was completing the ultra-marathon in Namibia – 80 miles across the desert in a day – that still makes Helen the most proud. ‘I’m not a natural runner,’ she says. ‘Before I started training, I couldn’t run for 10 minutes. I trained for three months and my coach took me from zero [miles] to 80 in three months. It took a lot of effort but if I can do it, anyone can! I started by running for 10 minutes, then half an hour, then an hour – I felt like I was on a treadmill for the whole of January before doing the event in the March!’
‘I exercise with Ernie’
Now a mum to son Ernie, challenges are on the back-burner. ‘I’d like him to see me do challenges – I grew up watching my mum jump on and off skateboards – but running takes hours and I don’t feel I can say, ‘See you, son, I’m off for eight hours…’ I’m a working mum so I feel guilty even going to the gym. I try to exercise at home now.’
Those exercises include the 7-minute HIIT workout – ‘I do this when Ernie wakes up at all sorts of hours’ – yoga and Pilates, and Ernie is already keen to join in. ‘We call him Yogi Baby – he gets into a Downward Dog and shakes a leg – it’s so cute!’
Walking, along the beaches near her French home or in the Lake District at her family home, is another favourite activity. And, once a week, Helen still gets to the gym, where she focuses on weights rather than cardio. She’s added fitBallet to her weekly schedule, too – ‘barre work, lots of stretching, arm exercises that make your arms burn and Pilates-type moves on the floor’ – and she’s a keen swimmer. ‘We have a pool in France and I’m in the sea most days – I even swam on Christmas Day!’ A real water baby, Helen is a convert to paddle boarding, admitting that she bought herself her board when she was missing the gym! ‘It’s a brilliant workout – if it’s choppy, you have to really push yourself.’
‘I stayed active during my pregnancy’
Throughout her pregnancy, Helen kept fit by swimming. ‘I had a great pregnancy and I’m sure staying active helped. I started a Reformer Pilates class 10 weeks before I was due to give birth,’ she laughs. ‘I needed to do something – I’m just that sort of person!’
Helen’s also the sort of person who doesn’t ever weigh herself and really enjoys her food. ‘I spent most of my twenties watching my weight and I don’t want to live my life by numbers now. I don’t think you ever walk out in a dress and think, ‘I feel amazing because I weigh 9st’. You either feel good or you don’t.
‘Doing the challenges really changed my attitude to food. Food is fuel – it’s a car thing. If you don’t put fuel in a car you don’t move very far or very fast!’ Her diet has changed since moving to France, too. ‘I used to restrict my carb intake, but in France it’s almost illegal to worry about things like that! I’ve never eaten so many pastries in my life and I eat far more bread now than I ever used to.’
Helen is someone who, when it comes to exercise, has tried almost everything. Her time at the Olympics inspired her further. ‘If I could wear a Team GB kit and do a sport for my country I’d do anything. I love the idea of being a gymnast but I’d be useless, I’m not very flexible. In Rio, Mark Foster kept asking people what sport I’d do if I was an Olympian. He said I’ve got sprinter’s calves! I’d love to do a triathlon.’ Knowing Helen, if she puts her mind to it, she’ll achieve it.
Helen’s Full Body Workout
Good for A PERT BUM
» Glute bridge with leg raise
Lie on your back, knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Keep your arms by your sides for support. Raise your hips until your body forms a straight line from knee to shoulders. As you raise your hips, extend one leg in line with your body. Squeeze your glutes for a few seconds at the top then lower to the ground before repeating.
Good for A TRIM WAIST
» Side plank
Lie on your right side, in a straight line from head to feet, resting on your forearm. Your elbow should be directly under your shoulder. Lift your hips off the floor, maintaining the line. Hold for 20 to 40 seconds and lower. Repeat two to three times, alternating sides.
Good for FIRMER THIGHS
» Jump/split lunges
Stand with your left foot slightly in front of your right, knees slightly bent. Engage your core then jump up, swapping your feet mid-air, landing in a basic lunge with your right leg in front. Repeat this movement alternating the leg in front. Aim for three sets of 20.
Good for YOUR CORE
» Commando plank
Start in an extended plank position, arms straight, core engaged. Start with your right arm and lower your forearm flat to the floor. Do the same on your left arm. Move your right arm, then your left, back to the starting position. Up and down equals one rep. Aim for 10 reps.
– Helen is a brand ambassador for Karrimor.com