Supporting the journey of motherhood, in style
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Bodylove Founder Ali Handley On The Benefits Of Pilates During Pregnancy

We spoke to Ali about her knowledge of and passion for pre and postnatal Pilates, the benefits of Pilates during pregnancy, and the lessons she’s learned from opening a studio.

Bodylove Pilates founder and mother of three Ali Handley wakes up at 4:50am every morning. “I’m part of the 5am club,” she tells THE INARRA. “I’m up and I’ve meditated by the time the sun is up and I try to get one big thing done before the day starts.”

Rising early to seize the day is something Ali gets from her mother. “I grew up on the beaches in the Eastern suburbs of Sydney with an incredible mother who got up at 4:45 am every morning to work in her business to give my brother and me every advantage,” she says. “It inspired me then and continues to today with my business.”

Ali still lives in the Eastern suburbs with her husband Michael and their three children – Lyla, 10, Henry, 8, and Theodora, 4 – but she did a lot of travelling before starting a family. “I always wanted to be a mother,” she says, “but I definitely had a yearning to travel and experience life and adventure before I did.

“After finishing school, I did two stints living in London in my 20s. When I met my husband, I knew pretty much instantly that he would be the father of my children, but we moved to New York and did life well before becoming parents about five years later.”

It was during her time in New York that Ali took the first steps towards what would become a successful career in Pilates, specialising in pre and postnatal Pilates.

“Whilst living in New York, I made a massive career change and decided to turn my passion for Pilates into a career,” Ali says. “I studied and did my comprehensive certification in Pilates. By luck, my first job was with master trainer and Upper East Side studio owner Erika Bloom.

“Erika planted the seed for my specialisation in pre and postnatal Pilates. Under her mentorship, alongside continuing other courses, I started to work with a lot of pregnant and postnatal women on a one-to-one basis. The motherhood journey is different for every mother, so this was a period of huge growth and exposure,” she says.

“Pregnant women require specially designed classes that are grounded in the changing physiology of pregnancy. The ‘why’ is so important. You may choose the same exercises for a flow, but the ‘why’ has to be rooted in your understanding of what a pregnant body needs to be strong and prepared."

When Ali became a mother, her passion for pre and postnatal Pilates grew, but she noticed a lack of fitness resources available for pregnant women, which gave her an idea.

“There wasn’t quality, safe, challenging and accessible exercise for pregnant and postnatal women,” she says, “so when I became pregnant with my second, I decided to film all my workouts in the lead-up to and immediately following the birth and share them as an online workout program. This was a long time before COVID and the explosion of on-demand workouts, so it was pretty unchartered territory.

“When we moved home from the US I knew I had to open my own space. I’d been dreaming of it for a very long time. I also wanted a third baby, so in 2019 it was twins – Teddy and Bodylove!”

Bodylove Pilates has two stunning studios in Sydney – the first in Woollahra and the second in the heart of Sydney’s CBD (The Penthouse). Bodylove is known for delivering ‘the mindful burn’. Classes are fun, challenging, technical and focus on the mind-body connection, and class styles include reformer, mat, prenatal, barre and yoga.

As well as the two studios, Ali also has Bodylove Mamas – an online studio with 600+ on-demand workouts for every stage of pregnancy and beyond, which was born out of her passion for pre and postnatal Pilates. Through Bodylove Mamas, Ali can connect with and support women living outside of Sydney.

“Bodylove Mamas is built from my authentic experience as a mother – three pregnancies, births and postnatal recoveries,” she says. “I also draw on the extensive study and hands-on sessions I did while working with this population for over 10 years. I keep up to date with all the current research to ensure I’m supporting my mamas the best way I can.

“The programs have been developed to meet the needs of mothers at every stage of motherhood. We now have programs that support fertility or preconception, IVF, every stage of pregnancy, birth preparation, postnatal recovery, C-section support and beyond.”

Bodylove’s Woollahra studio also offers prenatal classes – Ali teaches daily peak-time classes so women can exercise around their work commitments. “Our prenatal classes are challenging,” she says. “I like to say, pregnancy is hard, and so are our classes.”

Ali has a deep understanding and knowledge of the specific challenges pregnant women face when it comes to exercising, as well as the benefits of exercise for the mind, body and baby. 

“Pregnant women require specially designed classes that are grounded in the changing physiology of pregnancy,” she says. “The ‘why’ is so important. You may choose the same exercises for a flow, but the ‘why’ has to be rooted in your understanding of what a pregnant body needs to be strong and prepared.”

“Instructors need to deeply understand the pregnant state so they can create flows that support women’s changing bodies. I personally train all my prenatal instructors and run workshops to ensure we stay on top of current research and that classes are dynamic and challenging but mindful of what a pregnant body needs to prepare for the physical demands of pregnancy and birth.”

“It’s not enough for an instructor to have done one short course added to their certification – it requires a much deeper understanding, which we provide at Bodylove.”

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Ali wears AJE ATHELTICA

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Ali wears AJE ATHELTICA

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Ali wears AJE ATHELTICA

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Ali wears AJE ATHELTICA

Practising Pilates during pregnancy has been proven to benefit the mother and baby. “Recent research emphasises the importance of women needing to maintain a certain level of fitness during pregnancy,” says Ali. “In fact, I believe you should be fitter and stronger than ever.”

Ali lists the benefits of Pilates during pregnancy below:

  • A prenatal Pilates program will address the musculoskeletal imbalances of the changing pregnant body and should emphasise deep core strengthening.
  • Pilates is a safe form of NO IMPACT exercise that can be practised throughout a woman’s entire pregnancy.
  • Exercises can be modified to address each client’s individual needs, fitness level, weaknesses and strengths. 
  • Pilates offers a mind-body approach that balances strength with flexibility. 
  • A well-structured Pilates program will help prepare women for the next stage of their pregnancy, from the exhaustion of the first trimester to preparing women for labour and a speedy recovery postpartum.
  • Prenatal Pilates will prepare the pelvic floor for birth – ensuring it is both strong and flexible.

The body goes through many changes in pregnancy, and exercising should reflect this. “In the first trimester, not much has to change in the way you work out,” Ali advises. “As long as the workout is making you feel good and meeting your energy levels, then keep going as you have been.

“After 12 weeks, you are in the second trimester. The way you work out the core needs to change and you can no longer be in a prone position (on your tummy).

“In the third trimester, you need to now consider preparing your pelvis for the birth and include this as a focus in your workouts.

“During the postnatal period, the first thing you need to do is repair the core after pregnancy and birth. There is no rushing your recovery – it requires patience and consistency. We don’t bounce back, we bounce forward.”

Ali’s advice to pregnant women who are concerned about exercising is that working out should feel good. She also notes the importance of finding the right fitness professional. “You need to believe that your instructor or platform is well-educated and built on extensive knowledge of the pregnant state, childbirth and postnatal recovery. Choose wisely as you only deserve the best care during this important time,” she says.

Ali has been on a long journey to get Bodylove to where it is today. “Bodylove started way back in 2016 when I was in New York, pregnant with my second child,” she says. “It started as a website and I had no idea how to film and edit workouts, create a website and do branding. I had two small babies so it was all a lot, but I believed in what I was doing. I had to watch a lot of YouTube videos and rely on the help of friends. Be prepared to roll up your sleeves and get comfy with doing things outside your usual lanes!”

When Ali returned to Sydney, she wanted to open “the ultimate boutique fitness space in Sydney” that offered prenatal workouts and so much more – but it wouldn’t be easy. 

“The right location was the first challenge,” she recalls. Her advice to others wanting to open a studio is to not rush the process. “Make sure you look very hard – even if it’s the right street, in the right suburb but not the right space, it won’t work.”

Once Ali found the right studio location, she had to build a talented team. “This is a challenge and you will make hiring mistakes for sure,” she says. “Put a lot of effort into the onboarding process and ensure quality control to weed out the wrong hire quickly.”

One of the most challenging times for Bodylove was the pandemic. “We had two COVID shut-downs, but we survived. It was all down to our community. Invest in your community and it will grow. You don’t always need to find more clients. Care for the ones you have – reward and retain!”

Ali has also learned how to leverage the power of social media to grow her business. “Social media and your website are really important touch points for your brand,” she says. “They need to follow your brand guidelines, style guide, an extension of your brand aesthetic and everything you say. All the brands you align with on your social media platform should still answer your brand mission.

“I’m not too prescribed on socials and don’t monetize them. I share studio news and movement flows and promote events. It’s important but it’s only one small part of the entire Bodylove experience. By focusing on the clients I have and their everyday use of Bodylove, I feel my audience will organically grow, so socials are taking a bit of a back seat for now!

“I think the most important thing to do is to make sure you are being authentic. Make sure you have a brand mission and that everything you are doing as a business aligns with that mission.”

“Mistakes are the way we learn. It’s OK to try something and fail. When you’re first starting a business, think of yourself like a baby, learning to crawl, talk and eat. You won’t get it right and that’s OK. Then you are a toddler, asking lots of questions, developing your personality and trying lots of stuff, and not all of it will land."

Ali’s journey of being a business founder has been full of challenges that have taught her many important lessons. She believes you must get comfortable with making mistakes.

“Mistakes are the way we learn,” she says. “It’s OK to try something and fail. When you’re first starting a business, think of yourself like a baby, learning to crawl, talk and eat. You won’t get it right and that’s OK. Then you are a toddler, asking lots of questions, developing your personality and trying lots of stuff, and not all of it will land.”

“Bodylove is like a tween. I’ve made lots of mistakes and I’ll keep making them but I’ve got a ‘world view’ – my unique perspective that is growing and developing every day, but I still have so much to learn!” 

Self-practice is, of course, something Ali prioritises. “If I don’t do Pilates or movement every day I’m pretty grumbo. It’s my time. I just love taking class, escaping to a world of an instructor’s making and going on a journey with them. I know I’m biased, but my Bodylove instructors are truly incredible – a different journey every time, and they are all wonderful.

“My husband and I both prioritise workout time – we beg, borrow and steal from one another to make sure we get it in. We’re a pretty oiled machine now our youngest is five!”

When she’s at the studio, Ali is usually wearing a pair of black high-waisted leggings and a ballerina-style top. “Socks and sandals are my recent addition to my fitness wardrobe,” she says. “Traditional fitness looks are not me.”

“I love a beautifully cut onesie with amazing compression – Aje Athletica do THE best ones and they are my fav to do Pilates in.”

On the rare occasions when she isn’t in fitness attire, Ali describes her style as “streamlined” since cutting her hair.

“I always had super long hair, it was my thing. I was kind of boho,” she says. “I get really bad postnatal hair loss, so after Henry was born, my hairdresser was like, your hair has to go. I went for a sharp, short bob with blonde ends and never looked back.”

“I wear more black and navy and everything I own is high-waisted now – everything!”

Three items Ali would add to her cart right now are Re/Done jeans, Saint Laurent boots and a Max Mara coat.

Bodylove’s success is a testament to Ali’s passion, commitment, knowledge, and the team she has built around her, and she’s got more big plans on the horizon. “We have something super exciting in the works for Bodylove studios,” she says. “2025 will be a BIG year and I cannot wait.”

May is going to be a big month because Bodylove Mamas is launching its first Prenatal reformer collection and Bodylove celebrates its birthday with a Big Bday Sale, a new partnership with The Upside, and the first-ever Bodylove Mini Retreat.

Bodylove aside, Ali is looking forward to spending more quality at home with family. “We just moved into our new house,” she says. “It has been a long time coming, and I’m just so excited to share my new home with my family and friends and create all those wonderful memories.”

Words by Ellie Wiseman | Photography by Kaitlyn Bosnjak

Want to better understand the best way to nourish your body during postpartum? Check out Our Simple Guide To Postpartum Nutrition

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