Whether you’ve just had your first child or have been through a few pregnancies already, your body has been through a lot. It’s experienced nine months of pregnancy followed by birth then breastfeeding, fluctuating hormones, and adapting to a different routine with your newborn. For these reasons, it’s important to give your body time to recover before you even entertain the idea of starting any postpartum exercise or workouts.
For some, that’s easier said than done. With celebrities, Instagram influencers and people in the media flaunting lean and toned bodies miraculously fast post-pregnancy, it’s understandable that many women feel under immense pressure to regain their pre-pregnancy physique and shed the baby pounds as soon as possible. That coupled with the antsiness to get moving again after months of having a big ole belly in the way, makes it hard to rest after giving birth. But remember, each woman’s post-pregnancy fitness journey timeline is unique, and you needn’t rush. Once you’re physically and emotionally ready to begin a post-pregnancy exercise plan, start slow and steady for safe and sustainable results.
Getting started with postpartum exercise
There’s a lot to take into consideration, and as we touched on above, each person’s path to recovery and starting a post-pregnancy exercise plan is personal. Before you dive in headfirst, you’ll need to consider the following:
Did you have a natural birth or C-section?
If you had a natural birth then, on average, you should wait 6-8 weeks minimum before embarking on any postpartum exercise. However, if you underwent a C-section or experienced a prolapsed cervix, then your recovery time will take a while longer. We advise you consult with your gynecologist before starting any type of workout.
How active were you before pregnancy?
Your activity level before and during your pregnancy will determine the speed at which you recover physically. If you were an avid crossfitter, yogi or runner before you got pregnant and stayed active while pregnant, then bets are your body will recover faster than if you led a sedentary lifestyle with little to no regular exercise.
The importance of core and pelvic floor muscles
Whether you had a natural birth or C-section, or were previously active or sedentary, in almost all cases you’ll want to start your post-pregnancy exercise plan by focusing on your deeper core and pelvic floor muscles. Both your core and pelvic floor were stretched, and the surrounding organs and tissue pushed and pulled out of place to accommodate your growing baby. Working on reconstructing your midsection and pelvic floor muscles will lay the foundation to support safer recovery and stronger reshaping of your body. We’ll address targeted exercises in just a bit.
Foundational postpartum exercise
So, you’ve afforded your body and mind the time they need to heal following birth, and your gynecologist gave you the thumbs up to start exercising — now, where to begin? The best advice we can share is start off with something your body is already used to — be it walking, biking, Zumba, or swimming. Make sure, whatever your first ventures into postpartum exercise may be, they are gradual, measured and low impact.
If there’s any postpartum exercise that stands head and shoulders above the rest, it’s Kegels. This targeted training of the pelvic floor muscles (named after gynaecologist, Arnold Kegel) is pivotal in rebuilding strength and control in that area of your body. Why is it so important you may ask? Well, your pelvic floor muscles are vital in supporting your bladder, rectum, uterus and small intestine. Post-pregnancy (and as you get older) these muscles start to weaken and compromise the base of your core, also leading to other underlying health issues.
Kegels are the focused contraction and relaxation of the pelvic floor area. The great thing about this postpartum exercise is that you can start them during pregnancy and immediately after birth. You can do them anywhere, and they’ll only take up a few minutes of your day. The exercise is deceptively simple — doing 10-reps, you contract your pelvic floor for 10-seconds, then relax for 10-seconds.
Am I doing it right?
A general rule of thumb when performing Kegels postpartum is:
- Week 1-2: Start off doing them lying down
- Week 3-4: Perform them seated
- Week 4-8: Do them standing
- Week 8+: Feeling confident? Challenge yourself to do them while walking
Low-impact postpartum exercise
Here are a few other activities you can gradually introduce into your post-pregnancy routine:
- Walking: One of the simplest ways to ease back into fitness after giving birth. It’s low impact, the fresh air will improve your mood, and it’ll get you out of the house — with or without your tiny tot in tow.
- Swimming: The buoyancy of the water will alleviate any pressure on joints or muscles you may have from carry that extra baby weight around. Swimming a few laps is a gentle way to build up your stamina with some light to medium intensity cardio.
- Push-ups/bent over rows: Once you’re well into your Kegel routine and feel your core has stabilized, why not add a few adapted push-ups or bent over rows into your daily post-pregnancy training plan? Developing your upper body strength will go a long way to lifting and holding your growing baby without feeling fatigued.
- Glute bridge: Our butt muscles tend to become lazy if not actively engaged, leading to other muscles working overtime to compensate, e.g. quads and hip flexors. In time, this results in musculoskeletal imbalances. If you want to avoid lower back pain and develop a nice firm booty in the process, then glute bridges are your go-to postpartum exercise.
Post pregnancy plan do’s and don’ts
As mentioned earlier, your body has gone through some dramatic changes to grow your child. Think about it, your rib cage has had to open up and expand, your diaphragm is pushed up, internal organs like your bladder pushed down, and intestines squeezed. It took nine months to get there, and all this doesn’t just pop back into place overnight. So be gentle and patient with your body and keep the following do’s and don’ts in mind for an injury-free postpartum exercise experience.
- Do: Slowly strengthen and restructure your core and pelvic floor muscles. If you rush too much too soon, you may risk worsening your current physical condition, and developing back pain or hernias while you’re at it.
- Don’t: Avoid wide stance squats, as they‘ll put extra stress on your pelvic floor muscles. Explosive exercises like plyometrics and HIIT should be put on hold until your core is strong enough.
One indication of an unstable core is a peak in the middle of your stomach when you crunch, which turns into an indent when you lie down. This condition is called diastasis recti and is a result of the muscles in the abdominal wall having been pulled away from one another during pregnancy. If a medical professional has ascertained you have this condition, then you can measure if your core is stable enough to do more challenging postpartum exercise by measuring how many fingers you can put in the middle line of your abs. Any more than one finger, and your core still too compromised for strenuous workouts.
Had a C-section?
Popular postpartum exercise
If running is your jam, then make sure to keep it light and short at first, slowly building up pace and distance over time. Listen to your body, as running can lead to lower back pain if your core isn’t strong enough yet.
Stick to lower impact yoga like yin yoga and restorative yoga. It’s best to avoid more dynamic styles such as Ashtanga, Iyengar and vinyasa flow, to begin with. Although getting your sweat on when exercising can be exceptionally satisfying, we recommend you steer clear of hot yoga postpartum. Sweating profusely will dehydrate you and lead to electrolyte loss, which is especially true for women breastfeeding.
Postpartum weight lifting
Believe it or not, weightlifting is brilliant for new moms. You’re going to be carrying your tiny one anyway, and they will grow fast and get heavier, so why not get your body ready and strong ahead of time with upper body exercises like:
- Shoulder presses
- Chest presses
- Tricep overhead extension
- Bicep curls
- Front and lateral shoulder raises
We recommend you focus on your upper body and avoid heavy-lifting exercises like deadlifts, sumo squats, good mornings and push presses. However, if you’re an experienced lifter or familiar with strength training and weights, then follow an adapted version of your pre-pregnancy lifting routine and build it up steadily. Whether you’re a novice or expert when it comes to strength training, make sure to listen to your body. We’ve said it before, your core is key in postpartum exercise, and your abs and back support your midsection so you can lift heavy. Those of you who have had C-sections or cervical prolapses should wait until you get the green light from your doctor before lifting any weights at all.
Your post-pregnancy exercise plan
The key to success when kicking off any postpartum exercise is laying the right foundations. To get you post-pregnancy ready 8fit’s coach Amé has designed an 8-week Kegel exercise program. Download and print out so you can start your post-pregnancy fitness journey on the right foot!
After you’ve done your Kegel program, you’ve built up your core and are back into the swing of things — why not sign up for 8fit Pro and find a multitude of bodyweight exercises you can do from the comfort of your own home. No equipment, no gym membership, no fuss — just fitness for you!