We get a lot of questions about post natal exercise here at Power Body Mind and rightly so. What you do or more importantly what you don't do during this crucial time needs thinking about if you are to lose your baby weight and get back to full strength safely. More often than not my challenge as a coach is to hold my post natal clients back from more intense forms of training, explaining the need to focus on slowly increasing our activity level over time as well as strengthening areas weakened by carrying around a large mass around for 9 months!
Use this quick guide to post natal exercise to understand what the focus of your training should be during the post natal phase, there are several do's and do not's to be aware of to ensure post natal exercise is as safe as possible. If you follow these guidelines post natal exercise is completely safe and will leave you looking and feeling better in no time.
When can I start post natal exercise?
Every woman is different and so will the time when she feels ready to go back to the gym. A rough guideline for a return date would be six weeks from the birth but it is not unusual for a woman to feel ready before or after this due to the different circumstances which can occur with the pregnancy such as a natural delivery or C section, differing recovery times, and mental well being after the birth. It is completely dependant on these factors when you will feel ready and in my experience with clients I have seen ladies begin their post natal exercise regime as little as 3 weeks post birth and up to 9 weeks, the advice here is to only return to exercise when YOU feel ready.
What should I do for post natal exercise?
Before I explain what you should be doing for post natal exercise a word of warning. Your body has been through a lot and the changes that occur in your body throughout pregnancy and birth can't be reversed overnight, it is going to take some time and careful corrective programming to get your body moving properly again! The reality of post natal exercise is that the volume and intensity is going to be very low which might frustrate the female exercise fanatic used to kicking ass in the gym. What I try to emphasize to these clients is the magnitude of what their body has been through and that by taking it easy and addressing the required post natal areas they will set them up for a stronger return to exercise in the long term. Take it easy!
Ok so you understand that your body has been through hell of a lot and that you need to take it easy in your post natal exercise but what should you be doing?
1. Learning to breathe again
The post natal body is one big ball of instability due to the seperation which occurs between the abdominal muscles with the abdominal wall stretching a lot! This leads to incorrect breathing patterns (mostly through the chest and shoulders) which can lead to a whole manner of back issues. Correcting this must be a priority to encourage core stability and allow a safe return to more intense forms of training. I recommend doing some research on diaphragmatic breathing and practicing breathing like this as part of your post natal exercises sessions as well as in every day life. This will gently help with the retraining of the deep core muscles which allow you to get the strong abdominal contraction required for more intense exercise. Don't neglect the power of the breath!
2. Strengthen the core
In your post natal exercise plan along with retraining the breath you should be working on gently strengthening the core muscles in every session. It is important that you choose the correct core strengthening exercises. You should not be using any of the following in your post natal exercise:
- Any other suppine flexion movement
- Any work on all fours (No press ups or normal planks!)
Heres what I like to use with my post natal clients:
- low load carries (farmers walks, single arm farmers walks, waiter walks)
- Side planks
- Low intensity dead bugs
- Pallof presses (standing, half kneeling, iso holds)
Use these core strengthening exercises to gradually retrain the whole core to begin stabilising again and reduce that mummy tummy. Remember though, less is more in the post natal exercise window and as a rule keep the intensity and volume low to avoid any complications.
3. Fix the pelvic floor muscles
Post pregnancy the pelvic floow muscles are not doing their job properly. Until you have properly corrected this I would suggest you avoid any running, jumping, or explosive movements to avoid a potentially embarassing situation! I recommend using kegel exercises (pelvic floor contractions) every day along with your diaphragmatic breathing work both in and out of your work in the gym. You can contract your pelvic floor muscles almost anywhere, in traffic, standing, sitting, just make sure you hold the contraction for a few seconds before releasing and repeating for 10 reps. It might take a couple of months to fully retrain the pelvic floor muscles and until then keep the kegels regular along with the other core work.
The bottom line
The bottom line with post natal exercise is to take it easy! Your body has been through a lot and attempting to hit the gym too hard too soon will lead to injury, frustration, and burnout. Now is a time to give yourself a break, and your body some love after what it has been through. My job as a coach is to help you feel great and by following this quick guide to post natal exercise you will be addressing the problem areas safely and effectively which will get you and your body back to where they was pre pregnancy sooner rather than later.