I don’t have to tell you that basically everything about your life changes when you bring home that tiny human. From physical changes that your body goes through (seems like something new everyday, doesn’t it?) to the mental and emotional challenges of adjusting to your new role. When you finally feel like you’re ready to start a new fitness routine, or get back to exercise if you were previously workout out, there are definitely some things you should consider before jumping back in, especially if you’re interested in postpartum strength training.
There’s two categories that I want to talk about in this post: 1) The women who may have been lifting prior to getting pregnant- and even during pregnancy- who want to get back that postpartum and 2) those women who are starting from scratch with any kind of workout program post-baby.
Having been in the former, I know I had all kinds of expectations for myself when it came to getting back to exercise after having my son. Spoiler Alert: pretty much NONE of my expectations were a reality!
So these first few considerations are for women who were active prior to having a baby…
Your postpartum body will probably feel a little foreign to you.
After having an unplanned C-section, I expected my core to be super-weak when I slowly started adding some movement back into my routine. What I didn’t expect was to feel like I had never done an abdominal exercise in my life! It was really hard at first to even feel when my muscles were firing.
Letting go of expectations will help when it gets frustrating to not be able to do things that seemed easy for you before. This is also a great time to get reaquainted with your body and really focus on building strong foundations so that as you progress you’ll minimize the risk of injury and delayed recovery.
Resist the urge to jump in where you left off.
As I mentioned above, your postpartum body is basically a new, different version of your pre-baby body. You might even feel like things aren’t in the same places as they were before (anyone else? I hope I’m not the only one…)
It’s important to remember that your body is still in recovery mode, even if you’re waiting several months postpartum to return to exercise. Regardless of whether you had a c-section or vaginal birth, pregnancy and labor are huuuge stresses on your body and require slow and steady work back to where you were before.
It’s also really important to talk about the possibilities of pelvic floor dysfunction postpartum- issues such as pelvic organ prolapse, diastasis recti, incontinence, pelvic pain, SI joint pain, etc.
If any of these are present, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t return to the kind of exercise that you want to do, but I would highly recommend seeking out the help of a pelvic health physical therapist to address any issues.
Let’s think about something like reconstructive surgery for an ACL tear in the knee. I can speak to this because I had it…it was an out-patient surgery; I was in and out in about 4 hours. My rehab started the following day with simply bending my knee, and progressed to things like sitting on a chair and lifting my leg, to then eventually starting to add resistance and weight to movements. I went through 9 MONTHS of rehab before I was considered “100%”.
Your body deserves the same amount of care and rehab postpartum! Also keeping in mind that every woman will respond differently, so you may be able to progress a little faster than someone else. OR, you may be on a slower timeline and that’s TOTALLY COOL.
Ok, so now for my mamas who are just getting started with postpartum strength training…
Finding the time, energy, and motivation to start exercising is challenging enough for moms, let alone having to try to figure out what you should be doing!
Is there an “ideal” time to start? What types of exercises should I be doing? How much weight is safe for me to lift?
There’s A LOT to consider. But instead of throwing up your hands and nixing the whole thing, start here.
There is no “ideal” timeline to start strength training.
Most women assume that the universal “Day to Start Exercising” is the day you have your 6-Week check-up with your OB/GYN and they give you the all-clear.
But like most things, there’s no one-size-fits-all protocol for this, because it’s completely unique to your own situation. If you had a lower risk pregnancy and no complications during childbirth, chances are you might feel ready to start exercising sooner than you might if you had a c-section or a longer more complicated labor.
You might be feeling pressure to “get your body back” after baby, whether you’re putting that on yourself, or feeling it from all of the unrealistic expectations society puts on women during pregnancy and postpartum.
Remind yourself that your body is yours and yours alone. You don’t owe anyone a “pre-baby” body, or an explanation of why you haven’t lost the baby weight, or any other ridiculous things that are expected of new mothers.
Consider starting with your bodyweight first.
If you’re brand-new to strength training, I recommend starting off with easier movements to get your body used to the movement patterns. It’s also a really good idea to start with bodyweight exercises until you feel confident with your form, and you build a bit of strength before adding in more resistance.
Address any possible issues with your pelvic floor.
I touched on this above, but one of the biggest areas of concern when you’re getting ready to start exercising is how your pelvic floor has been affected by pregnancy and birth.
Lots of women (I admit that I used to be one of them!) mistakenly believe that if you didn’t give birth vaginally, then you don’t have to worry about any pelvic floor disorders.
Nine+ months of housing a tiny human inside of you is going to have some effect on your pelvic floor. Also, depending on your circumstances during labor, you might have had several hours of pushing before going to a c-section. That will also have an effect on pelvic floor.
Even if you’re not experiencing any of the obvious signs of pelvic floor dysfunction (leaking urine when you cough or sneeze, feeling pressure/heaviness in your vagina, lower back/SI joint pain, etc.) it’s a really good idea to see a pelvic health physical therapist when possible so that you can address any issues.
This obviously isn’t an exhaustive list of “things to consider”…we’d be here for loooong time for that!
If you only take away one thing from reading this, I hope it’s that you should listen to your body. It will tell you if you’re doing too much, if it needs more rest or if it needs you to slow down.
Exercise, and especially strength training, can be such a positive part of your postpartum journey; there are endless physical, mental and emotional benefits for you to gain. When you’re exercising safely for your ability level, and when you’re exercising in a way that feels good to you, you’ll start experiencing those benefits in the best way.
Ready to get started with strength training? Find out how I can help you create a personalized fitness plan that will take the overwhelm out of your workout routine and help you get consistent with exercise!