With burpees, planks, plyometrics, sprints and a whole load of more exercises out the window, I’m already starting to think about my training plan postpartum. With two little adorable kiddie winkles to care for soon, my ‘ME time’ is going to be extremely limited……but being in the profession that I’m in, I NEED, and WANT to get back on the bandwagon as soon as safely possible.
So what are my plans postpartum? Get out sprinting straight away? After all….sprinting is the #1 exercise for a strong core right!? Or do hundreds of crunches to snap my abs back into shape? The short but simple answer to this is……HELL NO!
During pregnancy, the female body goes through an amazing but gigantic journey. Think about it - your baby starts of as a microscopic foetus that quickly grows over the course of 9 months into a beautiful human being. The pressures placed on the female human body are immense and amaze me every time I see a pregnant lady….and look down! Women need to adapt their everyday movement patterns during pregnancy in order to cater for the ever increasing bump and simple movements such as picking items off the floor or tying their shoe laces becomes a chore in itself!
So, once you are no longer an oven for your gorgeous little bun, first things first – get the all clear from your midwife/doctor before you begin any sort of exercise regime. The recommended guidelines are for women to wait 6 weeks before exercising…..BUT if postpartum bleeding has stopped and you feel fine and healed enough within yourself, plus have the energy to do so, gentle exercise (if done properly) will have no negative impact on the recovering body and your ability to care for your new-born.
But where do you start? Here’s my top 5 steps for regaining full functional fitness post pregnancy –
1. Regain proper posture – during pregnancy, your centre of gravity shifts and your posture suffers. Post pregnancy, focus on regaining that beautiful and naturally slimming posture every single day by lengthening up through the spine to stand tall (crown of the head lifts up and away from the tailbone), shoulders draw down into the back and the chest lifts and opens. Focus on aligning the ribs over the hips with no clenched butt cheeks! This simple activity will naturally realign your core muscles into the correct position and will get the retraining phase happening without you having to do a great deal of physical work.
2. Leisure walking; the perfect opportunity to get some fresh air, de-stress and get out of the house with your new-born. Focus on posture, try to relax and take your time….power walking isn’t encouraged J
3. Core and Floor re-education – find a qualified and knowledgeable trainer/Pilates instructor that will help guide you through the effective exercises that focus on retraining both the core muscles and the pelvic floor muscles (diaphragm, spinal muscles, abdominals, pelvic floor muscles and the glutes)…..after all these group of muscles create the backbone to all our basic and advanced movement patterns. With a strong core and floor, your ability to take your training to the next level will be a whole lot more comfortable and manageable (no need to worry about any leakage when sneezing, laughing or lifting those BIG weights)
4. Strength training – by lifting weights, you are guaranteed to get an effective workout that will not only help improve fitness levels, but will get you training a lot of muscles in the one session and can positively improve your fat burning potential…..even in a short space of time, which all your workouts will be from now on! Workouts should range from 10-30 minutes and once the above 3 steps have been properly actioned, you eventually want to pick weights that make you WANT to rest, or that you simply NEED to rest with.
5. Running, HIIT training, any bouncy aerobic style classes etc. should be the last thing to enter the retraining phase. See the reasons as to why this is below.
So what exercises should you AVOID doing immediately post-partum, or definitely until the posture has been realigned, the core and floor retrained and the whole body reconditioned?
1. Ab crunches
2. Core exercises that involve double or sometimes single leg raises
4. Russian twists
6. Planks (although not in all cases)
7. Steady state cardio – jogging, running, aerobics, cycling etc.
Why you might ask? After all, the above exercises work the core so why would you want to avoid them?
Before pregnancy, the abdominal wall , the side waist muscles and the trunk itself hold a great amount of tension between the connective tissues and the muscles that effectively make up the ‘6 pack’….basically in order to keep the vital organs of the body safe and protected within the body. It also allows for natural movement of the spine – forward flexion. During pregnancy, the hormone 'relaxin' causes the tension within this area to decrease, to allow for natural growth of the baby. Post pregnancy, the natural tautness of the abdominal wall itself and the connective tissues is extremely lax and still in the recovery phase. When the exercises listed above are carried out, the intra-abdominal pressure created during these movements is immense, and can in most cases cause ‘bulging’ or ‘doming’ of the abdominal wall. The abdominal wall simply doesn’t have the strength to ‘hold’ the mid-section of the body ‘in’. These exercises are ineffective in retraining the core muscles and will not help flatten the abdominal wall…..after all we don’t want to look pregnant six months postpartum by incorrectly training the core. And that's just on the aesthetic side of things.
Proper core and floor exercises will work the deep core muscles and allow them to properly ‘knit’ back together; therefore creating a tight but fully functioning band of muscles that supports the trunk, allowing it to move in all the directions that it was designed to move in.
The pelvic floor also needs time to heal – it’s just spent the past nine months in overdrive…..carrying the weight of the pelvic organs PLUS the increasing weight of the baby within the pelvis. Steady state cardio or any bouncing/jumping movement creates an immense amount of pressure which ultimately pounds down onto an unstable core.
Finally, the steps you take after you've had your baby to get back into a proper training regime will shape your fitness capabilities for the rest of your life. By taking the time to properly retrain and restrengthen the core muscles, you will undoubtedly give yourself the best foundations possible for having the strength and confidence to really push your training in years to come.
Suggested pre/post pregnancy Facebook pages to follow –
· Mundell Lifestyles
· Healthy Baby Fit Mom
· Mom Beyond Baby