Postpartum Exercise: Transitioning from Baby Back to the Gym, Part 2

In the last post, I talked about the pressures to get back in shape quickly after having a baby and the symptoms to watch out for as you begin to transition into a postpartum exercise routine.  In this weeks post, I am going to talk more specifically about what you should be doing to start easing into things.

As I mentioned last week, most women who recently had a baby have no idea where to begin when starting to resume exercise postpartum and are given little guidance from their healthcare practitioner.  This is why I really want to help women and give them some information about how to proceed.  Whether you are an experienced CrossFitter who continued to CrossFit throughout your pregnancy or you didn’t exercise at all before or during your pregnancy you need to be smart about starting/resuming exercise after having a baby.  Birth, whether vaginal or cesarean, is an amazing yet extremely physically demanding trial for your body.  Many times, I have worked with women who were exercising several times a week with only a handful of modifications or adjustments all the way up until they gave birth only to be surprised when they returned to the gym that they could not do nearly as much in the early postpartum period as they could at 9 months pregnant!

It’s important to remember that your body went through 9 months of changes culminating in the most physically demanding event of your life; your body is not just going to return to “normal” either in appearance or function overnight or even in a few weeks.  Taking the time to slowly ease back into things will be best for your body in the long run as hard as it is not to be impatient and want to be back to hitting it hard in the gym like you used to pre-pregnancy or back to being able to look decent in a swimsuit…whatever your goals may be.

CrossFitters especially need to be reminded that, even though they may anxious to get back to doing muscle-ups and snatching, jumping right back into those complex movements might not be the best thing for their bodies early on.  I know it’s hard to be patient but taking a few weeks to relearn how to activate and mobilize your muscles properly will give you a much better foundation to build on in the weeks and months to come. Not to mention you can avoid injury or other complications down the line by taking things slow and doing things right!

Women also need to be reminded that, not only is every woman different, but every pregnancy is different too.  What one woman may be able to do a few weeks postpartum may take another several months.  So always, ALWAYS listen to your body and keep an eye out for any of the symptoms mentioned in part 1.

First Steps

The ACOG (American College of Obstetric and Gynecology) says that it is safe to gradually resume exercise as soon as you feel up to it but you may choose to wait until your doctor or midwife gives you the ok (usually 6-8 weeks postpartum).  One of the best ways to ease into postpartum exercise during the early weeks after birth is to start walking.  Walking is a great way to get out of the house with your baby and get some fresh air ( just make sure you are both dressed for the weather).  As you regain strength, you can increase the length and intensity of your walks.

Mobility and Activations

The next step after beginning some low-impact aerobics like walking is to begin to reactivate or reawaken the major muscle groups of the core, legs and upper body.  The goals of mobility and activation exercises are to enhance range of motion and to establish correct biomechanics through correct muscle activation.  Failing to establish proper muscle firing in conjunction with improving range of motion could cause additional stress on the postpartum woman’s changing body which could lead to developing improper compensatory movement patterns or injury.

Skipping this step and jumping right back into doing cleans, snatches, back squats, etc could be a recipe for disaster.  Even if you don’t get injured by trying to do too much too soon, you could impede your ability to regain your pre-pregnancy strength.  And, lack of proper core stability will likely cause the wrong muscles to engage in order to compensate which increases injury risk.

Mobility Exercises

Mobility is a broad concept that includes range of motion (ROM) at a joint, muscular tension, soft tissue and joint capsule restrictions, muscle adhesions, tendon resilience, neuromuscular coordination, proprioception, the positioning biomechanics, and stabilization.  Mobility exercises include stretching or movement-based exercises to address any of these elements that might limit joint range of motion or performance.  In short, mobility exercises help improve global movement or performance issues.

Mobility exercises are important for everyone, not just pregnant or postpartum women.  But when the body goes through drastic changes such as during pregnancy or after birth we should pay particular attention to addressing any restrictions or issues.  Incorporating some mobility exercises into your postpartum exercise routine will help prevent injury and make sure your body is prepared to progress to more advanced exercises.

Activations

Activation exercises are basic exercises that require activating or using certain muscles/muscle groups.  These exercises are relatively simple (as in not complex…they can certainly be HARD especially at first) movements that focus on a specific muscle group or muscle firing pattern.  Most activation exercises should focus on the muscles of the core as this is the part of the body that goes through the most changes during pregnancy and birth.  But activation exercises should also target the major muscle groups of the upper and lower body as well.

 Sample Postpartum Workout:

Mobility/Activations

Runner’s lunge, 2x each side

Pelvic tilt 2×10

Heel Slides 2×20

Deadbugs 2×10

Half seal 2×10

Bridge 3×10

Mobility

Couch stretch, 2 mins each side

Pigeon pose 1 min each side

Cat/cow 10x

Child’s pose

 

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