In the last installment, I talked about the importance of slowly easing back into exercise by starting with low impact aerobics and adding some mobility and activation exercises once you are given the go ahead to start a postpartum exercise routine. In part 3, I am going to discuss the next step: incorporating/reacquainting yourself with body-weight movements.
If you are an experienced CrossFitter I know you are just dying to get back to lifting some heavy weights but, again, I ask you to be patient. Think back to when you were a newbie (ok or maybe you are a newbie right now!)…hopefully if you had a decent coach, they made sure that you could do an air squat ( a body-weight only squat) with proper form before loading you up with a barbell. The reasoning is that if you can’t perform a proper squat without any weight then adding any additional weight is just going to make the problem even worse. That same reasoning should hold true for a woman trying to resume exercise postpartum. Proficiency with the body-weight movements should be attained before adding a barbell. I don’t care if you squatted 200+ lbs right before you delivered, your body has changed so much from that moment due to labor and delivery and even the 6-8 weeks of recovery you can’t expect to perform at pre-pregnancy or pregnancy levels right now.
Movements to focus on:
Squat: Focus on keeping your weight on your heels, chest up, and keeping the knees out. Aim for full depth on each rep.
Push-up: Focus on keeping the body in plank position with abs engaged. If performing from the toes, don’t let your thighs touch the ground at the bottom of the rep. Keep elbows at approximately a 45 degree angel to the body (in other words, don’t let the elbows flare out to the sides)
Pull-up: For all styles of pull-ups, focus on keeping core tight and legs together. Move to an easier variation if form is not good.
Dip: Aim for full depth on dips, maintaining the hollow body position i.e. engage your core. Use a band, box, or paralettes if needed.
Lunge: Focus on taking big steps and pushing through the heel of the front leg to come up out of the lunge.
Sit-up: Start with abmat sit-ups before moving on to more advanced variations like GHD sit-ups or V-ups. Some women, especially those who had a C-section, should even consider postponing abmat sit-ups for a few weeks in favor of less demanding abdominal exercises until your abdominal muscles have regained some strength. I would especially recommend a more cautious approach with regards to sit-ups and other intense abdominal exercises (like those we typically do in CrossFit) to women who are suffering from diastasis recti. Returning to sit-ups and toes-to-bar too early could be very damaging to those women. There are plenty of abdominal exercises and progressions that can help repair diastasis recti and better prepare your abdominal muscles for the more strenuous ab exercises.
Incorporating Body-weight Movements into a Workout
Chances are if you are a CrossFitter, you will perform a lot of these body-weight movements in your classes so you will have plenty of opportunities to practice. I recommend sticking with body-weight only or very light weight for at least a week or two as you ease back into things and re-learn how to move your body without a big belly. Don’t worry, the weights will still be there a few weeks from now.
If you have the fortune and luxury to work with a personal trainer, hopefully they will start you out with mostly body-weight movements as well. I definitely recommend trying to find a trainer who has experience training postpartum women or who has gone through it themselves. And, if your trainer pushes you to do a movement that you are not ready for or that feels uncomfortable, don’t be afraid to speak up!!!
Finally if you are working out on your own you may be wondering how to incorporate some of these body-weight movements into a postpartum workout routine. I love to do interval-style training with my clients and it is really easy for you to do at home and come up with tons of combinations for workouts. There are many more body-weight movements than the ones I have highlighted in this article but even just using these 6 basic movements you could create many different workouts. I like to choose 3-4 movements and do 30s or 1 minute stations or a Tabata interval. For example, I might have a client do 1 minute of squats, 1 minute of push-ups, 1 minute of sit-ups, then 1 minute rest and repeat 3-4 times. I could also take those same 3 movements and do an 8 round tabata of each (20s of the movement as may reps as possible followed by 10s rest). Like I said, there are all sorts of different combinations and once you try it you will see that it’s pretty easy to come up with different variations on your own that will help keep you workouts fun and different each day!