No matter how fit you were before and even during pregnancy, postpartum exercise presents a unique set of challenges. Your body is still healing from delivery, and with a newborn in the house, you might be feeling more tired than ever. But finding time to fit in fitness is amazing for both your body and mind—it can be just what you need to get back to feeling like your pre-pregnancy self. No, we’re not talking about “getting your body back.” We’re talking about a boost to your energy, self-confidence and physical strength. Plus, you’re bound to sleep better too. Do we have your attention now? Here, two trainers from Aaptiv—a fitness app offering trainer-led, music-driven audio workouts—break down why you should start a postnatal fitness routine, and how to do it.
Benefits of Postpartum Exercise
Postnatal exercise brings a host of positive benefits to your body, but also for your mood and stress levels. Fitness not only helps your body heal but also provides an outlet to recenter and focus on yourself—something that might feel a bit out of reach now that you’re caring for another tiny human. “Postpartum exercise gives moms back that feeling of being in control,” says Aaptiv trainer Candice Cunningham, an ACE-certified personal trainer and Fit For Birth pre- and post-natal corrective exercise specialist. “It’s a huge stress-reliever and also gives new moms something to really focus on for themselves.”
Aaptiv trainer and mom Jaime McFaden, an ACE-certified pre- and post-natal fitness specialist and health coach, agrees, adding that consistent exercise post-baby provides a huge boost in not only physical strength, but mental strength as well. “You just went through so many changes—things have shifted. Exercise helps you heal from the inside out,” she says.
In addition to the many mental and emotional benefits, postnatal fitness can lead to weight loss, improved strength (carrying around a baby all the time is no joke), better sleep and more balanced hormones—a must after nine months of ups and downs.
When to Start Postpartum Exercise
First things first: Don’t jump into a postpartum exercise routine without your doctor’s approval. Many doctors recommend waiting six to eight weeks after birth before starting trying any type of exercise, but it often varies. Some women may experience complications during pregnancy or labor that might set them back a few more weeks. For example, a mother who had a vaginal birth will likely have a different timeline than one who had a c-section. And others may even be able to work out sooner than six weeks.
According to McFaden, working out during pregnancy may help when it comes time to start exercising again. “Your body’s muscle memory will kick in and you’ll have an easier time getting back into it after birth,” she says. “You still want to give your body time to recover, though. Never push yourself too hard post-baby. Patience is key.”
No matter what, it’s crucial to work with your doctor to find out exactly when is right for you and your body. “Every mom is different and it’s important to pay attention to stresses the body may undergo post-pregnancy,” Cunningham says. “A doctor will be able to check for an indication of diastasis recti (the separation of the abdominals) and be able to recommend the appropriate physical work to heal that or any other side effects of childbirth.”
There’s no real reason to rush back into exercising early anyways. In fact, it can cause you more harm than good down the line. It might be hard for women used to high intensity workouts or long runs, but taking it slow is key.
When you’re ready, start by adding walking and low-impact bodyweight exercises at first. Aaptiv’s fourth trimester program meets new moms where they are and focuses on building back up to regular workouts. It covers core, strength training, outdoor walking and elliptical, and places special emphasis on healing the pelvic floor muscles and not aggravating a diastasis recti—both of which are crucial for new moms with recovering bodies. Don’t worry, you’ll gradually work your way back to sprints and burpees in no time.
Best Postpartum Workouts
Before you starting working out again, it’s important to temper your expectations. Your body is different now and you won’t immediately be as strong as you once were. Start with simple, functional exercises you can ultimately build on. To get you started, we asked McFaden and Cunningham to share some of their favorite postpartum exercises to work your entire body.
Upper Body Exercises
These can be done with a cable, resistance band or dumbbell. Start with a light weight—anywhere from 2 to 5 pounds. Keep your shoulders square. If you’re using a cable or band, stand tall. If you’re using a dumbbell, hinge at the waist slightly and keep your knees unlocked. Engage your core and pull back the arm, holding the weight until your elbow makes a 90-degree angle by the side of your body. Retract and repeat for 10 reps before switching arms. This works your upper back, tricep and biceps.
Wall Plank Rotations
This postpartum exercise is best for those with diastasis recti or anyone easing back into core work (for example, if you’re healing from a c-section). Find a sturdy wall and stand facing it with your feet planted about 2 feet from the wall. Rest your forearms against the wall so you’re in a standing plank position. Slowly rotate your body out, retracting your shoulders, to make a side-plank position on the wall. Hold for two counts before returning to the starting position and alternating sides. Repeat for 10 reps on each side. This is great for the upper body as well as a bit of light core work.
Wall Push-ups to Elevated Push-ups
Start in the same position as you did for Wall Plank Rotations. Place your hands against the wall so you’re in a push-up plank position. Keep your core engaged, maintain a neutral spine and focus on keeping your body in a straight line. Bend your arms as you would to perform a push-up and lower your body toward the wall. Push back off and straighten your arms. As you gradually increase upper body strength, you can move on to elevated push-ups (push-ups with your feet on a bench or chair). This works your triceps, biceps and chest.
Begin in a supine position (on your back) with your legs extended straight out and your arms relaxed by your side. Inhale and fill your belly up. Then exhale all the air out as you press your lower back into the ground. It’s a gente postpartum ab workout and promotes relaxation.
Begin on all fours with your shoulders stacked directly above your hands and your hips stacked directly above your knees. Arch your back up, drawing your navel in, and let your head hang to cat. Then press your belly toward the ground and bring your head and gaze to the sky to cow. Repeat this, alternating cat and cow, for 10 reps. This works your core and helps stretch the muscles in your back and neck.
Supine Leg Lifts
Begin in a supine position with your lower back pressed into the ground. Bring the legs straight into the air to create a 90-degree angle from your waist. Inhale and slowly lower your legs down as far as you can. Feel free to lower one leg at a time, and bend your knee as a modification. Exhale and bring the leg back up. Perform 10 reps on each side. This helps strengthen deep pelvic floor muscles and the transverse abdominal muscles.
Begin in a supine position with your legs and arms extended straight into the air. Inhale and lower your left arm and left leg (your arm should go back toward your head, not your feet). Exhale and raise both again. Repeat on the right side. This works your oblique muscles.
Lower Body Exercises
Begin in a supine position with your feet planted on the ground and your knees bent toward the sky. Engage your glutes and core and lift your hips up, keeping your shoulders on the ground. Drive through the heels, hold the position at the top and breathe through your belly. Lower your hips and repeat for 10 reps. This works your glutes, core and hamstrings.
Sit against a wall with your legs at 90-degree angle. Keep your back flush to the wall and hold for 30 seconds. Release, rest and hold for another 30 seconds. Repeat this five times. This works your core and and quads.
Quadrupled Leg Lifts
Begin on all fours with your shoulders stacked directly above your hands and your hips stacked directly above your knees. Bring one leg up and extend it directly back, engaging your glutes and leg muscles. Hold for a few seconds, return to starting position and switch sides. Repeat for 10 reps on each side. This works your core, glutes and hamstrings.
Postpartum Exercise Tips
Your body is different now! Before you jump back into your fitness routine, remember that in addition to your body feeling strange and even weak sometimes, it’s also going to be hard to find time to exercise. That’s fine! First and foremost, Cunningham encourages new moms to be patient with themselves. “Don’t get frustrated if it takes longer to get back into working out or to get comfortable working out again,” she says. “Listen to your body and don’t push too hard too soon.” She adds that doing so may result in increased stress, which will only set you back mentally and physically.
New moms need to prioritize sleep and physical rest as much as possible. “After giving birth, I was breastfeeding around the clock. I didn’t realize how real the whole concept of no sleep truly was,” McFaden says. “I felt bad not getting back to exercise sooner, but I was so tired.” She gradually began adding in walks and slowly eased into her old fitness routines. “I was weak and unmotivated, but I saw the bigger picture.”
The key, both trainers agree, is to simply remember to take care of yourself. “To be the best mom, you must take care of yourself and give yourself a ton of love,” McFaden says. “Be sure to ask for help when you need it.”
The joys of motherhood are vast. It’s not always easy, but it’s certainly worth it. Make the most of your time as a new mom by prioritizing your mental and physical health. Once you’re cleared by your doctor, gradually incorporate light, low-impact workouts into your day-to-day postpartum exercise routine. Just take it slow and be easy on yourself. After all, you just brought a human into this world!
Published September 2018
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