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Getting Back To Training Post Pregnancy

Getting Back To Training Post Pregnancy

Over the last few months, we have been collaborating with House Of Chunk, providing their athletes with high-protein snacks and drinks to fuel their workouts. Strong Girl Coach, Gina has shared a training post-pregnancy guide. 

Returning to exercise after pregnancy can be a hugely overwhelming time for any woman.

I’ve been there. I know how it feels to be desperate to get back in the gym lifting after 9 months of having to take it slow and reduce the weight on the bar. I know how it feels to panic at the back of your mind that your athletic days are over once you become a mum. I understand the pressure new mums are under to ‘bounce back’ to their pre-pregnancy fitness…

But with the right tools and support you CAN come back from pregnancy stronger than ever.

Here’s the catch. The goal ISN’T to jump straight back into your usual training – no matter how badly you want to get back under that bar.

Current guidelines recommend that it is safe for women to return to their usual physical activity just 6 weeks after birth. But realistically? If you REALLY want to regain your pre-pregnancy fitness, this is where your healing begins, NOT where it ends.

Too many women jump straight back into their old routine at 6 weeks, and unfortunately this is why so many women are now living with postnatal complications like prolapse, incontinence and lower back pain. The worst part is, we are told that this is normal and ‘just what happens when you have had a baby' but it doesn’t have to be!

The key to postnatal recovery is to give yourself more time than you think you need. Think about it, other injuries can take between 6 months and a year to make a full recovery. Just because giving birth is a natural process, doesn’t make it any less traumatic for the body.

For your first three months post-pregnancy your goals should be rehab, rest, recovery and nourishing your body. Yes, this means NOT dieting to lose the baby weight straight away.

I always recommend the ladies I coach to see a Pelvic Health Physiotherapist after their 6 week check up, to understand the extent of the recovery needed for her core and pelvic floor.

No this isn’t overkill, EVERY woman can benefit from a proper postnatal assessment - if you can justify rehab for a knee injury, you can sure as hell justify it for your abs and vagina!

So, what do you do? How do you balance recovery with the desire to get back into strength training as soon as possible?

You have to start from the inside out. Until you have had a baby, it is very difficult to explain how your core and pelvic floor will feel. For me, I remember feeling as though the top half of my body wasn’t connected to my bottom half, like there was this huge hole where my core used to be. I couldn’t even feel my pelvic floor, and I know this is a common and often frightening experience.

The focus on your first 6 weeks postpartum should be reconnecting with your body that has been through huge changes. The worst thing you can do during this period is nothing. You’re already doing a lot more than you think! You are already deadlifting, squatting and using your core muscles. Every time you pick your baby up, bend down to pick something up off the floor, carry the car seat to and from the car, cough or sneeze, you are using your muscles. We need to start learning how to use them functionally again as soon as possible!

So here is a very basic guide on how I would support a newly postnatal lady back into the gym:

Weeks 0-6:

● Reconnect with your pelvic floor and deep core muscles (transverse abdominis) through diaphragmatic breathing

● Start mobility exercises to relieve aches and pains in the spine from pregnancy

● Start a gentle walking routine – as little as 10 minutes per day to start

Weeks 6-12:

● Start performing exercises to strengthen and build endurance in the pelvic floor with both quick contractions and longer holds

● Start very basic deep core exercises, ensuring you are managing your intra-abdominal pressure well before progressing to anything more challenging. It takes as long as it takes – rushing through this phase does not mean a faster recovery. You have to lay those foundations and put in the work to rebuild your core strength if you really want to get strong under the bar again.

● Start building baseline strength with simple functional movement patterns – squat, hinge, lunge, push and pull. Start with your bodyweight or resistance bands and only progress if you are not experiencing any pain, leakage or feelings of heaviness.

3 months onwards:

● Start gradually challenging yourself with more complex movements and heavier loads – again ONLY if you are not experiencing any of the things mentioned above

● Start training your other core muscles including your rectus abdominis (6 pack muscles). Yes, you CAN perform crunches postpartum if you are able to manage your intra-abdominal pressure. We perform this movement in our daily lives all the time, it’s important to strengthen these muscles too – don’t be afraid to progressively challenge your core.

● Focus on strengthening those glute muscles!! Strong glutes are crucial to a strong core, overall pelvic stability and improving your posture postpartum.

There is no reason why, if you lay the foundations in those early months, that you can’t successfully return to strength training postpartum. Often, it’s just about having an awareness for what is going on with your body. It’s not about whether or not a weight is ‘heavy for you’, but whether it is too heavy for your abs or pelvic floor.
Another tip for mamas that lift – don’t rush to put a belt back on! This can actually make symptoms worse by increasing the pressure on your pelvic floor. Instead, work on that brace WITHOUT the belt for as long as you can.
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