This article is co-written by Olivia Vokes, Pelvic Health Physiotherapist, and Jenni Diamond, Occupational Therapist and Pre/Postnatal Personal Trainer.
Knowing how to safely engage in postpartum workouts can feel daunting for many. Physical, mental health, and lifestyle changes postpartum can make it difficult to know how to safely and effectively participate in exercise.
It is crucial to build up your strength and endurance postpartum in order to reduce your risk of injury, support yourself with daily responsibilities like carrying and feeding baby, and return to any fitness or sport goals.
Despite the recent surge in popularity of the Peloton spin bike, there is little guidance available on how to engage in spinning safely postpartum. In this article, we’re going to take you through everything you need to know to safely return to spinning after baby.
Note: Make sure you have been cleared to exercise by your primary care provider before you begin. If you had birth via Cesarean delivery make sure you check out these C-section recovery and return to exercise tips.
Try these exercises to help prepare you, prior to getting on the bike:
Starting with a safe and evidence-based postpartum strength training program is ideal to prepare your body prior to returning to spinning.
To help make sure your body is well prepared, you should be able to do the following movements without symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction:
- Kneeling hip hinge: This movement mimics the positioning required to go in and out of the saddle while spinning.
- Single leg sit to stand: This exercise will help strengthen the power phase of your stroke (i.e., when pushing down on the pedal to generate force).
- Bird dogs: this exercise will help strengthen your core and support you when seated and out of the saddle.
Check out The Postnatal Academy for structured postpartum workouts to help you return to exercise safely.
Consider bike set up/adjustments
In addition to the proper setup protocol recommended for your particular spin bike, consider the following:
- Tilting the seat:
- Tilting the seat can make the bike more comfortable on your sit bones and/or pubic bones. Specifically, a tilt forward may decrease the pressure on your pubic bones, whereas a tilt backward will take pressure off of your sit bones or tailbone. Play around with each position and see how you feel, or meet with a pelvic floor therapist who can help you with an individualized setup.
- Adjust the handlebars:
- Play around with finding optimal handlebar height for your body. For example, if you want to decrease the effort required from your core system, try moving the handlebars higher up. Abdominal scars may also be more comfortable in this position. However, this positioning can at the same time increase the pressure on your sit bones and tailbone. Similarly, adjusting the handlebars lower down may help to decrease the pressure on your sit bones and tailbone, however, this may increase the effort required from your core system.
- Cushioned seats:
- Seat cushions can help with tenderness over any tender tailbones/pubic bones/episiotomy scars.
- Knee positioning:
- Ensure your knees have a slight bend when the leg is in its most lengthened state. Adjust the seat height up or down as needed to achieve this positioning.
Blow as you go
- Aim to breathe throughout your workout and avoid holding your breath.
- Try to time your exhale upon the initiation of any movements that require a change in position or pace. For example, rising out of the saddle, sitting back into the saddle, or changing your pace or resistance. Timing the exhale with these transitions will help cue your core system to better adapt to the change in movement pattern.
The following postural tips will also help to decrease discomfort and risk of injury:
- Pay attention to your comfort while seated, and adjust to sit more forward/backward on the seat, depending on how it feels for your body.
- Think of stacking your ribs over your hips as comfort allows. This positioning will allow your diaphragm and pelvic floor muscles to operate more optimally.
- Consider pelvic tilting on the seat, to prevent discomfort as needed. To experiment with pelvic tilting, try rocking your pelvis forward or back and explore which position feels the best for you. It may be beneficial to switch up your positioning throughout your workout, according to your comfort levels.
- Keep your knees in line with toes as you pedal. If you notice your knees are going too far inwards or outwards compared to your toes, recheck your bike set up and/or realign your knees as recommended.
- Generating either too much or not enough muscle activation while cycling may increase symptoms. This will vary depending on the individual. Experimenting with relaxing vs. tensioning your glute and core muscles may help when experiencing pelvic floor symptoms. Speak to a pelvic floor therapist for an individual assessment and recommendations.
- When riding with lighter tension and at slower speeds, practice releasing tension and relaxing your muscles.
Ready to ride? Here’s how:
Play with FITT: Frequency, Intensity, Time, Type.
- Start with riding in the saddle, as this will be easier on your body. With time and practice, and if you’re symptom-free, you can progress to rising up out of the saddle at points during your ride.
- Try riding alone first, and build confidence in multiple scenarios before attending a class (virtual or in person)
Time: duration or distance
- Start with cycling for up to 10 minutes. If you’re symptom-free, continue to slowly increase your time on the bike.
- Take breaks as needed. You can get off the bike and rest in recovery positions such as laying on your back with your feet on the wall or a stool. This will give your core system a proper rest.
Frequency: How often you are participating?
- Rest and recovery are very important. Ensure adequate recovery time between rides. If you’re tempted to ride daily, try to instead start with riding every other day and try other activities on your off days.
- Gear settings: start with lighter resistance and progress to heavier as tolerated (note: when riding out of the saddle, using a moderate-heavier resistance may actually be easier on your body, as a light resistance will cause more bouncing motions)
- Speed: start with slower speeds and progress as tolerated
Note: Don’t increase both intensity and duration at the same time.
Consider external factors that may influence symptoms during and/or after riding:
- Menstrual cycle
- Mental health
- Workload at home/work
- Activity level that day/days prior: consider other demands of your body in the days during and leading up to your workout (i.e, heavy lifting, prolonged standing/sitting, feeding).
- If symptoms arise, scale back one or more of the above principles of FITT, and then work back up as tolerated.
- If you notice any burning/numbness/pain and discomfort (especially that increases with activity/ after activity) be sure to consult your health care practitioner (family doctor/pelvic physiotherapist/ OB)
- Leakage, heaviness/pressure/feeling like something is falling in our pelvis, ongoing low back/pelvic/groin/tailbone/hip pain, pain with intercourse or inserting a tampon, frequency of urination, incontinence or difficulty emptying bowel or bladder may be signs of pelvic muscle dysfunction – reach out to a pelvic physiotherapist for support with this.
Olivia is a Registered Physiotherapist with a background in Sports Medicine and special interest in pelvic health.
Olivia sees patients virtually throughout Ontario and in person in Strathroy, ON at Her Optimal Health. If you’d like to see Olivia for a virtual or in-person pelvic physiotherapy session, click here or email email@example.com.
Note: This post is for educational purposes only and does not replace medical advice or treatment from your healthcare provider. Always follow the advice of your primary care provider when making decisions about your health and well-being.