Regular exercise has numerous health benefits for you after baby: improving energy levels, relieving stress and improving mood, improved insulin sensitivity (less cravings!), increased muscle mass and bone density, improved confidence, fat loss, and more!
The key to postpartum fitness is strengthening at pace that doesn’t send you back into things too soon/fast, and selecting the right exercises given what your body has experienced during pregnancy and labour.
Once you have had your physician’s clearance to return to exercise postpartum, I recommend starting with the following exercises:
- Air squat
- Pelvic floor exercise
- Modified side plank
- Wall pushups
- Kneeling hip flexor stretch
Note: if you notice any of these Red Flag Symptoms during exercise, you should consult with your doctor and a pelvic floor physiotherapist prior to resuming your exercise plan.
This exercise promotes mobility through your spine and stretching through your back and core muscles. Start on all fours with hands below your shoulder and knees below your hips. Slowly let your back drop towards the floor and look up towards the sky. This should look like the letter U and is the “cat” position. Next, let your back be “pulled” up towards the sky, while letting the head and neck drop. This should look like an upside-down letter U and this is the “cow” position. Try to inhale during cat, and exhale during cow. Repeat 8-10 times. Note, if the cat position does not feel good on your back, you may want to avoid moving into this position of back extension and check with a physiotherapist to see what exercises are safe for your body.
This exercise is an excellent place to start to increase your lower body strength. Start with your feet about shoulder-width apart. With your back in a neutral position, slowly lower your hips backwards and towards the ground as if you’re sitting back onto a chair. At the bottom of the squat, push your heels into the ground to stand back up. Make sure your knees are tracking over top of your feet throughout the movement.
Pelvic Floor Exercise:
Begin this exercise lying down on your back. Take a breath in and let your belly fill with air. At the same time, let go of any tension through the pelvic floor muscles. This feeling is similar to that of sitting on the toilet and letting out a flow of urine. Next, exhale and lift your pelvic floor muscles gently, as if you’re trying to stop a flow of urine and at the same time trying to stop gas from passing. On the exhale, you should also think of cueing your transversus adbominus muscle, which works synergistically with your pelvic floor. Note: it is JUST as important to relax fully on the inhale, as it is to engage the muscles on the exhale. If you need some more help with this, check out The Postnatal Academy here and we will take you through it step by step.
Modified Side Plank:
This exercise will strengthen your obliques, glutes, shoulders, and core. Begin by lying down on your side, with your legs stacked and knees bent. Position your forearm so that it is making contact with the ground and your elbow is directly below your shoulder. Take a breath in, and then as you breath out, raise your hips up off the ground, with your points of contact being your forearm and your bottom knee. Then, inhale and lower back down.
This exercise is important for strengthening the muscles around your shoulders and your core. Assume a plank position against a wall, with your hands placed flat on the wall and in line with your shoulders. Note that the further away from the wall you position your feet, the harder this exercise will be, and the closer towards the wall you stand, the easier this exercise will be. Breath in as you lower your chest and body towards the wall, bringing your shoulder blades back and in. Next, exhale and push your hands into the wall to come back up to starting position.
Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch:
This exercise is very beneficial for new moms – our hips get super tight! To perform this exercise, kneel on the mat so that one foot is in front of you on the mat and your other leg has the knee down on the mat behind you. You should have a 90 degree angle at both knees. Tuck the pelvis under slightly while maintaining your back in neutral posture. Then, drive your front knee forward as you shift your weight forward. You should feel a stretch along the groin area of the back hip. Hold for ~30-40 seconds and then repeat it on the other side.
These exercises are a great place to start. In order to sufficiently strengthen your body postpartum, you have to continually increase the intensity of your exercises, slowly and gradually. The Postnatal Academy takes you through this step-by-step process to build up your strength safely each week.
Note: This post is for educational purposes only and does not replace medical advice or treatment from your health care provider. Always follow the advice of your primary care provider when making decisions about your health and well-being.