Lifting Weights Postpartum Safely and Effectively!
Getting back into training can be SO HARD postpartum. This is particularly so if you’re someone who was pretty active before getting pregnant, and/or during pregnancy. It can feel incredibly frustrating when all you want is to get back to your pre-pregnant self, both physically and mentally. I‘ve been there and can totally understand these feelings. Unfortunately I experienced first hand the effects of rushing the return to training as I just wasn’t given the advice or knowledge that I have now.
That’s exactly why I want to take you through some of the key things to consider when returning to lifting weights post partum. I want to ensure you know how to do it safely and effectively.
Start your journey the right way!
I have trained lots of women who have been desperate to get back to lifting weights after having a baby. I am 100% happy to help anyone do this! However, it’s really important that you start your journey in the right way. Recovery and rehab should be first and foremost. If you haven’t done this, there is no way you should be returning to intense workouts.
So lets talk firstly about what not to do:
Do NOT jump right back into your pre-pregnancy workouts at six weeks postpartum. We often get lured into a false sense of security when signed off by health professionals, particularly if we are a-sympomatic. This doesn’t mean that your body or your pelvic floor are ready.
Our amazing bodies!
You have just been through nine months of carrying a new life inside of you. Think about all of the physiological and anatomical changes that take place during that time! Add in the small matter of pushing a small human through your vagina (or having him/her cut out of you). Not forgetting the fact that you are adjusting to your new life as a mum.
We often beat ourselves up about how unfit and weak we feel. It can be totally disheartening to feel unable to train in the way we did before. This is totally normal! But so often, we end up pushing ourselves into a WOD or HIIT class, ignoring past pain or physical sensations. Not listening to this will not only cause you mental suffering but will put you at risk of injury and pelvic organ prolapse.
It’s important that you understand and appreciate just what your body has been through. A shift in mindset first and foremost is crucial when thinking about returning to exercise.
You will most likely have lost muscle mass and strength and cardiovascular fitness during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Again, this is totally NORMAL. Identify and match your training intensity to your current level of fitness postpartum. Then focus on rebuilding it back up slowly. Follow a programme designed to focus on regaining strength and function in your core and pelvic floor. However, make sure there is a clear plan/progression to get you back to whatever you want to do.
My top tips: the starting point
So what’s the best way to return to lifting weights safely after having a baby?
- Rest and recovery: giving your body the rest it needs is absolutely essential. As frustrating as it may seem, this really does require patience. Treat your postpartum exercises like you would recovering from an injury: start slow, aim to heal FIRST, then progressively overload. Rehab should be your first priority, aiming to heal the body from the inside out. If you tore your ACL, you wouldn’t rest it for six weeks, then try to squat the same weight you squatted before the injury. Nor would you start bouncing around on it in the first workout. You would start with exercises that are less demanding on the ligaments in your knee and then build your way up.
- Try to understand what’s going on with your body: whether you have had a vaginal delivery or a c-section, it’s super important to know what your body has been through.
- Start early but super gently: it’s ok to start core and pelvic floor work before your six week check up. In fact, it can be super beneficial. A great way to start is by learning and understanding the power of breath and breathing mechanics to aid healing.
- Pelvic floor first and foremost: when it comes to adding load (in this case in the form of weights) the integrity of your pelvic floor is likely to be a limiting factor in terms of your starting point and progress. Making a pelvic floor protocol your first priority and almost going back to the beginning with your strength training will be important.
My top tips: how to progress
- Start with exercises that have low demand on the pelvic floor: supported positions for your body such as those that take away the effects of gravity (glute bridges and clam shells for example). These can be hugely effective in helping to reconnect with your body, rebuild strength and stability and to re-awaken those muscles.
- Focus on functional movements but starting with little or no weight: your first sessions should be balanced and will want to include a pull/row, pushing movement, and a lower body/leg exercise. Focus on full body workouts rather than single body part splits. Slow and controlled movements are best as you will likely still have the hormone relaxin floating around in the body. This can make your joints slightly less stable and more susceptible to injury.
- Build load slowly, constantly testing and reassessing: check in with your body and the way it reacts to movements, load and workouts, and not just during a workout but the days following too. We must constantly challenge the pelvic floor in order for it to get stronger. However, this must be done carefully and it’s not always a linear progression. It will need constant testing and assessment. Sometimes we may need to regress our training in terms of the loads we are lifting and that’s ok.
- Again, focus on learning the correct breathing mechanics: always think, exhale on exertion/effort or basically the most difficult part of the movement. This will help to regulate intra-abdominal pressure and trigger the contraction of the pelvic floor. It will also prevent unnecessary pressure on the pelvic floor and pelvic organs.
- Give necessary attention to your core: training your core is essential and this does not simply mean endless crunches and sit ups. There are lots of other ways to reconnect and build strength in your core.
Don’t be scared
If you don’t challenge your body it will never change! We have to apply the principles of progressive overload to post natal training just like any other training programme. Those who’ve been training for a long time might be able to do this intuitively. If you aren’t sure, or are scared of doing damage, it can be difficult to know when to push yourself a little further and when to increase the weights. It may be worth seeking professional advice from someone (like me) who is qualified in post natal fitness if this is the case. Equally, sometimes, when you have a lot of lifting experience, the difficult thing to do during pregnancy and postpartum is knowing when to hold back. It takes a lot of patience! Us girls that love to lift are often keen to push hard. It can be really useful to work with a coach during this time.
If being fit and active is really important to you I would highly recommend seeing a women’s health pelvic floor physio. Without this examination it is simply guess work much of the time.
If you would like any advice on postpartum recovery, training and general well being, then please get in contact.
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