3 Tips for Returning to High-Intensity Exercise Postpartum
Today I want to speak to the moms who just can't wait until their postpartum check up to exercise, to those who identify with their fitness in one way or another, to the mom who worked out her entire pregnancy and thinks that sets her up for her immediate return to higher intensity and impact activity postpartum.
So what if you did work out your entire pregnancy? You should be fine to return to what you were doing before, right?
Weeeellllll, let's chat about that a bit. Let me start by saying, I've been on both ends of that spectrum.
I did not exercise throughout my pregnancy with my first and didn't start working out at all until she was nearly a year old. I also gave zero thought of HOW to actually get back into exercise then. With my second, my entire identity was in fitness. I taught spin classes until 37 weeks, took classes until the day before I had my son, and lifted weights as well throughout that time.
Working out throughout pregnancy is awesome, but it doesn't mean that you can just hit the ground running immediately postpartum. The Madison after Eli went back to spinning and lifting at 4-5 weeks postpartum. I've talked to many women who have returned to running at 2 or 3 weeks postpartum.
I can honestly tell you that getting back into exercise with my second was me fully being in a "well I had a fit pregnancy, so I'm fine" mindset. 100%. I was the person who got frustrated with her pregnant body because it told me to slow down, who just jumped back in with both feet afterwards without rehab or any sort of intention other than to prove I could do it.
Pump the brakes, past Madison. There are some really important things I'd love to go back and tell her, but she wouldn't listen anyway (she's REAL stubborn), so I'm gonna tell you instead.
I'm not against getting back to exercise early postpartum. There are some really crucial hormonal and mental benefits to exercise and if it's really your jam, it can be hard to pull yourself back when you just want to get back to "normal" again. Exercise boosts mood, raises endorphins, and does a whole lot of other good for you stuff that can combat the stress of those early days where all a wee babe wants is to not sleep and be with you. I want moms to exercise if they feel like it in those early days.
The problem isn’t the moms wanting to do what they love, the problem comes with the lack of guidance in returning to exercise postpartum for, like, most women out there.
It is really crucial to understand that there's a HUGE event that separates pregnancy from postpartum.... birth. The baby came out of your actual body and however that happens, it's a major deal. And it really takes a lot longer for your insides to be back to “normal” than you think it does. Actually, “postpartum” is a 2-year kind of deal. But, if you’ve ever had a 6-week postpartum check before, you know it isn’t treated that way. Unless there’s something strikingly wrong, you’re pretty much cleared with no referral to a pelvic health professional for an evaluation.
I could go on about that, but ultimately that’s why I write things like this… because I want that information to be readily available for women in the future.
So what do you do if you absolutely love high-intensity exercise, advanced core work, running, Crossfit, obstacle races, etc? You're aching to be back in that community and the pavement is calling? Here are 3 things you can do to prepare your postpartum body for higher-intensity and impact activity:
Get an Evaluation by a Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist
Yep, this is always my #1. No matter how you birthed, the core pressure system changes and shifts. It's really important to get that coordination back in check so your pelvic floor has the endurance for those higher intensity loads, volumes, or distances. For anyone wanting to return to higher intensity or impact activities postpartum, it is key to have an evaluation by a trained pelvic floor physio or physical therapist. They can give you an internal examination of the pelvic floor, test for pelvic floor strength, weakness, tightness, and endurance as well as assess your core function. Also, if you had a C-section they are able to provide gentle C-section scar massage and show you how to do that on your own as well. PFPT should really be standard of care for everyone postpartum, but we'll talk about that another day. You can find a pelvic floor PT using Pelvic Guru’s directory HERE.
Rebuild with a Postpartum-Specific Strength Training Program
Strength training may not be everyone's cup of tea, but life as a mom often requires strength... and so does your body when returning to exercise. Those first few weeks and months after birth are full of lots of hormonal changes, changes to your body, to your sleep, and to your life overall, strength training is a super adaptable way to take all of these changes into consideration in your workouts. Not only that, but a postpartum-specific strength training program can also fill that need for activity early on with pelvic floor and core recovery building into retraining and rebuilding strength in the muscles. This is the goal of the postpartum programs my clients in Strong Like a Mom, my online coaching club, are doing.
Give Yourself Permission to Start Slow
This is a tough one, especially if you have a brain that tells you to go as hard and fast as everyone else. Truth be told, some instructors or coaches call people out and prompt people to go harder. I'm not one of those people for the simple reason that you never know where someone is coming from or the nuances of their story. If you are the one pushing yourself to go harder and faster, give yourself permission to dial back the intensity and meet your body where it is now. If it's an instructor or coach, kindly explain your situation if you're comfortable with that or go find a new class to attend. I generally find that it’s really ourselves pushing us to get back to normal, to go hard or go home. My ego postpartum was what pushed me to do more sooner than I probably should have, I can say that I definitely have had trouble giving myself permission to slow down. Just remember- it's not forever, just for now.
I'm a huge fan of getting people back to doing activities they love doing in a way that honors their postpartum body by giving them time to heal and progress to high intensity and load (if that's their goal) without compromising core or pelvic floor function in the process. While every single body and situation is different, these three tips are my go-to's for moms wanting to return to higher level fitness in the postpartum period. And while it may seem slow to some people, slow is fast.