What exercises should a postnatal fitness programme include?

mumbabyexerciseSo you just had your 6-8 weeks postnatal check up with your GP, who gave you the green light to exercise. Or you had a C-section and now that you are 12 weeks postnatal, you want to get back into a training routine. You have certain fitness goals, e.g. lose baby weight, improve your abs, work on your posture, but what exercises are safe and effective, and what exercises should be avoided? As a trainer specialized in pre and postnatal fitness, I highly recommend a programme that is specficially designed for new mums. A good postnatal programme should contain the following components:

A good warm up:

This is essential in all training programmes, to warm up the muscles, joints, and slowing increasing the heart rate. This is especially important for postnatal women as body is still recovering, and a slightly longer warm up period is required.

Strength training:

Lower body strength training – glutes and legs

The glutes (butt muscles) are often weakened during pregnancy, as the pelvis tips forwards to allow the baby bump to expand. By strengthening the glutes, the pelvis becomes more stable. This in turn means butt muscles become more toned, pregnancy posture fixed, and the strength makes everyday tasks easier.

Exercises for the legs and glute are wonderful. Not only these muscles become more toned and change the shape of your legs and bum, they are also large muscle groups which burn a lot of calories! And big calorie burn means fat loss – which happens in your entire body. My favourite lower body exercises are the squats and lunges.

Upper body strength training – shoulders, chest, back and arms

Strengthening the upper body is essential for any new mum. During pregnancy and breastfeeding, the bump of the baby and the weight of the breasts shift the centre of gravity forwards, causing the shoulders round slightly. Working on the shoulders and chest will help correct the new mum posture, allowing you to tone your shoulders and chest and stand up tall.

Strong upper back and arms are just as important. Mums use a lot of their upper body to carry out every day tasks: bending down and lifting the baby / toddler, pushing the pram, feeding the baby, changing nappies, bending down again to clean and tidy up the room, stretch up high to reach things in the cupboard, and sometimes holding a toddler in one hand while carring shopping in the other. Having good upper body strength will certainly make these tasks more effortless.

Abs and core:

The abdominals weaken during pregnancy due to the expanding baby bump, and sometimes the superficial six-pack muscle separate during pregnancy in a condition known as diastasis recti. Many new mums are very keen to flatten their tummy, and do hundreds of sit-ups at home in order to achieve that. If you are doing this, please stop right now, as sit-ups cause more harm than good for your abs. Any abdominal crunches, side-bends or twisting movement should also be avoided in postnatal fitness. New mums should focus on reconnecting with their core, and strengthen the deep abdominal muscles. For mums that suffer from diastasis recti, the priority is to promote healing of the abdominals.  I will share with you my favourite abs and core exercises for new mums in a future post.

Cardio:

Cardio is a good way to exercise the lungs and heart. It is also a great way to burn calories. Walking is a good choice as it is gentle and practical at the same time – you can get some walking done while pushing your baby in the pram.  Sometimes you may want to do a bit more, something more intense. It might take a couple of months to get back into high intensity interval training. But what you can do is listen to your body, and bring the intensity up slowly and gradually. If your pelvic floor feels a bit weak, then choose exercises that are low-impact and stay away from exercise that requires jumping, running, bouncing movements.

Stretching:

Any tight muscles should be gently stretched. The hormone relaxin circulates in the body system for a few months after baby is born. Relaxin makes your joints loose. Overstretching loose joints increases the pressure on the ligaments, and this can cause injury. Therefore new mums need to take care not to overstretch their joints.

Special considerations:

If you suffer from lower back pain, abdominal separation, weak pelvic floor, or are recovering from C-section, there are special considerations in the above exercises. I will explain more about it in my future blog posts.

As I always say, postnatal fitness is very individual, just like pregnancy. One-to-one personal training with a trainer specialised in pre/postnatal fitness offers the greatest benefits as the programme is personalized. Small group training session with mums of similar fitness levels / background and fitness goals are also the way to go.

I hope you find this article useful. If you have any questions about any of the content, do get in touch.

Winnie

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