Postnatal Exercise Tips
You are a mum! And that means your life has changed in many ways. But it also means your body has too.
The first step of your postnatal exercise regime is to accept that you have to take things slowly and perform mainly slow and controlled exercises. This can sometimes prove hard for the regular gym bunny, but if you don’t adhere to postnatal exercise recommendations, you may be putting your body at risk for further stresses and strains, not to mention long term injury. So, slow and steady wins the race!
Where to start
Well, the obvious place to start is to book on to a Mum and Baby Circuits course or attend Pramtastic Bootcamps, to let the Chiefs guide you along the right track for your postnatal stage. But if you’re keen to get going at home, or just want to sneak in a few wee extra exercises between classes, then read below to learn about the three main areas to focus on once you become a yummy mummy. You can start performing the few key exercises below as soon as you have had clearance from your doctor to resume exercising. Enjoy!
Your core is made up of deep internal muscles within the abdominal cavity. Think of it as your internal corset. It supports the spine and draws in your tummy and waist, creating a flat abdominal area. The visible outer muscles make up your ‘6-pack’ (trust me, they’re there somewhere!), which is trained through exercises such as crunches. It is for this reason that you may be surprised, (and/or relieved) that performing hundreds of crunches is not what’s required for new mothers to regain a strong and flattened stomach.
The Transversus muscle within your core is the key muscle to target and can be strengthened by performing regular exercises such Leg Slides.
- Lie on your back on a firm but comfortable surface, with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor about hip distance apart
- Let your arms relax down by your side
- Slowly draw the belly button in towards your spine, without holding your breath, pushing your back into the floor, tensing any other muscles or moving your pelvis (this can be hard, so just keep practising to perfect this movement before moving on).
- From here, slowly slide one foot along the floor away from your body, straightening your leg.
- Take this slide out as far as possible, just before your back starts to arch or dip to compensate for that leg movement. You do not want any movement in the pelvis, as this means your core has disengaged and your body is moving to support the leg movement, instead of your core muscles.
- Therefore, stop at this point and slowly return your leg to the starting position, again while keeping the pelvis and back steady and strong.
- Repeat on the other leg. Practice this movement over time, so you can achieve around ten leg slides at a time.
Once your core has regained a baseline strength, there are many progressions for this exercise, so ask your Chief to guide you through the appropriate ones for you.
It is vital that before starting any abdominal work such as sit ups or oblique crunches (sides of your waist), you must have a ‘diastasis recti’ (or a ‘rec check’ for short) done by a trained professional (these are performed during the Back in Action course for all new mums). Many gyms and personal trainers are not qualified or experienced and may therefore be giving you, albeit often unwillingly, inaccurate and unsafe abdominal exercise advice after giving birth, so it’s worth checking out.
Pregnancy can cause a separation of your rectus abdominus (your 6-pack) which needs to be addressed as soon as possible. This separation causes weakness and instability in the abdominal region as well as negatively affecting overall posture. It can result in back ache and further muscular and joint problems. Any separation identified in your ‘rec check’ needs to be rectified with a range of specific core and supported stomach exercises, before progressing on to advanced abdominal work. Performing regular abdominal exercises with diastasis can make the separation worse, as well as preventing you from achieving a flat stomach – regardless of how many crunches you do! Once diastasis has been corrected, you may start introducing abdominal work, but again, ensure this is slow and steady, because those abs are still weakened and stretched from growing your baby!
You may feel like you have lost your pre-pregnancy strength and muscle tone. No doubt you’ll want this back as soon as possible to cope with carrying a growing baby around every day, not to mention all the paraphernalia that comes with it! Building muscle fibres is great for not only increasing strength, but it can also help to reduce your body fat content. And the extra kick of endorphins, after the twelfth sleepless night, never goes a miss either! However, caution must be taken with the intensity of exercise you engage in, due to high levels of relaxin hormones still being present in your body, which can lead to injury from overstretching. Your skeleton muscle tone and support may also be out of balance due to the strains of pregnancy and motherhood, therefore you must first establish any imbalances to ensure the exercises you are performing are not just enhancing the problem!
Pregnancy can cause major muscle imbalances throughout the body. The main imbalance that the large majority of postnatal women face is that of kyphosis. You may already know if you have a kyphotic posture if you feel like the Hunchback of Notre Dame! But fear not, because this can be rectified with specific exercises and stretching techniques, like those performed during Back in Action and Pramtastic Bootcamp.
A kyphotic posture can be debilitating in the short and long term, as it can cause serious back and neck pain, as well as shoulder and pelvic problems, that can stay with you for life. Therefore it is essential that it’s addressed at the earliest opportunity, and this is why each mum is assessed during the Back in Action course. Regardless of the level of ‘hunching’ that may or may not be present, a simple exercises that you can do at home can help towards realigning your spine, posture and muscle imbalance.
- Lie face down on a firm but comfortable surface.
- Place your arms by your side and keep your feet on the floor throughout.
- Maintaining neutral spine by looking at the floor, ensuring your neck isn’t in a flexed position.
- Slowly contract your core by drawing in your belly button towards your spine, without hollowing your back.
- Slowly raise your head, shoulders, arms and chest off the floor.
- Rotate your arms outwards so the palms of your hands are facing each other and your thumbs are pointing upwards.
- Keep your shoulder down away from the ears and feel that gentle squeeze between the shoulder blades.
- Hold this position for a second and then slowly return to the start position and repeat as many times as possible, or to set of 10 repititions at a time, resting briefly in between.
So, although you may be comfortable performing squats to build your leg muscles (to help with the tenth go at remembering what you went upstairs for!), and bicep curling those tins of beans (to give you the strength for 20 cot lifts a night), you must remember that your body does not need to just be performing regular gym and aerobics class exercises that you may have done prior to being pregnant. Your body is in a postnatal state, and you need specific and specialised postnatal exercises. You’ve grown, nurtured and birthed your beautiful son or daughter. Your body did it’s job well. So, do you not owe it to your body for you to take care of it now? Why not reward it by restoring it to it’s optimum strength? After all, it’s the only one you’ll get!
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