One of the most intense, hardcore, and majestic athletic events that half of us humans can ever participate in is pregnancy and childbirth. My wife Alice has been the builder of our three kids, and regardless of the preparation that you’ve done in the nine months leading up to the big event, you can never plan exactly for how game day is going to go.
Once that little bundle has entered your home and has turned your life upside down, most end up looking for some kind of normalcy. I’m here to suggest a few things a new mom can do to get moving once again after the big day, and the best workouts for new moms that are gentle yet effective.
But I’m going to start with a couple caveats right off the bat.
Before You Exercise
The first thing you need to do is check in with your OB before starting in on any kind of workout program, especially if you’ve been building a kid for the better part of the last year.
The second is that I KNOW that I’m a guy giving workout advice to new moms. This could get a little tricky. This post, however, will be more about making a few suggestions about what I’ve found working with my own new mom clients. I’m not going to claim to be the end-all expert on pregnancy because my lack of a uterus puts me at a major disadvantage before I begin. I must say, however, that I am as fascinated and awed by this process that we all originated from, as all modern men should be.
Body Changes During and After Pregnancy
So, with those two caveats out of the way, let’s mention a few of the body changes that happen during pregnancy, and how you may need to adjust your approach to movement after giving birth.
Of the many, many changes a woman’s body goes through while building a baby, one of the most interesting and important from a movement point of view is a hormone called “relaxin.” Relaxin does pretty much exactly what it sounds like: it relaxes. Among other things, it quite literally relaxes all the space in the pelvis so that passing that baby’s head through is “easier” on the mom.
While this is sweet, sweet news for a woman’s birth canal, this shifting of the supporting structure of the pelvis will change the way a woman’s body moves. This is often shows up as the “duck walk” that is seen in the later stages of pregnancy. This loosy goosy feeling that pregnancy brings on should be taken into consideration. Special care and awareness, as well as adequate healing time, are the best ways to ensure that moving forward as a new mom also includes health and strong return to “normal” life (a little more chaotic kind of normal, for sure).
There is one movement that should be relatively accessible to most moms a week or two after the birth of the baby, and that’s walking. Millenia ago, our ancestors no doubt were on the move, even with births happening, and getting back up and walking with the baby was not only expected, but often necessary, to keep the tribe intact.
Strapping a baby on the body in some kind of wrap or even simply carrying a new little one for a stroll outside can feel wonderful. That sweet new stroller is just the thing to bust out and give a go in these types of moments. Get it out and get moving!
If you are fortunate enough to live in a place with the great outdoors nearby, take advantage of this time, and get out there in a relaxed way! Your new little one will love feeling the air. There are even some cultures who pride themselves in having their baby nap outside, even in the winter! The fresh air does the little one good and a walk outside will have benefits for the mom both physically and mentally.
There’s even reason to believe that a daily walk can add quality years to your life! (1) It’s no surprise to see many new moms out and about after things have settled with the arrival of a new one. Gentle walking is a great way to get back moving again, and it should be one of the first stops on the journey back to fitness.
In addition to walking, I’m going to go through a couple of static movements that I think are workable for new moms to get the muscles and body active again. A new mom should always be listening to her body and being smart about restarting her journey to her fitness. It may be slow at times, but it’s worth it!
Much of what we have to recommend has to do with holding positions in an isometric way. Things like the plank and wall sit are great ways to start recruiting your body to get back online. Actual full range of movement using things like squats are a great thing to look forward to, realizing that our old friend relaxin has, no doubt, changed the way a new mom will move for the rest of her life.
Tip: Having a stopwatch (or a stopwatch app on your phone) will be helpful to track progress for both the plank and wall sit.
An important note about the plank: if you’ve had diastasis recti (where the abs separate during pregnancy), the plank is NOT recommended. Planks will actually further separate abs or prevent them from healing. If you aren’t sure if you’ve had diastasis issues, you can ask your OB to refer you to a physical therapist for evaluation.
The plank is an easy movement to incorporate into your new days as a mom. More than likely, a new mom is going to spend quite a bit of time gazing down at that new little life while they sleep, coo, or poo. Any time that little bundle is lying on their back is an opportunity to bring your body back online! While that little kiddo is on the ground, a mom can be planking above them. Having a baby smile back up at you is a great way to maintain motivation.
Here’s how to make the plank the best it can be:
- The plank is traditionally done on the elbows, but we’ll be focused on maintaining the movement on the hands, with arms extended. Of course, you may choose either one, as they will both challenge you!
- Get on your hands and knees, with your belly facing the floor and your back the ceiling, and place your hands directly underneath your shoulders in a crawling position. In a perfect world, your hands would be on the ground, palm down, with fingers splayed to provide for more area to brace against the ground. From here, simply shift from that crawling position of your knees up so that just your toes are touching the ground. It’s exactly as if you are in the top position of the push-up.
- If you are using elbows instead, they should also be directly underneath the shoulders, with forearms braced against the ground so not all the pressure of the body is placed directly on the elbows.
- Once in this top position, you’ll want to make sure that your torso is organized in the right way. The best way to make this happen is to squeeze your butt. For most of us, this will also cue the back and abs to be tighter as well. It’s actually very hard to have an overly swayed back while the glutes are tightened. What we’re hoping to do is to have you in a position where your skeleton is providing the structure, while your muscles take the weight and the work. If your back is too swayed, then it’s your bones (specifically your lower back) that is taking the weight of your body, and actually trying to do the work that your muscles could and should be doing. You will know this right away, since you’ll feel pressure and possibly even pain in the lower back. If this occurs for you, try to be more conscious about your lower back, and getting that glute to come in line and squeeze the butt.
- Once you’ve got your hands or elbows placed, your shoulders cranked up, and your whole body braced, you’re ready to just…stay there! The challenge of the plank is that you can hold it for as long as you want. For most of us, holding it for two full minutes should be attainable within a month or two. If you’ve been away from your fitness for some time, though, don’t be surprised if you can only hold it for a few seconds! It’s okay! There’s no super magic to holding the plank for longer and longer, you just have to do it! And you have an opportunity to play with your baby as you do it. With your baby under you, you’ll be sure not to fall!
Three to four attempts at this throughout the day will find you getting stronger in no time!
The Wall Sit
You may remember the wall sit from those torturous junior high gym classes. We’re going to revisit that wonderous movement now! The greatest thing about this movement is that the only equipment it requires is a wall.
Start by standing with your back leaning on a wall. Keeping your back flat against the wall, slide down until your lap is flat, or parallel to the ground. Keeping your back flat against the wall, remain static in this position for as long as possible. Note your time when you finally have to stand up, so next time you can try to go a little bit longer!
A few pointers to try to make this a little less boring and active:
- First, try shifting your strength from one leg to the other as you sit against the wall. This will allow one leg to take a bit of a break while the other is working.
- Second, really try to feel where the pressure is in each foot. Often we’ll find that we can play pressing more through the heel, or the whole foot, instead of trying to simply driving our toes into the floor. Many times, without realizing it, you’ll be way up into your toes for this movement, and neglecting all the traction you could be getting by trying to drive your entire foot into the ground.
- Third, try to keep your entire back against the wall. It’s very easy to start to lean forward, so that just your lower back and tailbone are against the wall, but try not to do this!
There are two primary ways to try to make this movement easier. The first is to brace the hands against the legs. This is actually quite natural and may happen automatically when you start to feel the burn in your legs. The other is to simply not go as “deep” into the position. Instead of having your upper legs be parallel to the ground, just sink down to about forty-five degrees or so and hold yourself there. Of course, you should always be striving to go a bit deeper, but it’s better to start and work towards something than to not start or try at all!
Three to four sets of this movement will get your legs active again!
Another movement that combines both a static hold plus a little range of motion is the glute bridge. This movement, as you can tell from it’s name, will activate the biggest muscle in your body, the glutes. In doing so, it will provide support to your pelvis, where much of the shifting of a mom’s new body has occurred, as well as the lower back. So it’s not just about being perky, it’s about helping you move, too!
While being a bit of a “Jane Fonda” style movement (it always reminds me of those great workout videos from back in the 80’s!), this glute bridge provides the best opportunity for glute activation.
- You’ll start lying on your back. Raising your knees to the sky, draw your feet up until they are six to eight inches away from your butt. They should maintain a width about the same as your shoulders, not too narrow, but not too wide as well.
- From this position, notice that there is a little gap in between the lower back and the floor, you may even be able to slide your hands under your lower back and the ground. For better activation of the glute, try to shift your hips a bit and flatten out the lower back. You can also think of this, on the front side, as bringing the front of your pelvis and the front of your ribcage closer together.
- With your lower back now firmly planted, drive your feet into the ground, and your hips as high as they will go up towards the sky. As you approach the top position of this movement, you’ll be at a “downhill” angle; all that will be touching the ground is your feet and your upper back near your neck. Once you’ve reached this top position, squeeze your glutes hard before descending back down to where your butt once again makes contact with the ground.
Most of us naturally let our arms fall to the side for this movement. As you get stronger in this movement, you may find a welcome challenge by putting a little weight (like a back pack) on the front of your pelvis as you go through the movement. Yes, this movement can look odd if someone walks in on you in the middle of it. If you are lucky enough to have this happen, maintaining a determined stare at the other person will be sure to make it as awkward for them as possible.
Performing three to four sets of 10-20 reps should have you feeling results.
These are only a few suggestions of ways to get you back moving after starting, or continuing, your journey as a mom. It is important to rest after giving birth. A woman’s body goes through major, major changes during those hours or days.
But when the timing is right, gently getting back into your body can feel wonderfully empowering. Listening to your body about when to start moving and doing light exercise after the birth of a child is paramount to making sure that you move forward in the healthiest way possible.
Here’s to entering the fit mom club!