Your body — and your life — go through some pretty exciting changes between the end of pregnancy to early postpartum. Big things are happening, and your exercise routine will reflect all of that.
If you're pregnant, you may not be quite to this point in your pregnancy yet and are curious about how you will transition your training from late pregnancy to early postpartum when the time comes. Lucky for you, I recently went through that transition myself. Today I'm sharing an example of what my own late pregnancy and early postpartum workouts looked like, and why I planned them to be a specific way.
I worked out throughout my full pregnancy. I lifted weights and walked until the end — 42 weeks! — strength training three days per week and walking most days of the week. I felt really comfortable right up to the end my pregnancy, and believe that keeping active helped a lot with that.
For the last three or four weeks of pregnancy I cut my walking time quite a bit to about 20 minutes at a time, down from 30 to 45+ minutes. I did this because even though I felt good while walking during those final weeks, after my walks I would end up with pain in the front of my pelvis, my pubic symphysis, and would feel quite stiff through the pelvis the next day.
I love strength training for pregnancy because you can make it a comfortable and a viable way to stay active throughout the whole pregnancy. You can modify anything and everything and make exercises work for any body. Through my last five weeks of prenatal workouts, I did very little loading in terms of weight (dumbbells, kettlebells, etc.). I focused more on bodyweight and resistance band exercises. I kept my reps higher to reflect the lighter loads, about 15 to 20 reps.
All my workouts were full-body sessions. I worked on two different workouts for the last five weeks of pregnancy and kept thinking that every workout could be my last workout while pregnant… but as it turns out, we hung in for a while after that 37-week/full-term mark!
Note: You can learn more about working out during your third trimester here.
I started doing postpartum “activity” two weeks after the arrival of my daughter. I did a daily 10-minute circuit of very gentle stretching, core, glute, and pelvic floor exercises. It felt so good to start moving a little bit again! I was getting stiff and sore from doing a lot of sitting and very little movement. The sitting and the resting were necessary, of course, but it also felt good to just move my body.
The goal at this point is to retrain the connection between the pelvic floor and deep core musculature, to get the glutes working, to work on some mobility through the chest, and to help your body remember what it feels like to move without being pregnant!
Other than this and taking care of my newborn, I didn’t do any additional activity until four weeks postpartum. At four weeks, I started rehab-based workouts. They resembled my workouts from the end of pregnancy but were less intense.
It’s important to keep reminding yourself in the early postpartum weeks and months that your body is recovering from pregnancy, labor, and birth.
Plus you’re likely working on very little sleep. To add more stress from exercise into your life at this time just isn’t productive. It’s effective to move our bodies during this stage, just gently!
I started going for walks again at five weeks postpartum, after getting the "all-clear" from my pelvic floor physiotherapist, who assessed my diastasis recti. (Watch this video to learn how to assess your own diastasis recti.) It was healing well at this point. My doc also checked for any pelvic organ prolapse (none here!). I started with 15-minute walks and gradually increased to 30 to 35 minutes. Until this point, and afterward too, I really tried to stay off my feet as much as possible!
My strength training workouts for the first eight weeks were gentle. Again, the point was to retrain my body. I was working at 50 to 60 percent of my max effort. Once I hit the 12-week postpartum point, I felt more confident in my core and pelvic floor to start lifting a bit more and loading exercises a little heavier (still cautiously, though).
I progressed by doing two workouts per week, instead of the three I was doing during pregnancy. I’ll add a third workout back in eventually, but my body doesn’t need a ton of “exercise” to progress at this point. I’m really trying to stick to my “minimum effective dose” of exercise during early postpartum.
My early postpartum journey doesn’t just end at three months postpartum, though! There’s still recovery and rehab to be done before I’m once again doing heavy deadlifts or squatting my bodyweight. And, that’s OK! I’m in no rush.
I want to be able to lift and sprint and move injury-free for a long, long time. This is the work I need to do in order to safely do those things. And, to be honest, the different focus that comes with end of pregnancy and early postpartum workouts is really nice. It’s naturally less about the weight you’re lifting and more about appreciating your body’s ability to be strong in so many other capacities.
85% of women will have a baby at some point in their life. If you work with women, you work with pre- and postnatal women.
Whether your clients are currently pregnant or have already had their baby, they’ll have questions about everything — how to exercise safely in each trimester, which foods they should and shouldn’t eat, how to exercise the right way post-pregnancy.
And they’ll look to you for the answers.
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