3 Exercises Your Clients Should Do Immediately Postpartum

By Jessie Mundell

If you’re working with a new mom, you probably know how important it is for her to take some time after welcoming her baby into the world to focus on loving, bonding, and healing. Getting back to her pre-baby workouts — or a new routine altogether — could take some time, and that's more than OK. In fact, for some women, exercise is the furthest thing from their mind in the weeks and months post-delivery.

However, there are some women who are eager to return to movement soon after delivery, and if you have a client like that, there are some gentle movements and exercises you can encourage her to do immediately postpartum to help her body heal well. They’re what I call the 4R Post-Pregnancy Protocol and prescribe to all my postpartum clients.

What Are the 4 Rs?

  • Rest
  • Recover
  • Rehab
  • Retrain

These are all important steps to help a new mom feel more comfortable in her body, allowing her body to truly heal itself from the inside out, and getting back to the gym in a strong, safe manner in due time. In this article, I’ll be focusing on the rehab portion of this series.

Helping your client regain function of her body is really where your focus should be with your client in the early days post pregnancy, or she can fall into the tricky territory of struggling with core and pelvic floor issues for much longer than necessary.

As soon as she feels ready, have your client start with Exercises 1 and 2. Some women may feel comfortable doing them just a few days postpartum, whereas other women might want to wait a couple of weeks. If these exercises feel good, your client can add Exercise 3 about 10 days or two weeks after she starts Exercises 1 and 2.

Exercise #1 — Core & Floor Connection Breath

The core and floor connection breath will help your client regain tone throughout her entire core. When I’m talking about the core in a postpartum body, I’m talking about the diaphragm, the abdominals, the muscles that support the spine, the pelvic floor muscles, and the glutes.

Doing a million crunches or contractions of the pelvic floor (e.g. kegels) will not help train the whole core. However, practicing the connection breath, your client will learn how to gain and release tension in the abdominals and pelvic floor. Her inhale breath will help to release tension, and her exhale breath will help to gain tension in those muscles and connective tissues.

Coaching Cues

  • As she inhales, your client should feel like her ribcage, belly and the base of her pelvis (around the vagina and anus) are gently filling up with air.
  • As she exhales, she should breathe the air “out” of her ribcage, belly, and base of her pelvis.
  • Perform two sets of 10 breaths daily. She can do the breaths in any position: sitting, side lying, standing, or lying supine. Of these four position, it should feel easiest in the lying or side-lying position. Sitting will be slightly more challenging, and standing will be the most difficult of the four positions.

Exercise #2 — Half-Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch with Overhead Reach

This stretch will help your client improve body stability, as the position itself is a bit unstable. She’ll really need to squeeze her glutes to feel stable over the back leg.

It’s a nice opening side stretch for the diaphragm and the ribcage which can become cramped and stiff with the daily positions and movements involved in caring for a newborn!

Coaching Cues

  • Instruct your client to get into a short lunge stance on the floor, with both knees at a 90-degree angle, placing her weight evenly on both legs, or more so slightly on her back leg.
  • Squeeze the back leg’s glutes tightly, so she feels a stretch along the front, through the hip flexors and the quadriceps
  • Whichever knee is on the floor, reach that arm up in the air. Stretch the fingertips up towards the ceiling, and then take a gentle side stretch over the front leg side. She will feel a nice openness through the side of the ribcage.
  • Perform two sets of six to eight reps each side daily.

Exercise #3 — Squat

Squatting helps your client maintain good mobility and movement through her pelvis.

She will regain core stability through the whole core by controlling the movement as she lowers into the squat and stands back up from the bottom with power. When she uses the breath to inhale on the way down and exhale on the way up, the abdominals and pelvic floor stretch and then contraction.

Coaching Cues

  • Stand tall and inhale in preparation to sit back, into the hips.
  • Cue your client to squat “between” her legs. Her feet should be slightly turned out, and her knees will track outward slightly, following the line of the feet.
  • Squeeze the glutes and quadriceps to stand up, exhaling while returning to the standing position.
  • Perform two sets of 10 squats daily.

Because these exercises are no more strenuous that activities of daily living, and because they can help women heal, I urge all new moms to start doing these three simple exercises from the Rehab part of my 4R Post-Pregnancy Protocol as long as they feel up for it and feel good doing it.

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About the author:  Jessie Mundell

Jessie Mundell is a certified kinesiologist and a Precision Nutrition Level 1 coach, as well as an author and mother. She specializes in pre- and postnatal exercise and corrective exercise. Learn more about Jessie on her website and connect with her on Twitter.

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