We’ve worked with hundreds of women over the past decade, and time and time again, the challenges women face when starting to exercise are always the same. But you can save yourself the time and frustration of having to ‘start from scratch’! We’ve put together a list of the most common mistakes women make when getting back to exercise in postpartum, so you can avoid them.
1 – Waiting too long to start – This is a HUGE issue. Women often wait until the 6-week all-clear appointment with their OB or midwife to start doing any movement at all. Of course you should heed your healthcare provider’s protocol, HOWEVER, you can also do simple muscle engagement exercises starting as soon as you give birth – even in your hospital bed! It takes only one week for muscles to lose tone, and women lose so much strength in those first 6 weeks while they are recovering from childbirth and caring for the baby. Waiting 6 weeks to start moving at all is doing a great disservice to women everywhere. Start sooner, but also watch out for:
2 – Starting too fast – We hear it all the time. We know you’re ready to start working out postpartum and immediately want to start running – it will give you the biggest bang for your buck, right?! But childbirth is traumatic and should be treated like an injury that warrants a period of recovery. The body needs time to heal and repair before we throw ourselves into a challenging, single-leg dynamic exercise like running. Ultimately, jumping too quickly into exercise can set you up for injury if your core and pelvic floor are not properly conditioned, which will set you back from reaching your long-term goals.
3 – Doing the wrong exercises – The traditional ‘core exercises’ that we normally think of to strengthen the core can actually make a postpartum woman’s core weaker. These exercises can also increase your Diastasis Recti, or abdominal separation. Exercises like crunches, bicycles, twists, leg lowers and even planks can cause more harm than good if done without the proper foundation in place.
4 – Doing exercises with bad form – The postnatal body is a changed body. You have vastly different posture during pregnancy because of added weight and the changing center of gravity. Often the same poor posture is carried over into postpartum, and exacerbated by holding positions that reinforce bad posture while nursing, holding the baby, or leaning over the changing table. Then, you go to exercise with this poor posture and your exercise form suffers as well (as do your results!).
So then, how do you deal with these mistakes?? 1 – You can start as soon as you deliver your baby You can start this early postpartum core workout even in the hospital, within hours of giving birth. In this breath, you incorporate the pelvic floor, the diaphragm and the abdominal muscles, beginning to wake up the connection to those muscles which were over-stretched and under-recruited during pregnancy.
2 – Take the time and build your foundation – Knowing that postpartum recovery takes time is one of the biggest hurdles you might face. Mentally preparing yourself for several weeks – or possibly months – of abdominal and pelvic floor repair work can keep you focused. Taking the time to ensure the pelvic floor and abdominal muscles are working properly, and THEN adding intensity to that foundation will help you see vastly better results and reach her long term goals.
3 – Do the right exercises – Pelvic floor work in coordination with abdominal work is essential – the muscles are connected! The best core exercises postpartum incorporate the breath and work to stabilize the deep corset muscles, or transverse abdominals, to protect the spine. Some examples: abdominal canister breaths, and once the core is strong enough – the ‘walker’ exercise, leg extensions with the core engaged, and movement under abdominal bracing. Postnatal core work should also include stretching in the upper back and legs / glutes. When the core is weak and shoulders and hips are tight, the body will find movement in the weak spots, which oftentimes, is the core. If the core is not strong enough to properly brace the spine, you could run into a lot of issues like back pain, slipped disks and herniations, which would majorly sideline your efforts.
Take your time, build a strong foundation, and you will get there!!
Need some help figuring out where to start? Check out the pelvic floor & core quiz to assess your baseline here.