No matter what kind of birth you had, assisted vaginal, unassisted vaginal, or c-section, your body has been through a lot. Not to mention the 9 months it has been expanding, changing, growing, and carrying a human. When you are cleared to exercise again, the way you train may also change.
As I write this, I am 6 weeks postpartum and just did my first workout yesterday (and let me tell you, I am bouncing my son on a yoga ball as I write this and my legs are burning!). I felt more than ready. I have a pre and postnatal training certification. I had done my research and planning. But even then I was surprised by the physical and mental hurdles I encountered. Now some of these I knew but did not know the extent to which they would hinder me and others completely blindsided me. Here are just a few of the lessons I had to learn or remember in my first week back in the gym.
Accepting This is a New You, Boo.
A LOT changes when you have a baby. Your time is not your own, your body is not what you are used to, you are not sleeping (like at all), your hormones are whack, and that’s just a start. For many women, there are birth traumas they are recovering from, postpartum mood disorders, and whatever issues your little one brings along with them. With that said, it is helpful to have realistic expectations for what working out might look like.
You might not get a full hour in the gym. You might be modifying your sets and reps. You might be lifting a fourth of the weight you were before. You might be starting with physical therapy rather than with fitness classes. You might only get in 2 workouts a week right off the bat. It can be difficult to let that be “good enough” when it is not what you are used to.
The body you are used to did not grow and birth a human like this new body did. This is a new you, so start with new goals. Start with the end in mind then add stair step goals. For example, maybe you were able to do 50 push ups pre-baby, and now you can only do 5. Start with the goal of doing 10, then 20, then 30. This helps set those realistic expectations and gives you milestones to celebrate along the way.
Remember How Much Your Core Matters
Over the past nine months, your core has been home to a human. The stretching of your abdomen as your baby grows causes a separation of the core at the linea alba called rectus diastasis. This can lead to poor core strength and poor mind muscle connection. Your core is involved in everything you do, from walking upright, to squatting without breaking your back, to obviously, sitting up. If your core has been weakened (which odds are it has to some degree) performing basic movements can be more difficult. Furthermore, if not taken into consideration, performing exercises that demand core support can easily lead to injuries.
To avoid injury, start with rebuilding your core strength. Begin with modified movements and increase their intensity as you get stronger. My favorites are birddogs, deadbugs, and rolling pelvic bridges. These are all easy to decrease in intensity and build up as you get stronger. They also require some mind muscle connection and coordination to help you rebuild that aspect as well.
Momming is Physical
Being a mom is way more physically demanding than I anticipated. Your back is wrecked from breastfeeding. Your shoulders and arms are exhausted from holding your baby. When starting to train again, you may want to modify slightly, as being sore and fatigued makes caring for your baby even harder. On day one I went too hard and could barely sleep because my hamstrings were so sore. I have found sticking to an upper/lower body split, like our Body Blueprint, rather than a body part specific split, has helped me avoid being too sore or fatigued in any one area. I also decrease sets on arm and shoulder exercises for now as I regain strength. Trust me, I am with you. I want to get back to pre-pregnancy intensity yesterday. However, it is not worth making day to day life even harder than it already is.
If you are breastfeeding, you have two new friends to consider 24/7: your boobs. Not only are your boobs probably bigger and in need of a little more support, but they are changing by the minute based on your milk supply. Also, did you know that exercise lactation is a thing? Yeah, neither did I until I was about 5 minutes from my house on a run with two lovely wet spots on my shirt. Classy. Learn from my mistakes – feed or pump before you train and wear breast pads. It is also helpful to invest in some good front zip bras for support and easy breastfeeding. This will all help decrease the pain from swollen, bouncing boobs, and the amount of leaking.
It’s Okay To Do This
I’ve heard my clients talk about mom guilt a lot. I did not fully understand the feeling until now. I know how hard it can be to leave your baby in someone else’s care to go do something for yourself or to do anything for that matter. Even asking my husband or mom to watch him so I could shower or fold laundry felt wrong. I’m his mom, I’m supposed to be doing this.
I needed to remind myself what I would tell my clients:
“Taking time to make sure you are happy and healthy will only benefit your baby/family.”
I know it is easier said than done and sometimes that time just does not exist. However, start finding the time, start asking for help, and start letting yourself put time and effort into you. I promise everyone around you will be better for it.