In this article, KC Fitness introduces a 10-week fitness plan to help new mums achieve their fitness goals.
The plan starts from the moment you have been given the go-ahead by your medical practitioner to start exercising. A medical appointment is usually scheduled six weeks after delivery to check for scarring and the healing process. The importance of this appointment should not be overlooked, particularly if you are looking to take up exercising again.
The first six to 12 weeks postpartum
The first six to 12 weeks postpartum should be focused on rest and recovery. Sports physiotherapist and movement specialist, Gibwa Cole at the Drummond Clinic says that when considering a return to fitness after pregnancy and childbirth, it should be treated in the same way as coming back from an injury, as the body has been through a trauma. “There is a process for returning to physical activity, and this should not be rushed,” she warns.
Gibwa explains that, as you don’t have the core stability to support your body, due to the muscles being stretched and torn during pregnancy and childbirth, the risks of not doing the preparatory exercises before attempting any physical activity can cause injury, muscle straining, ligament spraining, back pain and even prolapse.
Katharine Clark, a mobile personal trainer specialising in postnatal exercise, very often meets women who are eager to fall straight back into their running and exercise regime after childbirth. Katharine encourages women to go out for gentle walks in the first few weeks, which can do wonders for the mental health.
“It can take up to a year for women to go back to their former running pace but everyone is different. Some people come back stronger and some have had such a traumatic birth that recovery can take longer,” explains Katharine.
The 10-week postpartum exercise plan
Weeks 1 & 2: Engaging with your pelvic floor muscles
The pelvic floor muscles are located between your legs and run from your pubic bone at the front, to the base of your spine at the back. They hold your pelvic organs (uterus, vagina, bowel and bladder) in place.
Bricky is a personal trainer at Mom in Balance, an outdoor workout company specialising in pregnancy and postpartum exercise. She says: “Your first week of exercise should focus on engaging with, and becoming aware of the pelvic floor muscles”.
“While seated, lift your pelvic floor from the surface by slowly contracting the muscles around your urethra, vagina and anus (as if you were holding your pee). Hold this contraction for a few seconds and release the muscles. Repeat these exercises three to five times a day”.
Weeks 3 & 4: Strengthening your pelvic floor muscles
In her exercise programme, Bricky uses the three-phase pelvic floor lift series :
“While seated, contract your pelvic floor muscles in three floor phases, contracting them for 2 seconds at each floor phase and pulling them up as much as possible in the third phase. Relax for 5 seconds and repeat the exercises”.
Weeks 5 & 6: Lower back muscle and posture readjustment
Bricky recommends carrying out regular posture checks as you go about your day:
“Imagine someone pulling your hair to the ceiling and lifting a large belt around your belly up, and pulling it back in”.
Katharine swears by deadbug exercises, as they are not only good for the lower back muscles but they work on all the core areas:
“Lie with your back flat on the floor and hands above your head in the air. The knees are bent and feet are flat on the floor. Start extending your right leg out whilst you lower your left arm down to the ground behind your head. Rest your ankle on the floor when you’ve extended your leg”.
Weeks 6 & 7: Lower body and core strengthening
Start incorporating diagonal limb stretches at this stage, also known as ‘superman exercises’: kneel on all fours so you are looking at the floor. Straighten the right arm and the left leg and alternate with the left arm and the left leg, ensuring that you are keeping the body still so as to engage the core.
Katharine adds straight leg deadlifts with a resistance band to the exercise series, as they are not only good for the glutes and hamstrings but effective for general core strength:
“Stand with your legs straight and your feet shoulder width apart on the middle part of a band. Have the ends in each hand. Hinge forward at the hip pushing your bum out, chest up and looking forward. Wrap the band around your hands a few times to increase the resistance and then raise up into a standing position pulling the band up with you. When you’re standing, you would have pulled the band to a tight tension with your hands either side of your thighs. Take a deep breath in as you hinge forward and exhale as you come up”.
Weeks 7 & 8 : Deepening core strengthening
Take the deadbug exercises a step further by hovering your foot above the ground when you’ve extended your leg and, when you start to feel stronger, Katharine suggests to add weights to your hands. Wall press ups and glute bridge exercises are additional exercises to incorporate at this stage.
Weeks 8 & 9 : Power walking
Two or three power walks of between 15 and 20 minutes can act as good cardio workouts. If possible, continue with the core strengthening and pelvic floor exercises on your rest days.
Weeks 9 & 10: Intervals
Only once you’ve done the core and pelvic floor exercises (and feel stronger in these areas) can jogging intervals commence. Katharine’s plan starts with a 5- minute brisk walk as a warm up, followed by a 30-second light jog, then slowing down and walking for 2 minutes, repeating these for 10 minutes.
Week 10 and onwards: Increasing intervals
Continue warming up with a 5-minute brisk walk and increasing the jog time from 30 seconds to 1, 1.5, 2 minutes and so on each time you go out. Decrease the walk time as you increase the jog time until you are jogging at a comfortable pace without stopping.
Remember to be guided by how your body is feeling and always stop or take a rest if you experience any pain.
For further guidance on how to perform these exercises safely and effectively, contact Katharine through: www.kc-fitness.co.uk
For more information on Mom in Balance, visit : www.mominbalance.com
For more information on the Drummond Clinic, visit : www.drummondclinic.co.uk