Yay! You’ve had a baby! Now what? Now that you are back in the Land of the Living, it’s time to Ease into Fitness.
The following is a guide you can use at any time post-partum. If you don’t start as soon as baby is born, that’s okay…start at week 0 no matter when you actually delivered your baby. Skipping the core is the one mistake that most new moms make. Trust me, starting with a strong core will make a difference in how you feel after each exercise session. And don’t stress about it. Fit these in wherever you can throughout the day!
0-2 weeks -> Gentle core & pelvic floor work, including kegels and belly button compression. Avoid trunk flexion exercises
2-4 weeks -> Continue with the core and pelvic floor work, adding alternating heel slides and ‘dead bug’ exercises to the belly button compressions. Start taking baby for short walks around the neighbourhood.
4-6 weeks -> By now, you should have been cleared for exercise by the doctor. You can now start a graduated exercise program. But remember, your body will take some time to recover from the effects of pregnancy. Continue with what you have been doing but increase first the time and then the intensity, following the 10% rule.
Increase time by no more than 10% per week. Evaluate how you feel. Do you have enough energy to continue doing your tasks of daily living (including infant and self-care)? If you do, then you can continue to increase again by 10% (Ie. If you were doing 30 minutes of activity, you can increase to 33 minutes of activity) and evaluate at the end of the week. Keep doing that until you get to the desired time (30 minutes per day is recommended for health improvements, 60 minutes per day is recommended for fitness improvements).
Increase intensity by no more than 10% per week. Unless you are training with weights that have numbers on them, this is going to be a little bit more difficult to figure out. Think of it in terms of heart rate. If your heart rate when you exercise is 140 beats per minute(bpm) and your resting heart rate is 70 bpm, then you want to increase your intensity to the point where your heart rate is ~147 bpm, or averages out to that. This could be done by throwing a hill into your walking route.
By the way, did you understand how I calculated 147 bpm as your 10% target? Subtract your average resting hear rate from your average exercise heart rate (140-70) and multiply the difference by 10%. Then add that product onto your average exercise heart rate (140 + 7 = 147).
Always increase time before you increase intensity. If you increase intensity before time you are far more likely to suffer from injuries than if you progress conservatively. This is an example of the Exercise Principle called ‘Progressive Overload.’ The body will adapt to the stresses (in this case – exercise) put on it, but the stresses must be small increments. If the increments are too great then the body can not deal with them appropriately and injury or illness occurs…just like with any other type of stress!
Once you have gotten to a level of exercise that you feel comfortable doing 3-5 times/week, it is time to start experimenting! Start with low-impact activities that don’t require a lot of coordination because you are still getting used to your new body and the effects of relaxin are still present. Fitness classes, weight training, yoga and gradual interval-based run programs are all great places to start! Swimming and aquafit are also excellent ways to work your entire body against resistance but with the aid of buoyancy. But aquatic activities must wait until your lochia has finished.
The guidelines that have been provided are general ones for a non-complicated vaginal birth, a complicated birth or a birth via C-section. Most women who had non-complicated vaginal births can use the beginning of the time frame as a guide and most women who had complicated or C-section births will use the end of the time frame provided as a guide. All women, regardless of birthing procedure or difficulty, should wait until receiving medical clearance before starting a fitness regime that involves activities beyond core/pelvic floor exercises and walking.
Get out there and have fun! You may just meet your baby’s new best friend doing the same thing!