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The Postpartum Workout Advice Fitness Experts Swear By

All fitness experts advise women to talk to their doctor before returning to their fitness routine after giving birth. If given the green light from your medical team, the next step is to take things nice and slow and ease back into a postpartum workout that is both effective and safe for you. Because let’s face it — your body just went through an entire workout giving birth and your body has definitely changed as a result of both your pregnancy and labor.

“After giving birth, a woman’s body is undergoing several physical, hormonal and psychological changes,”  AKT’s Master Trainer, Alissa Tucker, tells SheKnows. “During pregnancy, the muscles of the core are stretched, often leading to back pain and if a woman experiences a C-Section or Episiotomy during labor, she will experience even more severe changes and inability to connect to her deep core musculature.”

While most women are cleared for exercise by their doctors after six weeks postpartum, says Tucker, it’s important to remember everyone is different. “While certain exercises should be avoided for some women, beginning the process of reconnecting to your deep core muscles can begin immediately after birth for most with core breathing exercises and light movement.”

If you’re ready to add some exercise to your already-packed schedule, here are the best expert-recommended postpartum workouts and advice to follow.

Find the joy in movement

At the beginning, Dani Schenone, RYT, holistic wellness expert for Mindbody says slow and soft workouts are best. “Yoga is an excellent way to reintroduce movement to your body postpartum. Start with restorative or gentle classes for a few weeks, and work up to more strength-based classes slowly”

Even going out for a walk with your baby and family is the best type of movement you can do for yourself, although Schenone says to start off slowly, even if that means a three-minute walk at first before you progress to five minutes then ten minutes. The point is to be gentle and kind to yourself and your body. 

“Finding joy in movement is something you deserve, especially postpartum. Moving your body in ways that feel good to you and help you feel powerful is so important, as it helps you reconnect to yourself,” she says. “It’s not about getting that ‘pre-baby body back’. It’s about taking care of yourself, supporting yourself, and honoring your body as is by moving it.”

Just breathe

As you begin to move your body gently, Tucker says the single most important part of postnatal exercise is re-establishing connection to the “core inner unit” including the Transverse Abdominis, Diaphragm and Pelvic Floor.

“Skipping this step and progressing to higher intensity exercises without proper core activation can result in further dysfunction and potentially lead to injury. The good news is, this can begin for most women directly after, or better yet, before giving birth.”

Here’s what she recommends:

Diaphragmatic Breathing with TVA and Pelvic Floor Activation

  • Begin sitting or lying down in a comfortable position.
  • Inhale deeply, filling the belly, feeling your belly and rib cage expand while keeping your neck and shoulders relaxed.
  • Exhale fully, closing your ribcage and pulling your navel to your spine.
  • At the bottom of your exhale, gently lift your pelvic floor (as though you’re performing a kegel).

*Keep this exercise gentle, only moving to where you can comfortably, especially soon after delivery.

“Diaphragmatic Breathing can be practiced everyday multiple times a day. Once that becomes more comfortable and natural, practice incorporating this breathing into your daily activities.”

All About Abs: What do you do if you have Diastasis Recti?

Up to 60 percent of women experience some degree of diastasis recti postpartum, which is the separation of the rectus abdominis muscles along the midline of the stomach. According to Tucker,  one to two fingers separation is considered “normal” soon after birth and it should tighten over time. “Three or more fingers will require more rehabilitative steps and is best to work with a pre/post natal corrective exercise specialist before jumping back into a regular workout routine,” she says.

Checking for Diastasis Recti is pretty simple. Lay on your back and perform a slight crunch. Tucker says if Diastasis Recti is present you may notice “coning” or a dome shape pressing out or it may appear concave. Then gently place your fingers in the middle of your abdomen to measure the distance.

The best way to prevent and heal diastasis recti, says Tucker, is to practice proper inner core unit function. “Diaphragmatic Breathing exercises are safe for everyone and are the best way to get your inner core muscles working together properly. If you are experiencing diastasis recti, be gentle while performing these exercises. Try not to overly push your abdomen out when you inhale.” Tucker says you should also avoid flexion and extension of the torso (ie: crunches, back bends, stability ball crunches), as well as more difficult core exercises such as double leg lifts and opt for modified or incline planks or push ups until you’ve healed.

“The good news is, diastasis recti is totally treatable, it just takes patience. Begin training your deep core muscles pre pregnancy and during pregnancy to help reduce the risk of diastasis recti and to shorten recovery time. A good rule of thumb is to avoid any exercises during pregnancy or postnatal where ‘coning’ is present.”

Easy does it with strength training

According to Tucker, once you’re cleared to work out more intensely by your physician, strength training should be the focus of any post natal workout to help activate the most commonly under-utilized muscles including the glutes, back and chest muscles. “Activation of these muscles encourages proper movement mechanics in daily activities and can significantly reduce the risk of injury. Move slowly and continue to utilize your diaphragmatic breathing while you perform the following exercises.”

Cat Cow (can be done with baby laying on floor between your hands)

  • Begin in a quadruped position, shoulders over wrists and hips over knees.
  • Inhale, fill your belly as you lift your chest and tailbone, arching your spine.
  • Exhale, pull the navel to your spine and close your rib cage as you round your back and push the floor away.

Do 10-15 slow reps.

This is a great way to gently begin to warm up the body and begin to connect with your inner core unit during movement.

Bird Dog (can be done with baby laying on floor between your hands)

  • Begin in a quadruped position, shoulders over wrists and hips over knees.
  • Inhale fill your belly.
  • Exhale pull the navel in, lift opposite arm and leg, stretching through the knee and activating your glute.
  • Repeat on the other side.

Do 10 slow reps on each side.

This helps to promote balance and stability while safely engaging the core and strengthening the posterior chain.

Bent Over Row with Core Breathing (holding two dumbbells)

  • Begin standing with feet hips distance apart, hinging at your hips so your torso is at a 45 degree angle, shoulders rolled down and back, holding dumbbells or your baby out in front of you.
  • Inhale, fill your belly.
  • Exhale, draw your belly in and pull your elbows back, drawing the weights to your hips, squeezing the middle of your back.
  • Inhale, straighten your arms.

Do 10-15 slow reps.

This works your rhomboids, the middle of your back and helps to improve posture and promote proper movement mechanics in functional activities like picking your baby up off the floor.

Reverse Lunge with Core Breathing (option to add weight or hold your baby)

  • Begin standing with feet parallel, hips distance apart.
  • Inhale, fill your belly.
  • Exhale, draw your belly in, step back with one leg as you bend your knees, coming into a lunge. Keep your weight in your front heel and your knees tracking over your toes.
  • Inhale, stand.
  • Repeat on the other side.

Do 10 slow reps on each side.

This works the glutes and major muscles of the legs while reinforcing proper inner core mechanics.

Incline Push Up with Core Breathing (can be done on knees or toes)

  • Place your hands underneath your shoulders on a raised surface like a chair or even the wall.
  • Inhale, fill your belly.
  • Exhale draw your belly in and bend your elbows, performing a push up.
  • Inhale, straighten your arms and repeat.

Do 10-15 slow reps.

This helps to strengthen the muscles of the chest and arms and promote proper movement mechanics in daily functional activities.

Shake things up with some more strength work

Schenone recommends the following for additional variation to your strength training workout.

Goddess Pose Leg Work

  • Practice balance by lifting the right heel up off the ground. Hold for a count of 8. Pulse for a count of 8. Lower it down, switch sides, and repeat.
  • Lift both heels off the ground, bending deeper into the squat. Hold for a count of 8. Pulse for a count of 8.
  • Repeat 3 times.

This move strengthens the entire lower body (glutes, hips, thighs, calves, ankles) and provides balance, focus and concentration (which a lot of new moms need).

Modified Side Plank

  • Come onto all fours. Turn the right leg out to the side, and lift the left arm up to the sky. Stack the left hip over the right hip. Lift the top leg up and flex the toes.
  • Stay here for 8 breaths. Pulse the top leg up for a count of 8. Bend the top knee, reach back behind you, and grab the top foot. Open up the chest and shoulder to the sky. Stay for eight breaths.
  • Release the foot, lengthen out, and repeat on the other side.

This helps strengthens the core (especially the obliques), shoulders, arms, and wrists

Bridge Pose

  • Lie down and plant the soles of your feet on the ground (knees to the sky).
  • Shimmy your heels up towards your sits bones. Lay your palms down at your side.
  • On the exhale, lift your hips up towards the sky. Consider wiggling your shoulders underneath your chest, clasping your hands at the low back. Hold for 8 breaths.
  • Release clasp and lower hips to the mat, repeat 3 times.

This pose stretches the chest, neck and spine and strengthens legs and glutes.

When it comes to working out postpartum, Schenone says as a general rule, to avoid full-out workouts and do the moves that feel right to you. “Focus on modifying everything so that you can slowly reintroduce movement.”

Before you go, checkout the home workout equipment we love (that won’t break the bank): 

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