A Timeline Of Progressing Your Postpartum Fitness
A few years ago, postpartum fitness simply meant losing the baby weight. Basically it was traditional weight loss methods marketed to moms who were in a vulnerable period in their lives.
As a pre/postnatal fitness specialist, I cringed when I saw this because I knew the harm that these so-called “Mommy Bootcamps” could do to women with pelvic floor or core dysfunction.
Luckily over the past few years, there have been huge strides in how we approach postpartum fitness. New moms are more knowledgeable about pelvic floor/core issues and postpartum certifications have ramped up for fitness pros who work with moms.
Let’s break it down – what do we need to know about progressing in our fitness after having babies?
When creating programs for my postpartum clients, I break it down into 3 stages:
- Early Postpartum
- The First Year
- 1-2 Years Postpartum & Beyond
- Early Postpartum (6-12 weeks)
The earliest I typically start working with my clients is at 6-8 weeks, after they have had a visit with their pelvic floor physiotherapist and been cleared to train.
Notice I didn’t say cleared only by their doctor or midwife… because these medical professionals are not best qualified to give someone the go-ahead to exercise. Pelvic floor physiotherapists are the only ones who can do an internal examination to determine the status of your pelvic floor muscles.
At this stage of the game, many women have not spontaneously healed (which means everything is back to normal without doing anything). The PFP will give exercises and recommendations based on your visit. They may show you how to relax your pelvic floor if you’re hypertonic, or to hold a contraction properly… or really anything that is specific to YOU.
At this stage, it is best to ease into the type of exercises you did before but with very conservative weight. If you typically do squats, lunges, presses, etc, you can start with them off the bat. But if you’re used to doing a back squat with twice your bodyweight, for instance, now is not the time. Start with a goblet squat and see how you feel. You will likely feel much more exerted than expected, even if you trained during pregnancy and had a smooth delivery.
This first stage is really all about monitoring how your body responds to the intensity and type of exercise. If you experience symptoms (pain, pressure, leaking, doming of the abdomen, etc), discontinue that exercise OR modify until you don’t.
2. The First Year (3-12 months)
At this stage, most moms I work with have their pelvic floor and core dysfunction under control. They know what exercises work with their potential symptoms and how to modify them. But for the most part, most exercises done in the past can now be done symptom-free.
Now that we’ve established normal function, we can go deeper into aesthetic goals.
Many women want to lose some additional body fat or rebuild muscle at this point. The good news is this is a stage in our lives when we can do both.
Being deconditioned from pregnancy and early postpartum works to your advantage because you can reap the benefits of building muscle and losing fat at the same time effectively, a phenomenon typically only available to those new to exercise.
However, all women are different. If you are nursing, sometimes fat loss is a bit slower. Not for everyone but it can be a factor due to hormonal fluctuations.
Nutrition plays the most critical role in fat loss, so that’s a post for another day.
In terms of exercises, you can continue to add load as you rebuild your strength. You probably won’t be back at your 2x bodyweight squat just yet, but you’ll be further than you were doing goblet squats.
3. 1-2 Years Postpartum & Beyond
You not only have a toddler – you have a stronger and fitter postpartum body!
Although you have made consistent progress in year one, after that is really when things take off in terms of the fine detail.
If you were someone quite lean/muscular before, you will probably be closer to back there now. I do want to stress I’m not saying you “got your body back”. Honey, you have a new body now and it’s beautiful. You may have stretch marks, loose skin and different-looking breasts than before… but you also probably have a tighter physique with more defined muscles.
Now is when you can resume or begin advanced programming. Metabolic circuits, German Volume Training, traditional bodybuilding splits with more volume… these are all typically things I would start with a client at this stage.
However just because your body can do it doesn’t mean your schedule can! Moms are busier, point blank. This is when shorter rest periods, tempo training, or doing heavier loads with less training days per week can come in handy. Keeping intensity high while keeping workout time low is the name of the game.
If you found this helpful and want to level up your postpartum fitness, I’d love to see how I can help! Fill out my qualifier questionnaire and we’ll come up with the right plan for you.
Your coach and friend,