Top postpartum running tipsApr 28, 2021
Whether you’re a competitive athlete or someone who runs for the sheer pleasure of it, there’s no doubt that navigating your way back to running after pregnancy and childbirth can be tricky. This is because the act of running involves large forces, plenty of precision and timing as well as good posture and coordination – which can become a little “out of whack” during pregnancy.
That’s not to say you can’t get back into running. In fact, for many women, pregnancy is a wonderful, strengthening experience that has a powerful life-changing impact on both the body and mind. I’ve worked with many female runners over the years whose postpartum performances far exceed their pre-pregnancy performances.
However, if you find postpartum exercise, particularly running, a little more challenging, you’re not alone. Many women lose a bit of their “running rhythm” after pregnancy.
At first, you may feel winded, disconnected from your body and weak. Be patient and gentle with yourself, all symptoms should slowly improve with time. Seek help if you’re not getting better day by day, or if symptoms persist or worsen. Aim for “no pain, maximum gain”.
How your body changes after pregnancy and birth
In the first six weeks, you’re likely to experience one or more of the following:
- Pelvic discomfort
- Lower back discomfort or pain
- Dripping milk
- Joint pain
- Loose joints
- Vaginal discharge and bleeding
While many of these symptoms are to be expected, you should see a steady improvement with time. If not, see your doctor.
If you had a C-Section, you may also experience itching, tenderness, numbness, or aggravation at the scar site. To help speed up healing, gently massage your C-Section scar for 3-5 minutes every day. Also focus on the tissues above and below the scar. For extra comfort, use an oil such as coconut oil when you massage.
If you had a natural birth, you may have needed an episiotomy. To encourage healing, you can also massage gently around the scar tissue, directly above and below it. As the area gets less sensitive, run your fingers along the scar itself, rubbing gently in circular motions to release tightness.
When to start exercising
Although you may not always feel like lacing up those trainers in your sleep-deprived state, the benefits of regular postpartum exercise are endless.
- Exercise speeds up recovery by boosting blood circulation
- It will give you more energy in the long run
- You will sleep more soundly (when you do sleep!)
- It helps to strengthen and rehabilitate muscles and tendons that were stretched during pregnancy
- It can help you to feel more confident and in control
- It relieves symptoms of postnatal depression
- It assists with weight loss
- It can enhance milk production (provided it’s not too intense)
However, it’s important to give yourself time to ease into exercise after having a baby.
Postpartum recovery can vary greatly from woman to woman, and depends on many factors. If in doubt about when to start exercise, always speak to your doctor.
Wait at least six weeks before you start any moderate exercise (or weightlifting program) and consider waiting until the 12-week mark to start walking and running.
Regular exercise, including running, should feel good and improve your recovery, not hinder it. Remember gaining your strength and fitness back is a marathon, not a sprint.
If you ease into it early on, and fix any niggles or issues right away, you’ll be setting yourself up for long-term success and a lifetime of running enjoyment. Too much too soon or ignoring warning signs often leads to persistent pain and discomfort which may force you to quit running altogether.
Risks of running too hard too soon:
- Incontinence – loss of bladder control
- Prolapse - when your pelvic organs protrude into the vaginal canal
- Running injuries - often caused by misalignment issues
- SI and pelvic problems – the SI joint between the spine and the hip can become inflamed after pregnancy
- Stress fractures – a small crack or break in the bone, which is typically from overuse
Why walking is key
Walking is the best conditioning activity to prepare your body as well your joints and ligaments for a safe return to running.
When you walk, avoid fast walking, power walking or getting your heart rate up too soon. Walk with relaxed arms and don’t walk faster than if you were walking to a meeting with the aim of being five minutes early. Start by walking gently and work on function as your body returns to normal, don’t force it.
Once you’re comfortable with walking and its pain free, then add some running in every second day.
Tips to get started
In the beginning set yourself up for success, focus on:
- Normal pelvic floor function
- Breathing and diaphragm health
- Core work and gently improving diastasis recti (if you have it)
- Posture and your center of mass (as this shifts during pregnancy)
- Joint strength and elasticity
Don’t get caught up in getting your pre-baby body back, focus on function first and your form will follow. If you’re going to be running with a stroller, your little one should be at least 6-8 months old – to ensure good neck and head control.
When you start running, it’s also a good idea to invest in the right maternity or sports bra which offers more support, has extra padding for leaks and the right shoulder clips if you’re breastfeeding.
Your first goals should be to:
- Walk 30 minutes pain free
- No pelvic pain or discomfort
- No incontinence
Here are a few things to avoid:
- Never run with poor form or when you’re fatigued
- Don’t run through progressive or persistent pain
- Don’t exercise so much that it negatively affects milk production or quality.
If you enjoy cross training, try to avoid cycling for the first 12 weeks. Exercising in a sitting position puts a lot of pressure on the pelvis and pelvic floor.
Try this 6-week postpartum walking/running plan
Start by going for an easy walk every day
Every second day walk/run for 20 minutes
Week 1: Walk for 3 minutes, run for 1 minute
Week 2: Walk for 2 minutes, run for 1 minute
Week 3: Walk for 1 minute, run for 1 minute
Week 4: Walk for 1 minute, run for 2 minutes
Week 5: Walk for 1 minute, run for 3 minutes
Week 6: Walk 1 minute, run for 5 minutes
Start running for 30 minutes and more if pain free.
Run every second day until running is pain free.
See your OB-GYN if:
- You feel light-headed and/or dizzy when you exercise
- You’re breathless often
- You experience bleeding or leakage
- You have calf swelling or pain
- You experience vison changes or headaches
- You feel vaginal, bladder or rectal pressure or prolapse
- Your diastasis recti is worsening or not resolving (see below for what diastasis recti is)
Postpartum nutrition tips
While you might have been used to calorie counting pre-baby, this isn’t the time to restrict calories or go on any extreme diets. It’s important to ensure that you get enough calories for your body to repair, and for adequate milk production.
Aim to follow a healthy, varied and balanced diet with plenty of good-quality carbohydrates, which are important for maintaining milk volume and richness.
If you’re unsure what to eat, or how much to eat in this time, consider seeing a registered dietitian who specialises in postpartum nutrition.
Hydration is key
Whether you’re breastfeeding or not, taking in the right amount of fluid (particularly water) post-birth is vital. Not only is adequate hydration essential for milk volume, drinking water boosts the metabolism, reduces cravings, carries vital nutrients to your cells, and aids in digestion.
If you’re breastfeeding, there’s no doubt you’ll feel thirstier. Make sure you drink enough to support milk production and cater for increased demand. And when you start running, take extra fluids with and plan for stops on your run to drink.
Remember only drink to thirst and never ever force drinking. Hyponatremia or water poisoning is far more prevalent in endurance athletes than dehydration. Drinking too much water is a big no no.
What to watch out for
Once you’ve had the all-clear from your doctor and you’ve started walking and running, take note of the following possible causes of injury. Being mindful of these potential problems can help you pick them up early.
- Hormones such as relaxin that flood your body to help with childbirth can increase the risk of pelvic dysfunction, as well as joint and tendon injuries after birth.
- Pelvic girdle pain (pain like a ring around your pelvis), pelvic floor pain and or incontinence.
- Pain during exercise and or intimacy. Seek help and don’t exercise through these symptoms.
- Swollen or widened feet. Collapsed arches and ankle pain. You can strengthen your arches and feet
WATCH this masterclass with sports clinical specialist, Jay Dicharry to find out how to strengthen your ankles and feet.
You may also experience:
Pregnancy stretches and separates your stomach muscles (as well as other organs) to accommodate your growing baby. However, if you have a 2-3 finger gap between your rectus abdomonis muscles that bulge with strain or sitting up in the weeks after birth, then you could have diastasis recti.
This shifting of internal organs should improve slowly, but if it doesn’t, seek professional help.
A stretched diaphragm
Your diaphragm tends to get pushed up and its range of movement is restricted during pregnancy. This can lead to poor diaphragmatic excursion (how much it travels up and down), which can make you feel short of breath, anxious and tired before and after giving birth. A tight diaphragm places pressure on your pelvic floor and could impair your recovery even further.
Losing control of your bladder is common after pregnancy, however it should resolve on its own in a few weeks.
Key steps to work on:
- Soften your breath/diaphragm – focus on daily breathing exercises
- Try Kegel exercises (explanation below). When you perform Kegels, use your pelvic floor only and not your glutes or adductors during each contraction. Remember to “let go" after.
- Seek a pelvic floor physical therapist if this problem persists.
Safe postpartum exercises
Practice these key exercises before core work such as planking, and before running.
Tighten your pelvic floor as if you were stopping midstream, hold for 3 seconds, then completely relax your pelvic floor. Repeat 3 to 5 times, regularly during the day.
It’s important to let go of your pelvic floor muscles and have no tension in your pelvic floor area during daily activities and exercise.
When running, as an exercise you can tighten your pelvic floor, then let go and run with a relaxed pelvic floor and no tension. The “let go” pelvic floor should feel more fluid and your stride should open up.
If this “let go” feels weak or you suffer from incontinence, release your diaphragm and core as this could be due to too much top-down pressure on your pelvic floor. Work on synchronous hips and synergy in the 36 muscles of hips and pelvic floor.
Synchronize your breathing to the Rounding And Arching movement and practice this in 3 positions:
- On your back, with knees bent.
- On all fours like the cat cow position
- Sitting or standing
Arch your back as you breath in, making sure to keep a soft belly. Shorten your core, round your spine and breathe out.
There are 36 muscles in your pelvis, mostly horizontally aligned and they have to work softly, synergistically and fluidly for optimal health and functioning. If they tighten, it can clamp your pelvis together.
Before strength you need good function. Alternate this synchronous hip movement for a healthy pelvis, pelvic floor and core.
You don’t need to wear an SI belt for stability until you have mastered the Pelvic Clocks exercise and Synchronous Hips. Rather than assuming your pelvis or SI joint is out, think of it as lack of control and movement.
Master these movements before you add load with weightlifting and running.
The Frog Bridge to Butterfly Crunchie is a combination of two core exercises which will help to strengthen and restore your rectus abdominis muscle after pregnancy. It’s also a brilliant mobility movement for connecting your core and switching on your glutes.
Your rectus abdominis muscle (or six-pack) is important because one of its main jobs is to hold the front of your pelvis up. If it has proper tone/strength and supports your pelvic posture, it can also help to strengthen and restore glute function.
Your glutes become a counter point to your rectus abdominis muscle, so it’s almost as though your glutes push into the tone of your rectus abdominis. In addition, having a neutral pelvis or well-aligned pelvis helps with glute function a lot too – so the whole system works together.
Because your rectus abdominis stretched and lengthened in pregnancy, it can take time for the muscle to regain its normal tone and function. This laxity can cause problems with your hips and glutes as you’ll battle to generate power from them.
This Frog Bridge To Butterfly Crunchie exercise will help to integrate your glute drive and your rectus abdominis, while strengthening your core safely and effectively. Remember sometimes an overstretched muscle compensates by shortening and locking up.
Tight is not right, you want a muscle that can fully contract, fully relax and is fluid and relaxed during day-to-day exercise. Think core function, not core strength, nor core tension.
WATCH: How to perform the Frog Bridge To Butterfly Crunchie here:
Good luck on your postpartum journey. Remember it is a journey and usually the more relaxed you are, the more you enjoy the experience and the quicker you’ll recover. Hurry slowly, enjoy the miracle of birth and childhood and you could be running better than ever in no time!
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