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Returning to Exercise Postpartum (& a bit about our new postnatal programme!)

After giving birth to Thea 2 years ago, I didn’t really know how to approach strength training (something I had previously felt so confident with) as a postpartum woman. Whilst pregnancy had made me feel empowered and positive about my body, those early weeks and months after giving birth my body felt alien to me, and rather than feeling strong and empowered, I honestly felt lost and a bit resentful.

The trouble with ‘bounce back culture’

I certainly fell victim to “bounce back” culture, where women are applauded - if not simply expected - to look and perform like their pre pregnant selves within days and weeks of giving birth. I put a lot of pressure on myself and felt that, particularly as a personal trainer, I had something to prove. I was disappointed in my body for not being “as it was” within 6 weeks. At a Mummy MOT check up at 6 weeks postpartum, my core and pelvic floor were weaker than I expected them to be - simply because I expected to have fully healed already and be ready to get back to my normal exercise regime. In a way I think the reality that this wasn’t the case actually pushed me too far in the other direction, where I was hesitant to lift too heavy or do certain movements at 6 months postpartum, even though I had no symptoms or physical reason to be. Eventually, I’d say at about 18 months postpartum, I got back to a place where I was feeling really confident and strong in the gym again - more like *me*.

My experience of returning to exercise postpartum was a catalyst for making sure I was as educated as possible about pre and post natal training, so I could help women have a smoother and more positive experience. Whilst, of course, it could have been much worse for me, why shouldn't we demand better?. If I could help other women make a safe, confident and empowered postnatal recovery rather than one where they lacked the confidence and knowledge to make the return to exercise they deserve and need, wouldn’t that be amazing? I’ve since worked with lots of women postnatally, researched and sought knowledge from womens health physios & other awesome pre and postnatal coaches, and have gained a much deeper understanding of how we, as amazing women who have birthed babies, can return to strength training safely and confidently. We’re not broken, we’re not fragile - with the right rehab there’s no reason why we can’t be physically stronger than ever before after having our babies.

The benefits of strength training postpartum

Exercising postpartum, in particular strength training 2-3 times a week, offers us so many benefits such as:

  • Restoring core & pelvic floor strength (when combined with intentional breath work) AS WELL AS increasing full body strength. Very useful for lifting and carrying ever-growing babies and all the things they come along with

  • Reducing fatigue. God knows we need it in times where sleep probably isn’t as abundant as it once was…

  • Improving mental health. A generous dose of endorphins as well as simply getting 30-60 minutes for yourself can really fill your cup when you most need it

  • Supporting postpartum weight loss

General timeline for returning to exercise postpartum

0-6 weeks: Time for your body to heal from pregnancy and birth. Breathing exercises and gentle movement& mobility to help reconnect with core and pelvic floor

6-8 weeks: GP clearance for exercise (C section mamas may be cleared more towards the latter end of this band). Regardless of how you birthed, try and see a women’s health physio at this point for a truer assessment of your individual readiness for exercise.

Once cleared, you can reintroduce low intensity, body weight (or light resistance ie bands) strength movements such as squats, hinge movements, dips etc.

8-12 weeks: reintroduce light weights in strength movements, gradually building in weight and intensity over the course of these weeks

Ideally you’d also revisit women’s health physio at this point.

12 weeks: return to your “pre-pregnancy” exercise format, continuing to progressively build in weight and intensity

But where, and how do I start?

Myself and Rosie Cardale (the amazing women’s health physio I mentioned earli

er) who played a key role in my own postnatal recovery with Thea, have collaborated to make something really amazing to support women in their recovery and return to exercise after having a baby. We’ve built an 18 week postnatal exercise programme that you can start as soon as you feel ready, even a couple days after having your babe if you fancy! The first 6 weeks are a physio led postnatal programme, designed to support your healing post-birth. Weeks 6-18 are a PT led postnatal fitness programme consisting of 3 workouts a week, giving you the structure you need to continue to rehabilitate safely whilst increasing physical strength and fitness.

We’ve also created a whole library of resources and information designed to help women build their confidence in, and knowledge of, their postpartum body. Information like this was definitely something I felt was lacking when I was recovering from my pregnancy and birth with my first baby and I’m SO excited that we’ve created something that will empower women to know more about their own pelvic and core health so they can complete the programme with the knowledge and techniques to continue their journey in rebuilding strength and fitness so they can feel stronger than ever!

I’m so excited to have this structure to follow myself when I have my second baby in the next few days(!!) or weeks if he decides he’s comfy in there and wants to keep cooking a little longer...I'll keep you updated!

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