Post Pregnancy Fitness - Part 1
It all started about 20 years ago. I was fresh out of school and had just landed my first job as a personal trainer at a local health club. My first client was a young lady in her early 30’s just looking to “get in shape”. There I was, my very first workout, with my very first client on my very first day! I was so excited. About halfway through the workout things were going great, she was working hard, feeling the exercises in all the right places and having a good time. I was so happy. Then it happened – we finished a set of lunges and she turned to me and said “I don’t feel so well” and she ran into the locker room. I felt terrible. Had I pushed her to hard, was the workout not appropriate, what happened? She came out of the locker room looking green and told me she had enough for the day and was going home! I couldn’t believe it – I thought I was so well prepared and I blew it on my very first day. I was so dejected.
That night I went over the workout again and again in my head trying to figure out where I went wrong. After a long night of thoughts racing through my head I finally fell asleep and woke up the next morning to try again with another client. Just as I got to the gym, I got a phone call from yesterdays client and she told me she found out she was PREGNANT! That’s why she had gotten ill the day before during our session. I thought to myself – phew – it wasn’t me after all! Thus began my career as a trainer in which I worked with many female clients both during and after pregnancy.
Working out while you are pregnant is generally very safe and in fact recommended in most cases. Of course it is always best to check with your physician for the proper guidelines. The same is true of post partum fitness routines which will be the focus of this article. Most of the women I have trained or spoken too want to get back in shape quickly after pregnancy and especially want to flatten those ABS! In this article I will share my top 5 tips and then in part 2 we will get more specific about those ABS! So Here we go.
Every client is different and every pregnancy is unique. However the most common concerns post pregnancy are losing that ‘baby weight’ and getting the stomach back in shape. The good news is that both of these concerns are attainable with some patience, dedication, and hard work! It is important to remember that your body went through 9 months of changes and you aren’t going to get it back overnight. It is a time to enjoy your baby first and foremost and then to begin a sensible routine of healthy eating and exercise.
2. Understand What Happened to your Abs
During pregnancy your abdominal muscles (rectucs abdominus) separate. The basic purpose of this to allow the growing fetus to come forward, not backwards which can cause strain on the low back. Though it sounds like a big deal, this is completely normal and in most cases the muscles return to their normal state post partum. This separation is known as diastasis and is generally detectable after about month 5. The problem occurs when the muscles separate too much (generally caused by weak abdominal
muscles) which can lead to low back, pain, sciatica, inflammation etc…. The great news is that this separation begins to close within days after delivery. A sound core training plan will have those abs back in shape before you know it – though you should allow at least 6 weeks for a full recovery.
3. Start Slowly
Generally speaking the best way to tone up post baby is with a routine consisting of cardio vascular exercise, total body strengthening, and proper nutrition. Depending on your pre-pregnancy fitness level and how well you maintained it during pregnancy you should begin with a low to moderate cardio-vascular exercise program (walking, elliptical, swimming) 3-4 days per week for 20-30 minutes. Total body strength training should also be performed using moderate weights and repetitions 2-3 days per week. There are also several “mommy and me” routines available which allow you to tone up while spending quality time with baby!
Speaking specifically about the core it is important to perform exercises that not only strengthen the superficial muscles that you see (rectus abdominus and obliques) but also the deep core muscles such as the transverse abdominus and the low back.
4. Regain Control of your Nutrition
Often during pregnancy women become a bit more lax about their diets. They may have cravings for something salt or sweet and within moderation its generally ok to indulge. It’s never a good idea to restrict calories during pregnancy buy now that you are trying to drop that baby weight its some to get a bit more disciplined. It is always best to check with your physician, a nutritionist, or a registered dietician for the eating plan that is best for you. Generally however, I would recommend a diet that is high in fiber, and rich with whole foods such as fruits and vegetables. The meal plan should also consist of moderate carbohydrates for energy, protein for muscle building and be low in fat. There are so many theories out there on nutrition but ultimately we all have to find what works best for us as individuals.
5. Have a Well Rounded Routine
Once you have clearance from your physician to begin exercising its best to start slowly and focus on all components of fitness. Many women want to jump right back into the cardio routine but don’t neglect strength training and flexibility. Start with 3x per week and increase from there.
As mentioned above Cardiovascular exercise should be performed for 20-30 minutes at a moderate intensity. This could include walking, elliptical machines, swimming etc. Basically anything that will moderately increase your heart rate and keep it there for 20-30 minutes. If this is too much in the beginning you can break the 20-30 minutes up into 10 minute segments to reach a total time of 20-30 minutes. As you get in better shape strive for continuous exercise and gradually increase the intensity.
Next perform some basic strength training exercises to tighten and tone the muscles. You can start with basic body weight exercises such as push ups, squats and lunges. Try for 10-15 repetitions for 2-3 sets. A routine might look like this. Start with 10 reps of body weight squats. Rest 30 seconds. Move to the ground and perform 10 push-ups (on your knees is fine to start with). Rest 30 seconds. Perform 10 alternating lunges. This sequence is one set. Rest for about a minute and repeat 2-3 times. Once you can complete this routine 3 days per week you can increase the intensity and complexity of your strength training with the help of a certified personal trainer.
Round out your routine with the Core 4 program described in the next post and some gentle stretching.
Enjoying life with your new baby is one of the greatest experiences in life. However, its also important that you take care of you so you have the strength energy and vitality to keep up with your growing bundle of joy. The tips above will get you stared and in the next article we will get a bit more specific. Now go play with your baby!