Societal pressure for women to bounce back to their pre-baby shape or something even more fabulous a couple of weeks after giving birth is detrimental to women’s health. Constantly bombarded by so called women’s magazines filled with details of celebrities and their amazing post-baby bodies, the celebrity diets and workout regimes are mostly unsustainable and unsafe.
Any break from exercise is hard to come back from, especially one due to a small bundle who may not be letting you sleep as regularly as you need. So take it slow (at least six weeks post birth) and when you feel you have enough energy to start exercising again it’s important to recognise your body has changed.
The abdominal muscles have stretched or possibly been through a Caesarean section (waiting 8 weeks is preferred in this case), so they need some tender loving care to rebuild their strength. The main focus with any post natal exercises is core strength and stability. Lifting, supporting your lower back, correcting posture and even controlling your bladder movements, it all stems from a strong core.
Resistance exercise is especially important for women with small children. Spending so much time lifting from awkward heights – getting a baby into or out of a car seat or cot and picking them up and carrying them around. Often bad lifting technique stems from the wrong muscles being used or not having enough core strength to protect your lower back.
Here are five exercises which will help strengthen your body in the right places. If you don’t have time to do all of them at once, aim for one exercise per day. It should take less than five minutes to do two sets, and you’ll notice a difference within a month.
If you do the entire routine at once, make sure you rest the following day. Recovery time is just as important as the exercise itself. Overusing your muscles can be just a detrimental as using the wrong ones. Instead do some stretching or go for a walk.
Extra tip: If you find it hard to switch your core muscles on, replicate how it feels when you want to stop urine mid flow. Imagine tightening your stomach as if something was going to hit you there. That feeling of strength is the same brace you should be aiming for with the pelvic tilts.
Pelvic tilts – A good exercise to start with to switch on your core muscles.
These are perfect for any level of abdominal strength and will help strengthen your pelvic floor. Lie on the ground with your knees bent and your neck relaxed and arms by your side. Push your lower back into the floor so it flattens, being conscious of using your abdominal muscles, not just your hips. If you find it difficult to feel the muscles working, put your fingers beside your navel, and push gently. You should be able to feel resistance when your muscles activate. As you find these easier, try to hold for several beats each time you tilt. Moving your hands further away from your body also makes it tougher.
Work to keep your shoulders down and your neck relaxed, and make sure you’re breathing throughout the whole exercise.
Work up to doing 10 repetitions, 2-3 times with a 30 sec rest in between each set.
Squats – works your legs and butt!
Most people think squats are easy, but it’s surprising how many people perform squats with bad technique! This can be serious for your lower back. So, stand in front of a chair with your feet hip width apart. Keeping your weight through your heels, bend your knees and bring your bottom towards the chair as though you were going to sit down – but don’t! Keep your back straight and don’t let your knees go over your toes. Straighten your legs and come back to standing then squeeze through your glutes and abdominals.
Once you have mastered this technique, you can progress onto unsupported squats with hand weights for added load!
Work up to doing 8-15 repetitions, 2-3 times with a 30 sec rest in between each set.
Push ups – strengthens your chest, shoulders and triceps.
Resting on your knees, put your hands on the ground just outside shoulder width apart. Walk your hands slightly forward until your body weight is over your arms and your back is flat. Leave your lower legs on the ground, bend your arms and lower your chest to the ground to about a fist distance from the ground. Push through the heels of your hands to straighten your arms to come back up.
To progress keep your knees on the ground but lift your lower legs.
To make the exercise harder, bring your knees off the ground and straighten your legs – but only if your core is strong enough to support your lower back!
Make sure you keep your abdominals strong to protect your lower back and prevent the hips dropping and a scooping of the lower back. You should be a straight plank!
Push ups are a difficult exercise to do properly, so make sure you keep breathing, and keep your neck relaxed. Face forward and pick a point to look at before you start, it can help you keep your neck in the right position.
Work up to doing 6-12 repetitions, 2-3 times with a 30 sec rest in between each set.
Dips – for scapula (back) and triceps.
Sitting on a bench with your knees bent, put your hands behind your bottom, just underneath your shoulders. Make sure your arms are straight, and turn your fingers so they’re facing out from your body. Lifting up your bottom, make sure your back is straight and your butt almost grazes the bench or chair when lowering. Make sure you keep your core strong, neck relaxed and elbows should be in next to your torso when bending. Don’t forget to Breathe!
To progress move your feet further away from you. To progress further, straighten your legs making a straight line from your shoulders to your feet, with your toes pointing up. This is a tough exercise, but it’s great for building strength through your back and arms for lifting growing babies. Work up to doing 5-12 repetitions, 2-3 times with a 30 sec rest in between each set. Please note, if you have weak wrists start off with 3-4 reps and build up slowly.
Bridging – strengthens core and lower back.
Lying on the ground, bend your knees and have your feet flat on the floor. Lift your bottom and slowly uncurl along your spine lifting your lower and middle back until your weight is on your shoulders and feet. Make sure you don’t over extend your back – it doesn’t matter if you start off quite low, then lift a little more when the exercise gets easier. Try to hold for a couple of breaths, then lower yourself down, one vertebrae at a time. When you’ve finished, bring your knees into your chest and flatten your back down onto the floor. Work up to doing 5-8 repetitions, 2-3 times with a 30 sec rest in between each set.
Note: Please wait approx six to eight weeks and consult your doctor before starting exercise after birth.
The exercise program prescribed here is only a guide and may not help if done incorrectly or if the training program is inappropriate.