Exercise After Having a Baby
If you were born after 1990, stay with me here for second. Prior to the internet, you had to gather your latest celebrity information from entertainment news. Some of you may be familiar with shows like Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood, and Extra! I’m the youngest of three and lived with two older sisters and a mother who were religiously devoted to this stuff…which is how I know this. Okay, maybe the stuff piqued my interest once in a while, but I was a die-hard action movie fan waiting for the scoop on the latest Jean Claude Van Damme movie.
The hottest topic though was always the female celebrity who got her sexy back after giving birth. Everyone wanted the inside story on all the details: which workout, how often, and what to eat dominated the headlines. To this day you still hear from over-priced personal trainers about their “super duper post-pregnancy workout.”
There really are no secrets to getting in shape after giving birth. You also don’t need to hire a celebrity chef, trainer, nanny, and personal assistant to get in shape. All you really need is a sensible approach.
The biggest factor for pregnant and postnatal women is the concept of what you were doing prior to becoming pregnant. In short, if you were already training consistently several days a week, then you’ll probably have a faster road to losing that baby weight. If you didn’t work out prior to giving birth, then trying to complete insane workouts promoted by infomercials isn’t going to speed up the process. We always want to train smarter, not necessarily harder.
But you’ve made a great decision in deciding to workout. Research shows that women who exercise during and after pregnancy have a more relaxed relationship with their children as well as being better equipped to combat postpartum depression (1). Secondly, once you get the green light from your doctor, you can start an exercise program as soon as you would like (2). This depends on any complications that may have arisen during your labor, but always check with your physician prior to starting an exercise program.
There also aren’t any restrictions on which kinds of exercises you can do (once again, your doctor should give you the thumbs up first) (1). In fact, one research study referenced a woman who began training for the Olympics only four weeks after giving birth (1)! Pretty cool, huh? However, resist the urge to go overboard with all out exercise at first. As a rule of thumb, cut in half what you think you should do.
Your first two orders of business are enhancing your metabolic rate and strengthening your core. Fifty to 90% of pregnant women experience low back pain during and after pregnancy (2). Furthermore, many women are prone to recti abdominus, which is a weakening of the abdominal wall (1). Sit-ups and crunches are a no-no, because they can weaken your spinal discs and cause even more problems for your back (3). Many people forget that exercises like sit ups will cause your abdominal muscles to hypertrophy (the scientific name of building muscle) and make your waist look bigger.
Instead, you want to focus your efforts on core stabilizing exercises like side planks and overhead lunges. These movements don’t require your spine to flex, so you’ll save your back while hardening up that stomach. These exercises do very little to increase your metabolic rate – so what should you do along with these exercises?
Think of your metabolism like organizing a fireworks show; exercises like sit ups are like ending your show with those dinky sparklers you can buy at a gas station. What you want are those big fireworks that get the Ahhh from the crowd. Since you’re tight on time with the new addition to the family, your best bet is to go with circuit training (once again – don’t rush the intensity of the workout).
The best way to design a circuit is to pair an upper body exercise with a lower body exercise. This will cause your body to secrete large amounts of lactate – a byproduct of hard exercise that will cause the brain to release hormones that help us burn body fat. Remember the fireworks example? Choose exercises that recruit a lot of muscle mass…so exercises like squats and lunges are always your best bet. Here is an example of a circuit:
A1. Dumbbell Squat, 4 x 12, 3-0-1-1, rest 30 seconds
A2. Dumbbell Overhead Press, 4 x 15, 2-1-1-1, rest 30 seconds
A3. Dumbbell Reverse Lunge, 4 x 10, 3-0-1-1, rest 30 seconds
A4. Dumbbell Row, 4 x 12, 2-0-1-1, rest 2 minutes
This type of circuit will do far more for you than simply jogging a few days a week, plus it will cut your workout time in half. Some may have postural issues that developed during their pregnancy, and this is something to tackle on an individual basis.
All the work in the world won’t do you any good if your diet is not on point. Our first instinct to lose weight is to drastically cut calories, but this isn’t necessarily the best route to go. After all, your body just went through the stress of giving birth and now you’re exercising regularly – not exactly the best time to under eat.
A study done on postpartum women who exercised shows just how important diet is. Women were divided into two groups: those who exercised and those who exercised as well as breast fed their baby. The exercise only group burned 2300 calories a day while the breast feeding group chopped up an amazing 3100 calories a day (2)! Your metabolism mimics your food intake – following a very low calorie diet creates too great of a deficit for your body to lose weight and can result in a sluggish metabolism.
Remember that issue with your abdominal wall? A diet littered with carbonated beverages and processed foods can further weaken your abdominals. A low quality diet can wreak havoc on your digestive system, setting up a process in which your organs and abdominal muscles lose strength (4). As a result, they’ll get weaker, your pain will increase, and your appearance will be affected. Avoid the usual suspects such as gluten, high fructose corn syrup, and grains. Also, stay away from eating the same foods over and over again, as this is a way to develop a food allergy and once again affect the muscles that make up your core.
Getting in shape after giving birth depends greatly on what you did prior to and during your pregnancy. The best approach to getting in shape after giving birth is to make sure you were in shape prior to. However, I’ve come across plenty of clients who were sparked with motivation by having a new addition to the family. In this case, always take the smart approach: avoid under eating, have a gradual approach to how much exercise you do, and make sure you focus on eliminating pain and strengthening muscles that may have been weakened during your pregnancy.
1. Scott, Shelby. “Exercise in the Postpartum Period.” (2006) ACSM’S Health and Fitness Journal 10;4, 40-41
2. Pivarnik, J.M., Chambliss, H.O., et al. “Impact of Physical Activity During Pregnancy and Postpartum on Chronic Disease Risk.” (2006) Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 0195-9131/06/3805-0989/0, 989-1006
3. McGill, Stuart. “Core Training: Evidence Translating to Better Performance and Injury Prevention.” (2010) Strength and Conditioning Journal. 32(3), 33-46
4. Chek, Paul. How to Eat, Move, and Be Healthy. San Diego: Chek Institute Publication. 2004,pp 122-123