For the new mothers out there considering a return to exercise, we asked the fitness experts working with MindBody, the leading health and wellbeing app, to share the best ways to get active after birth – comfortably and safely.
Firstly, all new mothers should heed the advice of Clio Wood, founder of &Breathe postnatal retreats. This is well versed, but doesn’t go without saying: “Post birth, make sure you get sign-off from your GP at six weeks before starting any fitness regime, and get advice for healing your ab separation – don’t automatically assume you can jump right into your normal class, even if you were a fitness fanatic beforehand.”
She adds, “It’s important to listen to your body and to rehab properly, especially before performing moves like the plank again.”
With that in mind, when you’ve got the thumbs up to exercise, here are some ideal places to start.
Swimming is incredibly effective in working your heart and lungs without putting too much pressure on your joints.
For postnatal women, swimming or an aqua aerobics class are effective in adding muscle tone, while providing a gentle exercise that won’t strain your body too much after birth.
However, it is advisable to stay clear of the swimming pool until any postnatal bleeding has stopped and scarring has healed if you had a caesarean.
Many postnatal women find yoga beneficial, as it encourages relaxation in the post-birth whirlwind while helping to strengthen core muscles and prevent back pain.
Jill Simpson, founder of MINDBODY studio Ebb&Flow explains: “Postnatal yoga is a great way to get strong again in specific areas, such as your core muscles. It’s also a time to focus on you, connect with other mums whilst boosting your energy.”
There are even yoga classes you can bring your baby to.
Pilates is one of the most effective pre- and postnatal exercises as it targets the muscles that generally weaken during pregnancy.
Erica Foulds, master trainer at MINDBODY studio Ten Health & Fitness explains: “As Pilates is non-impact, compared to other forms of exercise, the risk of injury is reduced, so not only is it physically beneficial and advisable, but knowing you’re exercising safely can also help to reduce anxiety and provide reassurance during classes.
“There are also mental and emotional benefits, as Pilates is a highly immersive and focused form of exercise; the focus and concentration required make a great ‘time-out’ from everyday pressures.”
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Gentle weight training
Lightweight training helps to tone up muscles and strengthen your core, so is a great postnatal exercise – but do check this is safe with your doctor first.
Alex Miller, CrossFit London coach says: “Start by using low weights and slowly work your way back to using the heavier weights you were before.
“Our go-to for teaching movement and ingraining great form is to perform exercises at a controlled tempo. For example, take five-six seconds to lower a weightless bar and five to ascend. You’ll find that you can keep your strength and improve both movement quality and body composition without having to load the bar. Focusing on comprehensive movements, like squats, can help strengthen the body correctly and even help towards reversing abdominal diastasis recti.”
Light aerobic exercise is an effective postnatal exercise.
Brisk walking is the best option for women who did not have a strenuous fitness regime before pregnancy, as it’s gentle but keeps you fit and healthy without jarring your knees and ankles. If you can, aim to go on a brisk 30-minute walk four times a week – and pushing the buggy is a bonus.
Group classes like cycling, Zumba or dance are also great forms of postnatal exercise and help to burn calories and get your heart rate up.
Daily pelvic floor exercises
Any mother will be very familiar with pelvic floor exercises. These exercises are incredibly important, as they help to strengthen the muscles that come into great strain in pregnancy and childbirth.
After birth, pelvic floor exercises can also help you heal quicker as they improve circulation to the pelvic area, thus reducing bruising and swelling.
Jill Simpson says: “Begin by sitting, standing or laying down in a comfortable position and squeeze and lift your pelvic floor muscles (these are the ones you use when you’re trying to hold in a pee). Hold this contraction for up to ten seconds, then relax. Repeat ten times and aim to do three or four sets each day.”
From Harper’s Bazaar UK