Ready to start postpartum exercise? Try these 3 simple moves
Whether you’re a fitness guru or new to exercise, you’ve likely heard how important it is to continue or introduce exercise post-baby. This helps with recovery from delivery, as well as to rebuild core strength and stability that might have been compromised during pregnancy. It might surprise you, though, to know that returning to gentle exercise postpartum can potentially start soon after you give birth.
I’m not talking about getting back into your running routine just yet. Simple, weight-bearing exercises can improve support to the pelvic floor, tone abdominal muscles, relieve backache—and give you some much needed personal time as you adjust to your new life with a baby. But I know that starting this process can be daunting or feel practically impossible. Which is why I recommend starting slow.
As a 13-year Jazzercise instructor, pre-and postnatal content creator for Jazzercise On Demand and mom of 4, I am confident in my body and its ability to recover postpartum. I’ve done this a few times, right? So, you can imagine my surprise when after having baby number four last May, I couldn’t complete even one push-up without struggling. Back-to-back pregnancies (with only 11 months in between) had taken a major toll on my body. I needed to modify my approach to my postpartum exercise routine. Here’s how I eased back into exercise after birth.
Note: Be sure to speak with your doctor before beginning any exercise program. If you experience heavy bleeding or pain and discomfort during exercise, stop moving right away. Both are a sign that something’s not normal and should be addressed.
Related: 6 easy postpartum yoga poses for birth recovery
Exercise after birth: 3 postpartum exercise moves to ease back into your workout
Planks, push-ups and crunches are often avoided in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy, but these movements make for a great place to start postpartum. It is important, however, to start carefully and gradually increase intensity over time. With a three-tiered approach to these basic moves, you can confidently introduce exercise postpartum—even in the 6 to 8 weeks after delivery.
Start with the first move in each series a few times a week for a couple of weeks, then gradually work up to the second move, working on that for a couple more weeks, and finally progressing to the third move.
Aside from your core, this move will also strengthen your shoulders, back and legs.
Kneel toward the center of a mat. Position the hands directly under the shoulders and about the width of the mat. Tuck your toes under. Keep the chin away from the chest and the spine straight.
Press into the palms and balls of the feet. Pull the abdominal muscles toward the spine and lift the knees off the floor. Carefully set the knees back on the floor. Then, repeat.
Related: I’ve had 4 tough pregnancies. Of all things, Jazzercise kept me going
2. Modified plank
Kneel at the back of a mat. Gradually walk your hands out toward the front of the mat until your body is angled at about 45 degrees and hands are directly under the shoulders. Contract the abdominal muscles and hold for at least 30 seconds. If you keep your toes tucked under, you can easily transition to and from a modified and full plank.
3. Full plank
From a modified plank position, press into the palms and balls of the feet. Squeeze the glutes and quadriceps to straighten the legs and pull the abdominal muscles toward the spine. Distribute your body weight evenly from head to toe and keep the tailbone in line with the spine. Hold for 10 seconds, then alternate between a modified and full plank until a full plank can be held for at least 30 seconds.
Related: 4 postpartum barre workout moves for new mamas
Before attempting a full push-up, I recommend mastering a full plank for at least 30 seconds first.
1. Tabletop push-up
Kneel toward the center of a mat. Position the hands directly under the shoulders and about the width of the mat (or just wider than the sides of the mat). Spread the fingers wide for stability. Keep the chin away from the chest and the spine straight.
Contract the abdominal muscles and shift your bodyweight fully into your palms. Keep the chin lifted and draw the chest toward the mat. Broaden through the back and contract the chest muscles to return to the starting position. Repeat.
2. Modified push-up
This will take significantly more core strength than a tabletop push-up, so be cautious when transitioning to this movement. Kneel at the back of a mat. Gradually walk your hands out toward the front of the mat until your body is angled at about 45 degrees and hands are directly under the shoulders (or just wider than the sides of the mat). Spread the fingers wide for stability. Keep the chin away from the chest and the spine straight.
Contract the abdominal muscles and shift your bodyweight fully into your palms. Keep the chin lifted and draw the chest toward the mat. Broaden through the back and contract the chest muscles to return to the starting position. Repeat as many times as possible.
3. Full push-up
From a modified push-up position, press into the palms and balls of the feet. Squeeze the glutes and quadriceps to straighten the legs and pull the abdominal muscles toward the spine. Distribute your body weight evenly from head to toe and keep the tailbone in line with the spine. This should sound familiar: it’s the same pose as in a full plank.
While keeping the body strong and straight, and chin lifted, lower the chest as close to the mat as possible. Broaden through the back and contract the chest muscles to return to the starting position. Then, repeat.
A standing crunch? Yes! This removes pressure on the back and helps you re-engage with the abdominal muscles before trying a crunch on the floor.
1. Standing crunch
Stand with the feet close together and knees soft. This will help with balance and keep the blood flowing. Lift the arms high above the head and lengthen the abdominal wall without arching the back.
Contract the abdominal muscles (think bottom of the rib cage to the top of the hip bones) while drawing the elbows down toward the natural waistline. At the same time, lift the right knee for a deeper contraction through the torso. Be mindful of your posture here: Lift through the crown of the head and keep the chest open. Return to the starting position. Repeat with the left knee.
2. Reverse sit-up
Have a seat at the back of a mat. Place the heels at the top of the mat and bend the knees slightly. Gently grab under the knees. Press into the sitz bones and lengthen the abdominals to fully straighten the spine. This starting position is equally as important as the reverse sit-up. Your core muscles are working to keep you here.
Pull the belly button toward the spine as you contract the abdominals. Picture “rolling” down one vertebrae at a time to the mat but stop at about a 45 degree angle. The back will be slightly curved and the legs will straighten a bit as you lean back. Be careful not to pull on the backs of your knees. Lengthen the abdominals to return to the starting position; then, repeat.
3. Full crunch
Lie on the back. Position the feet flat and about the width of the mat. Place the hands under the head and press the elbows wide. Contract the glutes to keep the pelvis in place and to prevent the back from arching. Maintain this contraction as you crunch.
Contract the abdominal muscles to lift the shoulder blades off the floor. Keep the chin pulled away from the chest and elbows pressed wide. This will help prevent pulling on the neck. Return to the starting position and repeat as many times as possible.
Check in with your body
Most postpartum women can return to vigorous exercise 6 to 8 weeks after delivery, but some might need to continue modifying movement beyond this. Because of hormone changes, joints and muscles will be vulnerable to injury for several months after giving birth, so listen to your body. Don’t overdo it. You might also need to ease back into cardio, especially if it is high-impact or involves plyometrics. Seek out low-impact modifications or talk to a fitness instructor for effective movement alternatives. Perform these as needed until your muscles and joints are ready for the extra load.
A note on postpartum exercise
While it can be challenging both physically and mentally to return to exercise after delivery, it is worth it. Nearly one year postpartum, I find myself stronger than I was before any of my four pregnancies. What was intimidating and impossible at first has become easier with patience and persistence.
Mastering these 3 basic moves (again!) has not only helped to restore my core strength but also provided a strong foundation for safe and effective movement overall moving forward. Above all, I have a renewed sense of confidence in myself and my body, which is something I hope for all new mothers and mothers-to-be.