This is a guest post from Alex Megan, a postpartum corrective exercise specialist who has made it her mission to help women rebuild their foundational strength and physical confidence after pregnancy and delivery. Take her free quiz about your exercise readiness and find out more about her 6 week postpartum recovery course on After Baby Fit and follow on Instagram @aj.afterbabyfit.
Jumping in to exercise or even daily movement can feel intimidating after giving birth. We can all agree, core control is lacking! Of course, your body is great at naturally healing, but when it comes to important functions of your core and pelvic floor, like holding you up straight and your pee inside your body, it’s worth taking a few extra steps to rebuild that foundational strength and set you up for success!
If you aren’t sure quite where to start, here are a few ideas for you. Let’s begin by saying that everyone is different! Just like you were told when you were pregnant, it’s important to be aware of the messages your body is sending you and don’t overdo it. Small steps forward will lead to a proper rebuilding of your foundational strength and will allow you to make leaps and bounds later. If you jump into movement of any kind without the proper knowledge you can find yourself with aches and pains that are completely unwelcome at this stage!
There are a handful of movements that lay the groundwork for everyday tasks like picking up baby or groceries and most weight and bodyweight movements in exercise classes in addition to a few others that zero in on some of the trouble spots like the lower abdominals and pelvic floor.
Foundational movements to re-master
Posture: standing tall and finding proper alignment, pulling up from the crown of your head, neck in line with the spine, pulling hips under to stack below ribs, soft knees. We are working to find a neutral spine again, and eliminating excess arch in the low back. Take this posture to ANY exercise or daily movement.
Breath & Core Engagement: rather than deep breaths into your upper chest and shoulders, force the breath into your belly and ribs, expanding the deep core naturally with gentle pressure down on the pelvic floor. As you exhale, lift the pelvic floor and tighten the lower abdominals, moving up the body like a wave.
Squat: feet are hip distance apart and the toes are pressed into the ground to force the front of the core to engage. Bending at the hips, sending them back as your knees track towards your second and third toes. Don’t let the chest fall on your legs, keep it proud with a neutral spine. Exhale, engaging the lower abdominals as you stand.
The Reach (shoulder mobility & neck pain relief): finding the serratus, my favorite muscle! It’s like abdominals for your shoulder blades, find it by reaching through your pinky… a muscle below your armpit wrapping to your back should fire up. This keeps pressure out of your rotator cuff and utilizes your back muscles - they can carry so much more weight! Tension also stays out of your neck this way and your shoulder blades are forced to start moving again!
Basics to get back to exercise and target the core, specifically lower abdominals and pelvic floor.
Head Lifts: Laying like you were going to do a bridge. As you exhale, simply raise your head, looking towards your legs and lower abdomen. Try to flatten that area rather than bulging, starting with a kegel and pushing the exhale from the bottom up.
Bridge: Laying with a neutral spine, knees hip distance and feet/toes fully engaged with the mat. Imagine pulling hips up with your pubic bone instead of pushing with your heels and glutes. Keep it low. Exhale on the way up, inhale down.
Marches: Start with feet hip distance and pull one leg at a time up to table top. Aim to pull with your lower abdominals NOT your hips (it should be much harder!). Use your exhale to bring the leg up and inhale it down.
Bird/Dogs: In hands & knees, extend one arm and the opposite leg. Leg should stay at hip height or below - no movement in your low back! Inhale as you reach and exhale as you come back, hovering hands and knee over the mat and starting again.
Side Lying: Laying down with head on your arm, stacking the hips, creating a straight line from crown of head to tailbone. Don’t let the belly hang on the mat. Clams with both legs bent, Leg Lifts with top leg extended and Rainbow Taps creating a half circle at each corner of the mat. Testing your ability to stay stable as your leg moves in different directions.
Planking against a wall: Find a nice angle and test your ability to hold a plank on a wall without bulging. Practice breathing and hugging in your belly. Hips come down, pulling on your pubic bone to maintain a neutral spine. You should have a nice straight line from the crown of your head to your heels.
Have fun with this and create your own short workout! Don’t put a lot of pressure on yourself, you don’t need to spend hours, even a few minutes a day is a great start! Try doing each one for 60 seconds to start and then work up to a Tabata style, or another timed interval, they are great postpartum (or any time for that matter!), allowing you to work at your own pace and move correctly versus trying to keep up with a rep count. 12 minutes is a perfect busy mom amount of time. You will feel the results and it’s easy to fit in. Try this one below and see what you think!
12 Minute Tabata Workout: 40 seconds of work / 20 seconds of rest
- Squats x2 (challenge: hold the bottom of the squat for the rest)
- Back Lunges x2 (progression: start small step/small dip, challenge: add in a knee lift as you stand and/or hold the bottom of the position during rest)
- Bird Dogs (challenge: try to squeeze elbow to knee without rounding the back)
- Side Lying Leg Lifts (progression: find a low plank on elbow & knee)
- Bridges x2 (challenge: during the rest, pulse at the top, without arching back)
- Marches x2 (Progression: ground to table top, start in table top and lower)
Don’t be afraid to ask for help if these aren’t clicking or you would like a more personal assessment. Someone listening to your specific needs and adjusting movements for you could be life altering. It doesn’t mean that you are signing up for months of training, it’s learning cues that make sense to you and the way your body moves to help you get through your day with confidence (30lb car seats come to mind…) or workouts pain free!
Alex Megan of After Baby Fit is a postpartum corrective exercise specialist and has made it her mission to help women rebuild their foundational strength and physical confidence after pregnancy and delivery. Take her free quiz about your exercise readiness and find out more about her 6 week postpartum recovery course and follow on Instagram @aj.afterbabyfit.