Wondering how to fit a workout routine into your busy new-mom schedule? The good news: Baby steps do pay off. A 2007 Harvard study found that mothers who walked 30 minutes a day or more, watched less than two hours a day of TV, and reduced their trans fat consumption were 77 percent more likely to maintain a healthy weight.
Melanie Osmack, founder of the pre- and postnatal fitness program Fit 4 Two in Vancouver (fit4two.ca), says that even brief periods of exercise help. “Moms who work out have a better body image and increased energy, and feel happier,” she says. “And most new moms realize being healthy is more important than rapid weight loss.”
So try out these convenience-packed routines. Osmack recommends doing the 10-minute core workout every day, and a longer routine at least three times a week. On days when you’ve got a little more time, choose between the 20-minute workout below or a brisk 20-minute walk with the stroller to add an important cardio component.
10-minute core toner
Strengthening your core and stretching your back will improve your posture, reduce aches and pains, and tone your stomach.
Pelvic floor lift Start by sitting, standing or even lying down. Take a deep breath in. As you exhale, visualize lifting the pelvic muscles, then squeeze them. Do 10–20 reps at the pace of your natural breathing, then do 10–20 at a faster pace.
Expert tip: Osmack recommends incorporating this move into all exercises, to engage your deep core muscles. This exercise will also help to alleviate postnatal urinary incontinence.
Mindful curl Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Take a deep breath in. As you exhale, lift and squeeze your pelvic floor, then bring your belly button in. Lastly, lift your shoulders a couple of inches off the ground. Slowly lower your shoulders back to the floor. Try to keep your movements as controlled as possible. Do 10–20 reps.
Expert tip: The mindful curl is a safer version of the common abdominal crunch, says Osmack. “Half of new mothers suffer from abdominal separation, and going straight to regular abdominal exercises can exacerbate the problem.”
Bridge Lie on your back with your arms at your sides and palms facing down. Plant your feet firmly on the floor and bend your knees. Peel your buttocks off the floor and lift your hips toward the ceiling. Make sure to keep your knees parallel, instead of letting them fall open. Lift and then lower almost to the ground for 10–20 reps.
Child’s pose Sit on your heels, with your knees either together or open — whatever is more comfortable. Stretch your arms forward onto the floor and fold your chest down over your knees. Walk your fingers over to the left and right to help stretch your chest. Hold for at least 30 seconds.
Expert tip: “Lower back pain is a common discomfort for postnatal women,” says Osmack. “This restorative pose lengthens the spine, relieves pain and lets you relax.”
Superset Repeat pelvic floor lift and mindful curl if time permits.
Additional Core Toning Do the mindful curl for 15–20 reps, as in the 10-minute workout. Do the bridge for 1–2 minutes, as in the 10-minute workout. Repeat mindful curl for 15–20 reps. Cool down with five minutes of slow walking or stair climbing.
20-minute strength booster
Boost your metabolism and get the strength you need for the demands of parenting with this routine. Time-saving “supersets” alternate between two exercises instead of resting between reps. You’ll need free weights (five or eight pound, depending on your strength level) and a balance ball. Start by dancing or stair climbing for five minutes to warm up.
Ball squat Place the ball between your lower back and a flat wall or door. Position your feet until your knees are in line with your ankles. Slowly bend at the knees and do a squat, keeping the ball firmly wedged against the wall. Don’t let your knees go over your toes — adjust your feet as needed. Raise yourself back to standing. Do 15–20 reps.
Stationary lunge Stand in a split stance: the forward foot firmly planted on the floor and the back foot raised at the heel. Lower your hips toward the ground, keeping your forward knee in line with your toe and letting your back knee almost touch the floor. Raise and repeat. Do 15–20 reps.
Superset Repeat ball squat and stationary lunge for 15–20 reps each. Switch feet for stationary lunge.
Bicep hammer curl Stand and hold weights at each side, with your thumbs facing forward. Keep your elbows at your sides and slowly curl each weight up toward your chest. When you raise your weights, they should be pointing toward the ceiling, not the walls. Slowly lower weights back to starting position. Do 15–20 reps.
Single arm tricep extension Hold one weight behind your head with your elbow bent toward the ceiling and your forearm pointing toward your neck. Slowly extend your forearm toward the ceiling, without locking your elbow. Slowly lower to starting position. Do 15–20 reps.
Superset Repeat bicep hammer curl and single arm tricep extension for 15–20 reps each. Switch arm for tricep extension.
Back, chest and shoulders
Lateral shoulder raise Stand with your feet shoulder-425 apart and arms at your sides. Hold a weight in each hand and slowly raise your arms out to the sides at 90º angles. Slowly lower to starting point. Do 15–20 reps.
Chest press on ball Lie with your back on the ball and your head, neck and shoulders resting on it, and your feet hip-425 apart and firmly planted on the ground. Hold your weights in each hand at chest level, with elbows pointing toward the walls. Extend your arms toward the ceiling, but don’t lock your elbows. Do 15–20 reps.
Superset Repeat lateral shoulder raise and chest press on ball, 15–20 reps each.
When can I start working out again?
According to guidelines released by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada, there’s no strict limitation on postnatal exercise — it depends on what you’re comfortable with. However, if you’ve had a Caesarian section or other complications, you should wait to get the go-ahead from your physician.