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There's a lot to think about postpartum—lists of postpartum supplies you'll need to heal, watching out for depression, anxiety and rage, and whether or not that first postpartum period is normal. (All after giving birth and prepping for your baby's arrival!) High on that checklist for many women is getting back into exercise.
Postpartum workouts may be extremely beneficial to helping your body heal, but it's crucial to get the timing and exercises right in. Here when to start low-impact postpartum workouts and which are best for you during this time.
There are three main components to postpartum recovery, says Amy Meehan, DPT and founder of Revelle Physical Therapy in Atlanta. "It's best to think about them in three phases: recover, restore, return to workout." With that in mind, she says that starting to rebuild the core and pelvic floor can start as early as two weeks postpartum.
"Focus on restoring breath and mobility," she says. Then, move on to the coordination of your core, which includes the abdomen and pelvic floor. "Once you have adequate mobility, minimal to no pain and good core/pelvic floor control you're ready to slowly progress back into a workout routine," she says.
This also depends on what kind of birth you have. "Both vaginal and C-section deliveries are traumatic on a woman's body," says Meehan.
"Doing too much too fast will slow the healing process and make returning to exercise more challenging." Because it can take 6 weeks for the cervix to close after vaginal delivery and 4 to 6 weeks after a C-section for your body to heal, it's best to take it slow and seek advice from your doctor before beginning any exercise.
"Both need adequate time for rest and healing," she says, noting that for some new parents, this can be as much as 12 weeks.
While it might be tempting to try and get back to what you were doing before delivering or before pregnancy, Meehan stresses that postpartum is a state of stress for the body. "Beginning with low-impact workouts can minimize stress," she says. Focus instead on restoration and movement early on so that your body can undergo its natural healing process.
"It also ensures you stay injury-free as you begin working out postpartum," she says. "If you incorporate high impact too soon, the body doesn't have the timeframe or attention it needs for proper healing." Here are six low-impact exercises to try.
Meehan says that walking is a great place to start in postpartum if you're not pushing through pain, urine leakage or pelvic heaviness. "Walking is good for blood flow, mobility, cardiovascular health and muscle endurance," she says. It's easier on your joints than other exercises, and it could even boost immune systems and promote weight loss.
Look for a supportive shoe like this one from HOKA ONE ONE which is beloved for its fantastic support and lift. The full-length foam midsole offers a great amount of stability and absorbs shock well. These make getting back to pre-pregnancy fitness levels fun, easy and stylish.
Staying hydrated is super important throughout pregnancy and postpartum as your body goes into overdrive. This now-famous cup from Stanley holds 40 ounces, preventing you from having to go back to the fridge for water over and over again throughout the day.
It fits nicely in most stroller's cupholders and comes in stylish colors with a comfortable handle and easy-to-drink straw. Read our full review of this viral cup.
Postnatal yoga can be great for postpartum workouts—provided you're not hopping straight back into a hot vinyasa flow, says Meehan. "Yoga is a great way to focus on diaphragm breathing, core connection and full body mobility," she says. Once again, take note of any pain, leakage, pelvic heaviness or coming of your abdomen, which she says is a sign of diastasis recti.
This is one of the easiest postpartum exercises to start with.
This mat was specifically designed for yoga and features a super grippy top layer that absorbs moisture, which is important if you're sweating excessively during postpartum. It helps retain resistance so you can do yoga moves properly.
It's also made from sustainably sourced natural rubber which makes it cushioned and comfortable. It's reversible and makes knees-bent moves gentler thanks to padding.
Even if you're a seasoned yogi, your body might not bend and stretch the way it used to, especially as you ease back into your practice. A yoga block can help make getting into positions easier and support you where needed, such as your lower back. It is lightweight and durable and made from a slip-resistant material to keep you in place.
Any good piece of workout apparel should be moisture-wicking and breathable, and this pair from Freefly exceed expectations. They're also ultra-smoothing and soft with a barely-there finish while providing adequate coverage.
As a physical therapist specializing in the pelvic floor, Meehan's partial to core restoration exercises as a way to get low-impact physical activity in while helping rebuild—and you can do it as early as week 2 postpartum. The core consists of four groups of muscles: the deep back muscles, diaphragm, transverse abdominals and pelvic floor, and all four need to be working properly to regain strength and coordination.
"Start with a focus on deep breathing with good rib motion," says Meehan. "Start on your back, seated or standing, and place your hands around your ribs." From there, expand and engage your core without crunching, holding your breath or bearing down. "On an exhale, think of zipping the lower belly in and up.
Meehan says to work on your pelvic floor next. "Breathe in and relax your pelvic floor. Then, on an exhale, try to close and lift the muscles of your perineum."
Meehan says gentle weight training can be added in during the postpartum period when you feel ready, especially since you'll be lifting a growing baby and will want to condition your muscles. "Restoring core is just as important here," she notes. Keep weight light at first, starting with a heaviness where you can complete 12 to 15 reps with minimal fatigue.
"Focus on your glutes and mid-back, as pregnancy posture tends to turn these muscles off," says Meehan. Then, add in arms and legs as you feel ready. "This helps regain important postural muscles and other muscles you need to return to higher-intensity exercises," she says.
When you're ready to add hand weights in, a light set ranging from 3 to 8 pounds will do the trick for most exercises. These from Amazon come in weight sizes ranging from 2 pounds to 20 pounds, with hexagon-shaped ends to keep them from rolling away from you while you work out.
If you need to do your weight training at home (newborn life!) then a set of resistance bands can help you work your glutes and mid-back. Use these for arm workouts as well. You may want to start with a personal trainer if you're new to using resistance bands.
These also make postnatal exercise easy to achieve just about anywhere.
"We love a good megaformer Pilates class, but waiting until you have a strong core connection is extremely important," says Meehan. Start with mat Pilates instead around weeks 6 to 8 postpartum if you're able to connect to your deep core muscles, also known as your transverse abdominals.
Mat Pilates allows for more adjustments and for you to concentrate on the movement rather than the pace, and build up your strength. Adjust how physically active you are with precise, targeted movement, and then work your way up to moderate intensity after several months.
Pilates is especially good for pelvic floor exercises and strengthening pelvic floor muscles.
One of the foundations of Pilates is having a good grip on a mat or on the floor, and grippy socks can help you get the traction you need. This set of four is made from premium cotton with silicone dots to keep you from slipping and sliding while focusing on your exercises. They feature a cushioned sole, come in many colors and patterns and are machine washable.
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