How I’ve approached my postpartum fitness | A Lady Goes West

As I’m writing this post, I’m 14 weeks into my postpartum fitness journey. And while it feels like we’ve had Brady in our lives forever, these past three months have been the fastest of our lives. My life used to revolve around fitness for so many years, and these days, fitness is really just one part of the day that I have to fit in. And getting back to where I was before Brady, and even before getting pregnant, will be quite the job, because spoiler alert: I’m not there yet. Let’s dig in …

My postpartum fitness journey

Now, in case you’re new around here — I’m a group fitness instructor and personal trainer who was super active for many years. Leading up to getting pregnant, I was doing quite a bit less fitness-wise, because I discovered my frequent tough workouts were affecting my hormones and fertility, so I have been on a reduced workout schedule for almost two full years. Yet, my reduced schedule has always included about five workouts, so it was still a full week for most people.

I also taught group classes and worked out throughout my pregnancy, and even lifted weights just one day before going to the hospital to give birth. I love working out. I love teaching and taking group fitness, and I love talking and writing about fitness too.

(Me at 14 weeks postpartum.)

All that being said, coming back from childbirth was initially a lot more difficult than I expected. The first time I attempted a light workout, I felt uncoordinated, immobile, inflexible and weak. All at once. It was rough. I felt like I didn’t know how to do a bodyweight squat or how to balance. And some things continue to be hard eight weeks into working out again.

Yet, I think that going through the process of coming back and building back up has taught me so much about what a lot of people who are new to the fitness world feel. It’s hard. You’re unsure. You could easily give up. And I’ll certainly be able to be a better fitness professional after doing this.

How I took care of my core during pregnancy

I gave birth on September 30, at 38 weeks pregnant and had a vaginal delivery with some minor issues, so I was told by my doctor to stay away from exercise for six weeks, and I followed those instructions (you can read my birth stories here and here).

I did not have any ab separation (diastisis recti), which I would like to think is because I knew exactly what to avoid and when to stop certain moves during pregnancy to make sure I didn’t let it happen. For instance, I felt strain on my abs (which can lead to ab separation) during push-ups around 26 weeks, so I stopped doing push-ups and planks at that time, and instead did kneeling push-ups or planks on my knees for the remainder of my pregnancy. I also stopped doing crunches and super heavy overhead lifting at around 20 weeks as well. And you can read more about my tips for working out while pregnant here.

Getting started slowly with walking and barre

About three weeks after having Brady, I started taking slow walks, and I was still having a little pain and discomfort walking at that point, so would go for 20-30 minutes at a time at most. Gradually, I built up and was doing maybe 45-minute walks leading up until I hit six weeks postpartum. And that’s all I did. No other exercising at all. I used those walks to get fresh air and get out of the house with Brady in the stroller, but they also helped to keep me active.

I didn’t go to the doctor for my postpartum check-up until six weeks and two days to get my “all clear,” so I actually did my first short workout at six weeks and three days postpartum.

For my first workout, I did 20 minutes of a barre-style isometric workout at home in my bare feet, using 2.5 pound weights for the upper-body portion. And after 20 minutes, I was spent. Like wow. I continued doing barre workouts a few times a week at home, adding on five minutes at a time of duration. These workouts include plies, little leg lifts, calf work on the ball of the foot and little arm stuff, like flyes and tricep kickbacks. It was not easy, but it was gentle enough so that I wasn’t going too hard too soon. And I wasn’t ready to work out outside the house yet either.

After a couple of weeks, I added in some yoga and eventually added in some short 30-minute lifting sessions at the gym on the weekends and even some BODYPUMP classes, as well as full barre studio classes too. 

(What am I thinking? That I miss teaching group fitness classes!)

Where I’m at right now at 14 weeks postpartum

Right now, I’m doing about five or six workouts a week, usually two with some sort of resistance, one short yoga session, some barre classes (when I get the freedom to go to a class, which is only on the weekends or rare evenings), and the workouts are usually about 30 minutes total, unless I go to a class. I also walk about five days a week, usually for 30 minutes at a time.

Most days, I get more than 10,000 steps from the walking and the back and forth to the nursery to change diapers too, so I’m moving a lot. (Below, you’ll find a recap of my workouts week by week, and you’ll see that I added on duration and movement and variety as the weeks went on.)

Adding on variety little by little

Like I said already, I chose barre workouts as my first to go back to, because the movement is smaller and isolated and targets the whole body. When I first tried yoga at around seven-and-a-half weeks postpartum, I found it incredibly hard, because I had lost so much flexibility and my balance was off from my changing body. In addition, I had a little pain in the pelvic bones and hips, from healing and stretching, so I had to be careful. I didn’t do any super wide or low squatting or splits, because those weren’t feeling quite right.

When I moved on to weightlifting, I started out doing basic functional moves, like squats, deadlifts, lunges and rows — using very light dumbbells to start. I added in some push-ups on my knees about nine weeks postpartum, and they were incredibly tough. Not only had I lost upper-body and core strength, which you need for push-ups, but I also had extra weight on my body that had to be pushed — a tough combo.

Finally, at around 12 weeks, I decided to start working my core, feeling like it was healed enough to focus on it. I began with slightly crunching (although crunches are not my favorite, nor preference), and I did a few planks a week (by the way, the best core exercises for newly postpartum women include lying on your back doing deep breathing or leg drops, in which your knees are over your hips and you tap your toes to the ground). My first plank felt hard in my core and my shoulders, but they began getting easier. I could probably hold a plank for about two minutes right now, when I used to be able to hold one for more than five minutes.

I gradually started lifting slightly heavier weights and am now using 10-20 pound dumbbells for my short weight circuits, which is much less than what I could do before getting pregnant. Last year at this time, I could squat about 100 pounds, and right now, I haven’t done more than 40 pounds.

Getting stronger and more mobile by the day

But throughout this all, I’ve finally started to feel more mobile and stronger. And I’ve also overcome that awkward and uncoordinated feeling that I had when I first worked out at around six weeks postpartum. Thank goodness. Workouts are hard still, but they’re doable. And they’re much more fun too.

(Wearing Fabletics leggings.)

So here’s what I will say — each week I’ve tried to add some skills and moves, so that I have approached coming back gradually. I’ve continued to walk a lot to stay active, and I’ve done plenty of stretching and at least one yoga session a week to open up my tightness.

My fitness goals for the near future

My goal is to work up to at least three 45-minute to 1-hour weight-training sessions weekly, with a barre or yoga thrown in there and some fast walking for cardio. As you guys know, I don’t love cardio, and the only time I really like it is when I’m teaching Les Mills BODYATTACK, which I’m not teaching right now. (But I have done portions of the class at home twice in the past two weeks and hope to one day teach it again, with all of its plyometric tuck-jumping glory.)

But I do love movement, and I do love feeling progress. I also like seeing progress aesthetically, and that’s not happening super fast for me. I’ve got a tiny bit of muscle tone showing, but not much. I will admit that I have not put as much focus or time into my fitness routine as I had thought I would. I was so excited to work out again, but I’m also very tired and always caring for Brady — which cuts into my motivation and availability for working out and working on my body.

In addition to that, nutrition is super important for aesthetics, and while I eat healthy, I eat a lot and my macros are not on point, and I’ve not yet lost all of the 35 pounds that I gained and have about five more to go. I’m okay with all of this for now, and if and when I feel like I really want to tone up, I will make some changes. But for now, I’m enjoying my daily movement, and I’m enjoying the journey. And I hope to be back in fighting shape no later than six months postpartum.

(Also enjoying these awesome custom Nikes — one of the best gifts ever from Dave.)

I’m going to stay the course and keep working, because I sure do love fitness, and even though I’m not able to devote as much time to it regularly as I would like to, I always feel way better after every single sweat session and walk.

Moral of the story: Even for a fitness person, coming back from pregnancy is challenging. It’s not an overnight process, and it’s best to go with a slow and steady approach. I sure hope to be back in front of the group fitness studio on the mic looking and feeling good soon, but that’s not exactly happening tomorrow.

My postpartum weekly workout recaps

Here’s that breakdown of what I did week by week …

6 weeks

7 weeks

8 weeks

9 weeks

11 weeks

12 weeks

13 weeks

Tips for getting back to workouts postpartum

Quick disclaimer: Of course, you should talk to your doctor and your own post-natal certified personal trainer before beginning a new postpartum fitness program, because safety first, people. But now, here are some tips for exercising, if you’re also postpartum … 

That’s about it, friends! To all my mommas out there, sending you MUCH respect for what you’ve been through to grow and birth a child (or just raise one, if you adopted). Parenting is so incredibly rewarding, but also pretty draining both physically and mentally. I wish you the best of luck getting back into your fitness endeavors and remember to give yourself a little grace.

Thanks for reading, my friends! If you have any questions for me at all about postpartum fitness, please leave them in the comments! Take care!

Questions of the day

Have you ever come back from an injury or pregnancy? And if so, what was your first workout back?

What’s your favorite go-to low-impact exercise format?

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