You’ve pushed a human out of your body. You’re surviving on next to no sleep, and each day is a fight against fatigue and full of efforts to regain control of your pelvic floor. Motherhood in itself is a triumph, and with all the extra demands on your time and energy, getting back into an exercise routine after having a baby takes planning and motivation.
But while working out might be the furthest thing from your mind, many mums will attest that apart from getting back into shape, exercise in the months following childbirth can have a positive impact on energy levels and mood. This theory is backed up by a recent study conducted by the American Physical Therapy Association, which found that physical exercise can reduce the risk of mothers experiencing postnatal depression.
The best exercises for new mums
Personal Trainer Genevieve Brock, suggests exercises that target all the major muscle groups are ideal for shifting extra weight and correcting ‘pregnancy posture’. “Compound exercises such as squats are fantastic for challenging the quads, glutes and core,” Genevieve says. “A wall squat using a sturdy wall or swiss ball is a great option. Even women who are at peak fitness can really struggle with the technique of a squat without some sort of back support, so this will be a good challenge for women wanting to regain tone and strength after having a baby.”
It is especially important to target the pelvic floor muscles, which contribute to good posture, support the intestines, bladder and uterus, and are vital to maintaining postnatal continence. Damage to the pelvic floor not only contributes to urinary incontinence, but can lead to pelvic organ prolapse, where the bladder, rectum, or uterus protrudes into – or outside of – the vagina.
As the body releases hormones during pregnancy which soften the tissues to allow them to expand during labour, it is important to exercise gently while these hormones dissipate. If you experienced any complications during pregnancy or labour, make sure you talk to your doctor and trainer when you decide to start exercising again.
The following exercises are suitable for mums getting back into the swing of exercise, and anyone seeking to improve their balance, posture and tone.
Using a 2kg medicine ball, add an upper body rotation while in the lunge position. Start by holding the ball directly in front of you and rotating toward the foot of the side you are stepping forward with. The knee of the alternate leg should just ‘brush’ the ground to avoid injury to your knee cap. Bring the ball back to centre and reverse out of the lunge before alternating sides.
Target zones: core, obliques, quads, glutes, shoulders and back
Concentrate on keeping the toes of the grounded foot pointing up, to avoid distributing weight onto this leg. This will prevent you ‘cheating’ when stepping up by isolating the leg lifting the body onto the bench. Perform either by alternating legs or using sets for each leg individually. For added challenge, step onto a higher bench or hold dumbbells.
Target zones: core and stabilisers
Focus on your form and perform these on knees or against a surface such as the Smith machine bar.
Target zones: chest and stomach
Plank with mountain climbers
Hold a plank position on your hands and toes, focusing on stabilising your core. While locked in that position, draw one knee towards your chest and then slowly return it to the start position before drawing the other knee up. Your foot on the leg being lifted forward should not touch the ground until you return to the plank position.
Target zones: core, abdominals and upper body
This exercise requires concentration and is excellent for improving posture. Position yourself on your hands and knees with a flat, straight back. Engaging your core and glutes, raise opposite arm and leg, straightening limbs as much as possible without arching or dipping the lower back. Hold for a few seconds before returning to start position. Alternate sides.
Target zones: balance and core activation