As one of nine children I vividly remember watching my mom do her post-pregnancy workouts; mostly with a Richard Simmons VHS. We frequently tease her that if her pant size is smaller than her number of children she's doing pretty well. But the fact of the matter is, strong internal and external pressures exist for moms to pop back into shape right after birth - though that is rarely (if ever!) a reality. Here are a few things to keep in mind with post-partum training.
Don't focus on the scale
Even at pre-baby weight, a woman's body after pregnancy can still be very different; focus instead on helping clients work and become comfortable with the changes. It is very important to teach her how to "listen" to her new body. This can be frustrating, particularly for women who were active before and even during pregnancy. They will not initially have the same strength and endurance that they had previously, and need to start slow with fewer reps, lower weight, and longer rest periods.
9 months on/9 months off
It takes 9 months for the body to shift and adapt to pregnancy. It is perfectly logical to allow the same time to return to "normal."
- Months 1 - 3: Emphasis should be on staying healthy and getting back into a routine.
- Months 4 - 6: Begin concentrating on light weight training and cardio.
- Months 7 - 9: Rebuilding strength, and higher intensity cardio. As with all things, this timing will vary from person to person. The most important aspect is helping your client learn their comfort level and exercise within those parameters.
Areas of Interest
One major area of concern after giving birth is the stomach. Regaining abdominal strength is important for maintaining proper posture, as well as attaining adequate pelvic control. Pelvic tilts, planks and a variety of yoga moves are a great way to reintroduce engaging core muscles without too much strain. A second area of focus would be upper body strength. Carrying a baby and associated paraphernalia causes strain on the back and shoulders. Stretching and strengthening those areas will help alleviate problems.
Incorporating the baby
Nobody has enough time these days and new moms have even less. Creating workouts that can be done with their baby or on a mat with their baby alongside them is beneficial. Slings are a great way for new moms to keep their little one nearby and take advantage of the extra weight. If this is the route you are utilizing, look for correct posture and full support of the child. Do not use exercises that require bouncing or quick movements. I emphasize workouts that require little or no equipment and can be done during quiet moments at home: squats, wall sits, toe touches, wall or modified push-ups, dips, etc.
Don't Skip the Details
As with any client, clearance with a doctor is imperative; most women will be cleared at their 6-8 week checkup. Proper hydration and nutrition are especially important as the body tries to recover from giving birth. Breastfeeding women can need up to 500 extra calories a day to support lactation, so it's important to encourage adequate nutrition to compensate for the extra expenditure from the workout.
Erin is an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer and dietetics student at Kansas State University. She teaches "mom and baby" workout classes for a local nonprofit pregnancy center. She is an avid runner and cyclist who looks forward to graduating and expanding her expertise and practice.