Postpartum Fitness

The Definitive Guide to Postpartum Exercise: Get Your Fitness Back After Giving Birth

You have just experienced nine months of pretty drastic changes to your body, your emotions, and your life. Now you may be starting to think about what's next. If you're like most new moms, you gained 25-40lbs during your pregnancy, of which only 10lbs or so came off during child birth. You may be asking, "Is it possible for me to ever get my body back?"


Dave Smith
Dave Smith

Chosen as Canada's top fitness professional in 2013.

Hi, I'm Dave and I've been a personal trainer and weight-loss coach to moms everywhere since 2001. This guide is intended to help you get back in shape after you've had your baby. 

If you have any questions along the way, feel free to email me at dave@makeyourbodywork.com - I'd be happy to help.


How to Use This Fitness Guide

If you're feeling confused about where to begin or discouraged by how much work seems to lie ahead, just know that you're not alone.

There is a lot of exercise information available online but it is hard to know what's reliable and what is safe. That's why I've compiled this step-by-step guide summarizing the important aspects of postpartum fitness that I teach to all my new-mom clients.

You can click the buttons below to skip directly to the section you'd like to use right now or scroll down to move sequentially through the guide. 


Things To Consider Before You Begin

(Back to main menu)

Consideration #1: Take Your Time

It is extremely important not to rush your recovery. Your body has just been through considerable physical strain and trauma, and trying to do too much too early may cause more harm than good.

bodyshapes

Every woman is different, therefore don't let your expectations hinge on what others are doing. You are unique!

Every woman will have her own unique hurdles and experiences during and after her pregnancy, and so physical recovery is largely based on your individual circumstances.

In general, it takes 6 weeks before new moms can begin to incorporate exercise back into their routine

Click to Tweet

The general rule of thumb is to slowly incorporate exercise back into your life six weeks after giving birth. However, before you do anything you should work closely with your doctor to ensure that what you are doing is safe.

Consideration #2: Maintain a Healthy Diet

A healthy diet, one including plenty of fruit and vegetables in your meals and snacks, will speed your recovery from labour and birth. It will also give you the energy you need to keep up with the demands of being a new parent.

Food Blogs

Here is a great resource that will help you find plenty of healthy meal and snack ideas that provide optimal nutrition post-pregnancy.

Whether you are breastfeeding or formula feeding, your own diet should needs to be a priority. The following tips are a great place to start (click on the hyperlinks for further information):

  • Make time for breakfast each and every morning.
  • Eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
  • Eat plenty of fibre-rich foods such as oats, beans, lentils, and grains.
  • Make sure you include meals with sufficient sources of protein.
  • Try to satisfy your food cravings in a healthy way.
  • Limit or reduce processed foods such as sweets, fast food, and pop.
  • Watch your portion sizes at mealtimes.
  • Eat regularly and often. Your body wants to be fed every few hours.

Your diet doesn't have to be perfect! Notice that I offer some recipe ideas that offer a little indulgence, while avoiding full-fledged "junk food" status. The goal is to eat healthy options most of the time, and then treat yourself occasionally.

Quinoa Brownies

These quinoa brownies are an example of a healthier treat that can satisfy your cravings without straying far from your ideal diet.

Combining healthy eating with exercise is a very effective weight-loss strategy because it will help you reduce body fat, while maintaining your valuable lean body tissue.

Consideration #3: Be Realistic

If you exercised regularly during your pregnancy, you will likely experience a faster recovery process and this will make it easier for you to lose weight after giving birth.

If you exercise during pregnancy you are likely to experience a quicker "bounce back" after giving birth!

Click to Tweet

Still, it is important to be realistic. It can take months for even the most active mom to recover her pre-pregnancy body and fitness levels. This process will take time.

It is also important to consider that your body naturally changes with pregnancy. Women often find that their weight distribution or shape is now different than it was pre-pregnancy. This is normal and it is something that shouldn’t be fought.

Embrace these shifts and know that you can still achieve amazing health and fitness just as you did before having your baby!


What's Included In This Plan?

(Back to main menu)

This post-pregnancy fitness plan offers practical steps for getting back into shape. The timelines provided are a rough estimate – They are not to be used as a stand-alone prescription for fitness, but rather in conjunction with feedback from your doctor or midwife.

This guide will provide you with a holistic approach to your postpartum health and fitness. Each stage will include the following:

  • Goals to focus on for the prescribed time period.
  • Self-Care suggestions for your body and mind.
  • Recipes that are simple and healthy to add to your meal rotation.
  • Physical Exercises and Stretches for you to practice.
Meditate

Taking care of your mind and body is a priority. There is more to fitness than simply exercising harder and more frequently.

You will see that this fitness plan has been divided into 3 stages. Again, these are guidelines. You should talk to your doctor and progress through each stage as is appropriate for your physical condition

Let’s get started!...


Stage 1: Weeks 1 to 6 Post-Pregnancy

(Back to main menu)

stage1

Your Goals

Your goals in this stage are physical recovery, strengthening the pelvic floor and lower abdominals, increasing your mobility, and focusing on proper nutrition. 

Self Care

Your body needs more than just exercise and healthy food choices. We offer a number of suggestions you may use to help your body relax, heal, and simply feel good. Please click each of the links below and use these tools as you see fit.

Calm.com

Calm.com is an amazing resource that can be used to de-stress. It takes as little as 2 minutes per day. Will you give it a try today?

Nutrition

Aside from the general healthy eating principles we shared in the program introduction, you will find several suggested recipes at the start of each stage. Feel free to try them and begin exploring other similar recipes that you can include in your healthy diet.

Exercise

The following are detailed descriptions and images for a set of exercises that will help your body achieve the goals set out for this stage of the program.

As mentioned previously, take your time and listen to your body. Some exercises that may seem simple can actually be quite challenging during the first 6 weeks post-pregnancy.

Use the following exercise suggestions to build towards a routine of daily physical activity. Some days may simply be walking, while others can incorporate any of the exercises detailed below.

How to exercise at home for free

This is an excellent resource for moms who would like to exercise at home. There are many videos included here that are specifically designed for new moms. Just go at your own pace!

Just be sure to give your body time to respond and heal. At first, plan to have a day of rest after your first exercise session. This will give your body time to speak to you. Were those exercises okay? Are you experiencing any pain or discomfort? Was it too easy?

Answering these questions will help you modify the number of sets and repetitions you perform of each exercise as well as the frequency that you can do them.

Exercise #1 - Walking

walking

Target Areas: Cardiovascular system, legs

Description: Get out and go for a walk! You can increase or decrease the amount of effort required in several ways:

  • Changing your pace
  • Carrying your baby
  • Modify the duration of your walk
  • Change your route (i.e. hills versus flat)

Repetitions: Try to get out for at least 30 minutes of walking 3 times per week. As your body adjusts, you can increase the frequency of your walks.

Exercise #2 - Kegel Exercises

kegal exercises

Target Areas: Pelvic floor

Description: Your pelvic floor muscles are the muscles that stop urination midstream (try it!). Once you've identified your pelvic floor muscles, lie on your back with your knees up and:

  • Tighten your pelvic floor muscles, hold the contraction for five seconds, and then relax for five seconds.
  • Try it four or five times in a row. Work up to keeping the muscles contracted for 10 seconds at a time, relaxing for 10 seconds between contractions.
  • Focus on tightening only your pelvic floor muscles. Try not to flex the muscles in your abdomen, thighs or buttocks.
  • Avoid holding your breath. Instead, breathe freely during the exercises.

Exercise #3 - Lower Abdominal Contractions

kegal exercises

Target Areas: Pelvic floor and lower abdominal muscles


Description: On Your Back:

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent up.
  • Breathe in and as you breathe out, tighten your pelvic floor muscles.
  • Once you've tightened your pelvic floor, gently pull your belly button in and up. You should feel your lower abdominal muscles tighten.
ab contractions

Description: On a Chair:


  • Sit on a chair or exercise ball with both feet on the floor.
  • Squeeze your pelvic floor and lower tummy muscles and then gently lift one leg off the floor. Remember to breathe!
  • Hold this for up to five seconds, slowly lower your foot and relax your muscles.

Repetitions: Do exercise 3-4 times per day, spending just 5 minutes with each set.

Exercise #4 - Pelvic Tilts

pelvic tilt

Target Areas: Pelvic floor, glutes , abdominals and lower back muscles

Description: On Your Back:

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent up.
  • Breathe in and as you breathe out, tighten your pelvic floor muscles.
  • Once you've tightened your pelvic floor, gently pull your belly button in and up. You should feel your lower tummy muscles tighten.
  • Pushing your feet down, lift your back side up, squeezing gluts and keeping knees parallel. Hold for 3 seconds.
abdominal arch

Description: On a Chair:

  • Sit on a chair with both feet on the floor.
  • Tighten your pelvic floor muscles and pull in your lower tummy muscles.
  • Slump your back and then arch it by sticking your chest and bottom out in opposite directions.

Repetitions: Do 3 sets of 10 reps.

Exercise #5 - Neck Stretching

neck turn

Target Areas: Neck and shoulders

Description: Neck Turns:

  • Sit and slowly turn your head to the left and then to the right, keeping your shoulders stationary.

Neck Rolls:

  • Slowly, tilt your head so you move your right ear down to the right shoulder.
  • Roll your head forward slowly, chin to chest.
  • Roll up on the other side, left ear to left shoulder.

Repetitions: Repeat each exercise on both sides 10 times.

Exercise #6 - Neck and Back Stretching

back twist

Target Areas: Neck and shoulders

Description: Exercise 1:

  • Sit up straight with your arms crossed over your chest. Twist to the left and then to the right.

Exercise 2:

  • Sit and link your hands behind your neck. Twist your body to the left and then to the right.
Stand and twist

Exercise 3:

  • Sit and link both hands together in front of you, stretching arms as far out as possible.
  • Take your arms up in front of you and above your head as far as you can. Hold for two or three seconds and then slowly lower your arms down in front of you, hands still linked.

Repetitions: Repeat each exercise on both sides 10 times.

Just got through weeks 1-6 of this post-pregnancy fitness program!

Click to Tweet

Stage 2: Weeks 7-12 Post-Pregnancy

(Back to main menu)

stage 2

Your Goals

Your goals in this stage are to engage in light-moderate exercise. This daily walking and a minimum of 2 days of resistance training per week.

Self Care

In the first stage we focused on mindfulness-based activities. If these are working well for you then you should continue to do them, or perhaps explore other mindfulness activities online. In this next stage, we have provided some resources for self-massage.

As your body is still recovering from pregnancy, and as you begin to incur physical stress from exercise, it is important to balance this with physical relaxation. Give these techniques a try:

Neck & Shoulder Massage

Foot Massage

Nutrition

You will notice that the recipe suggestions we offer are meant to be relatively quick, easy, affordable, and should offer some great taste and nutritional value. Try including some or all of these recipes into your regular rotation:

Exercise

The following exercises are progressions from those practiced during stage 1. Again, use your body as a guide. If there is pain or discomfort, this is a sign that your body has not recovered enough to begin a given exercise. Take your time working into these more challenging routines.

Exercise #1 - Kegel Squats

kegel squats

Target Areas: Pelvic muscles, quads, glutes, core

Description:

  • Sit on a chair or bench, feet shoulder width apart.
  • With arms in front of you, stand up, consciously contracting pelvic muscles.
  • Squat again until you are hovering (almost sitting) on the chair.
  • Increase difficulty by doing on one leg.

Repetitions:

  • 2 Legs: Do 3 sets of 12 squats.
  • 1 Leg: Do 3 sets of 6 squats per leg, working your way up to 10 reps on each leg.

Exercise #2 - Crunch Beats

Crunch Beats

Target Areas: Abdominals, quads, shoulders

Description:

  • Lie face-up on mat with knees bent 90 degrees, legs lifted, calves parallel to floor.
  • Place hands behind head, elbows out, and crunch up, lifting shoulders off mat.
  • Extend legs diagonally up, cross ankles, and extend arms overhead.
  • Holding this position, switch feet over and under each other (i.e. switch which foot is on top) as slowly as possible.

Repetitions: Do 3 sets of 8 repetitions.

Exercise #3 - Forearm Plank

Plank

Target Areas: Abdominals, obliques, quads, glutes.

Description:

  • Get into plank position (abs engaged, back straight, forearms on floor, legs extended).
  • Hold for 30-60 sec., keeping hips up and abs tight.
  • Lower knees to floor, resting for 30 seconds before resuming.

Repetitions: Do 4 planks of 30-60 seconds each.

Exercise #4 - Hamstring Curls

hamstring curl

Target Areas: Hamstrings, glutes, lower back, abdominals

Description:

  • Lie face-up on a hard, smooth surface with arms slightly out to sides, knees bent and hips up, heels on a small towel, feet flexed.
  • Squeezing abs and glutes, straighten legs as far as you can without touching your butt to the ground
  • Slowly pull legs back in, keeping hips up at all times.

Repetitions: Do 3 sets of 10 repetitions.

Exercise #5 - Burpee Progression

burpee

Target Areas: Abdomainals, shoulders, quads

Description:

  • Lower into squat position, hands touching floor just in front of feet.
  • Quickly step legs back so that you are in push-up position.
  • Without pausing, step feet forward to the starting position and return to standing.
burpee

Make it harder: Instead of stepping feet back, quickly jump feet back and forth and add a jump when standing.

Repetitions: Do 3 sets of 10 repetitions.

Exercise #6 - Pointing Dog

Pointing Dog

Target Areas: Shoulders, back, glutes, quads

Description:

  • Kneel on your mat so that your hands and feet are parallel and your back is flat.
  • Straighten and lift your right arm and left leg so that they are parallel to the ground.
  • Squeeze your butt and try not to let arm and leg go out to the side.
  • Return back to kneeling position.

Repetitions: Do 3 sets of 10 repetitions per side.

Exercise #7 - Push-Ups

pushup

Target Areas: Shoulders, chest, arms, abdominals

Description:

  • Start in a plank position with hands and feet (or knees) on the floor.
  • Hands should be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  • Bend at the elbows and lower chest about an inch from the ground.
  • Straighten arms and push away from the floor, returning to start position.

Repetitions: Do 3 sets of 12 repetitions.

Exercise #8 - Dynamic Lunges

lunge

Target Areas: Quads, glutes, core

Description:

  • Stand with feet together, hands on hips.
  • Take a large step forward, bending so both knees are at 90 degrees.
  • Push through the heel of the front leg and return to standing position.
  • Repeat on opposite side.

Repetitions: Do 3 sets of 12 repetitions.

Feeling great now that I'm exercising again! 

Click to Tweet

Stage 3: 12 Weeks and Beyond Post-Pregnancy

(Back to main menu)

Stage 3

Your Goals

Your goals in this stage are to engage in moderate-intense exercise including increased cardio intensity and 2+ days of resistance training each week. 

Self Care

In the first stage we focused on mindfulness-based activities. In the second stage we focused on self-massage techniques. As you are ramping-up your exercise routine, stretching becomes increasingly important, so this stage focuses on stretches your can do as part of your exercise recovery routine.

Give these stretching techniques a try:

Back Stretching

Pre-Bedtime Stretching

Neck and Shoulder Stretching

Nutrition

Try including some or all of the recipes/snack ideas below into your regular rotation. If you are not eating peanut-butter while breast-feeding, you can skip those recipes and save them for later.

Exercise

In this final stage of the post-pregnancy fitness program, exercise can become much more intense and will lead you back to where you were at fitness-wise before your pregnancy.

Exercise #1 - Dynamic Plank

straight arm plank
straight arm plank

Target Areas: Shoulders, core, triceps, chest

Description:

  • Start in a plank position.
  • Drop down on one elbow, then the other.
  • Reverse, pressing one arm up and then the other, back to plank.
  • Alternate the initiating arm.

Repetitions: Do 3 sets of 12 repetitions.

Exercise #2 - Russian Twists

Russian Twist

Target Areas: Abdominals, obliques, lower back, hip flexors

Description:

  • Sit on your bottom and then lift your legs up so you are balancing in a “V” position.
  • Bend your knees to make it easier, straighten to make it harder.
  • Twist back and forth, touching the floor on either side of your body.

Repetitions: Do 3 sets of 30 repetitions (15 twists per side).

Exercise #3 - Mountain Climbers

Mountain Climber

Target Areas: Shoulders, core, quads, hip flexors

Description:

  • Get into plank position (abs engaged, back straight, hands on floor, legs extended).
  • Bring one knee up to your elbow on the same side of your body, then back.
  • Repeat on the other side.

Repetitions: Do 3 sets of 30 repetitions.

Exercise #4 - Explosive Lunge

Explosive lunge
Explosive lunge

Target Areas: Quads, glues, core, hamstrings.

Description:

  • Start in a lunge position, ensuring front knee is at a 90 degree angle, with knee over ankle.
  • Arms are up over your head.
  • In one motion, bring the knee of your back leg up to your chest, elbows pull backwards.
  • Lunge backward with the same leg so that you return to the initial position.

Repetitions: Do 3 sets of 12 repetitions.

Exercise #5 - Airplane Arm Raises

airplane shoulder exercise

Target Areas: Glutes, hamstrings, quads, upper back, shoulders

Description:

  • Stand on one leg with arms out to either side like airplane wings.
  • Lean forward, bringing your back leg up (keeping it straight) until your body is parallel to the floor.
  • Face palms forward, pointing thumbs up to the ceiling.
  • Pulse arms up toward ceiling, then down, never going lower than shoulder height.
  • Switch feet and repeat on other leg.

Repetitions: Do 3 sets of 10 repetitions per leg.

Exercise #6 - Elevator Lift

elevator lift

Target Areas: Lower abdominals, upper abs, shoulders, arms

Description:

  • Lie on your back, legs straight up towards the ceiling (or slightly bent to make it easier), palms down by your butt.
  • Push down with hands, lift butt off the ground, roll your knees towards your chest, legs going straight up, keeping head on the floor.
  • Lower back down to the floor as slowly as possible. Repeat.

Repetitions: Do 3 sets of 10 repetitions.

Exercise #7 - Dynamic Frog Squats

frog squat

Target Areas: Quads, glutes, core, lower back

Description:

  • Start standing, legs spread apart slightly wider than hips, toes pointed out.
  • Arms are straight, pointing towards the floor in front of your body.
  • Without bending at the waist, squat down.
  • Touch your fingertips to the floor.
  • Explode up into a jump, landing with knees slightly bent. Repeat.

Repetitions: Do 3 sets of 15 repetitions.

Find this guide helpful? Share it with your friends who would benefit from this advice!

You May Also Want to Check Out...