When I had my first daughter I couldn’t wait to get back into exercise. I had built my life on being fit and strong - from playing professional netball to growing a group fitness business - being fit was who I was. I wasn’t going to let something as significant as pregnancy get in the way of gaining my fitness back.
Knowing what I do now, I can see all the mistakes I made rushing to get back into exercise. Pushing my body to do things before it was ready led to injury, incontinence and a level of exhaustion I never thought was possible.
I want to help you avoid the mistakes I made. Here are my secret do’s and dont’s of returning to fitness as a new mum.
DO - Focus on Inner Strength
After nine months of your belly stretching, it is normal to have little or no core strength. You may even have stomach separation, a weakened pelvic floor or incontinence.
One of the most empowering things you can do is strengthen your body from the inside out. Having a strong pelvic floor and core will help you to build your inner strength and resolve, and are the foundations of your fitness and strength.
Start strengthening and toning your deep core muscles with post-natal specific exercises. The best way to do this is to see a Physiotherapist specialising in Women’s Health who will show you how to correctly engage both your core and pelvic floor.
One great tip that worked for me was to do my pelvic floor and core exercises when I was waiting in line or stuck in traffic! I had a range of simple exercises that I would do, but the easiest one was simply drawing my belly button back towards my spine and holding whilst maintaining a normal breath. It’s all about consistency, so using any spare moments to bring awareness back to your pelvic floor and core can make a huge difference. This is especially true in the early days.
DON’T - Rush Back to the Gym
Having a baby is a huge achievement. Your body needs time to recover.
You are simply not meant to pop out a baby and be back in the gym the following day, or even the following month. Respect your body and give it a chance to rest and undertake that deep repair work. You will be in a much better position to build your fitness and strength if you allow your body a chance to fully recover.
My tip is to create a realistic timeline outlining your return to post-natal fitness. Ideally you will give yourself at least six weeks to really focus on allowing your body to recover. During this time, you can take all the pressure off yourself to return to fitness and just nourish your body and enjoy being in that baby bubble. Your timeline can be fluid, so really tune into your body and continue to give it what it needs to really thrive.
DO - Follow a Post-Natal Program
A good post-natal program like the Fit Mummy Project will help to guide you back to exercise in a safe and positive way. It will show you exercises that are designed for your postpartum body and will help you feel confident and empowered.
Fitness programs that have been created for mums should incorporate short workouts that you can do with your baby. This means that you can make exercise a part of your day and start to create a healthy habit that will help you to not only feel strong and healthy, but will be great for your emotional wellbeing too.
Some of the best short workouts I found included this Mum and Baby Workout, as well as my Pram Workout.
DON’T - Do What You’ve Always Done
Don’t feel pressured to return to the same exercise you have always done. You have changed. Your body has changed. Honour that change and do what makes you feel good. I tried so hard to do the same exercise that I used to do before I had my daughters and I felt like crap. When I finally gave in and did what felt good, it was the biggest relief.
There are so many amazing forms of post-natal exercise. Find the type of exercise that makes you feel good and go with it. I used to hate any slow form of exercise before I had a baby! I was all about boot camp and running. But after I had my daughters, I fell in love with Barre and Yoga. Now I incorporate these types of movements into almost every workout I do.
DO - Focus on the Positives
It can be frustrating when your body can’t do all the things that it used to do. Trust me, I've been there. At 18 months postpartum, I still rolled out of bed because I didn’t have the core control to sit up.
But what I have learnt is to stop looking back at what I used to be able to do and shift your focus to how well you are doing now. Focus on celebrating each small improvement that you are making. Work towards feeling a little stronger and a little healthier each day. Before you know it, you will be fitter and stronger than ever!
When I had my second daughter I would catch myself pinching the fat on my belly. I knew that this wasn’t a healthy habit so each time I found myself talking negatively, I would flip the thought around and say to myself: “I am beautiful, fit and strong”. This mantra helped me to get out of a negative headspace and really focus on how amazing the female body is! To get out of a negative thought pattern, you can use this mantra or any other affirmation or positive thought that makes you feel good.
DON’T - Exercise to Exhaustion
Post-natal exercise should leave you feeling energised, not exhausted. Caring for a newborn is physically and emotionally demanding, and we are often running on a combo of broken sleep and caffeine.
When you are returning to exercise, my tip is to choose movements that are going to make you feel energised and vibrant. For me, this meant choosing shorter workouts, having rest days in between exercise days where I focused on nourishing my body with good food, and prioritising sleep over everything! Yep, even exercise!
If you want to feel inspired with some short post-natal workout ideas check out these 14 mini workouts, which are designed to inspire you to make fitness an accessible and easy part of each day.