Returning To Exercise After Pregnancy

ReSync Physiotherapy and Sports Injury Clinic - Dublin

A guide for returning to Exercise after Pregnancy

Returning to exercise after pregnancy can feel like torture at the very beginning! You may think; am I going to flare up an old injury? or is that lower back pain going to come back with vengeance if I even attempt to go to the gym?

In these instances, what I like to get women to focus on is that there is only one difference between training and rehabilitation… and that’s the starting point!

Everybody has different levels of fitness, so naturally, their starting point will be different. When going back to exercise after pregnancy you may seek out a personal trainer who will put you through a screening process. While this personal trainer may look at your strength deficits during a squat or a lunge, we look at it from a muscular prospective. How are your glutes firing? How are your tummy muscles working? Do you have neck pain when going from lying to sitting up? All these clues give us an idea of how your body is compensating after child birth. I have yet to meet a mum whose body is not compensating in some pattern.

Over those nine months, your body has gone through a massive ordeal and it is craving the right stimulus to get back to proper working order. This is why I have designed this list to help guide you through the maze that is exercising after pregnancy (a maze created by social media!)

No matter if you just want to get rid of that neck or back pain, or you want to go back to running marathons or do some strength training. This list is designed to start you from ground and work upwards.

So here goes:

How and why you need to brace your core

Learn how to brace those core muscles. When returning to exercise after pregnancy, you need a proper functioning core, that means learning how to activate or brace it. A lot of people think increasing the pressure in the stomach is bracing. It’s not. It is just pushing air into the tummy to give the sensation of stability. All you end up doing is holding your breath… which is not good when you’re trying to run!

So let’s test this… Lie on you back, now do what you think is bracing the tummy muscles. If your tummy raises up or what we call doming, then you’re not bracing.

A key tip to brace properly is to push your fingers into your side and try use the muscles to push them out. You then automatically end up tensing the correct muscles in the way to support the core.

If you think you may have more complicated issues such as Diastasis Recti (Splitting of the Abdominal muscles).

Do not hold breath during exercise

Don’t forget to breath. When going back to exercise after pregnancy you must consider what your body has been through during pregnancy. Tummy muscles have weakened, so in order to provide stability, people will hold their breath.

Time and time again I have new mothers coming into me who have dived head first into an exercise programme. They have tried to ignore the pain after the session and then convince themselves that pain is normal. It’s not. There is a certain level of discomfort associated with exercises but anything over 4/10 level of pain (10 being extreme pain), then this is not normal.

The most common cause of this is holding your breath. Your body needs to be able to relax and create tension at the same time during squats, lunges and planks. Tensing every muscle in your abdomen is not the right way to exercise. If you’re not a power lifter, then you don’t need to create maximum tension when exercising.

Check out this video for more info

Your diaphragm forms part of your core muscles, so it needs to be controlled and used (disassociated) in conjunction and apart from the abdominals, trans-abs and pelvic floor (muscles of the core). Breathing and bracing is a key skill- see video at the end

Running after Pregnancy

Running- a key tip when returning to running after pregnancy is accepting that becoming good at running is going to take time. Yes, that first run sucks… and maybe the next one and next one. But after that, it begins to get easier and you begin to enjoy the freedom of being out of the house and having some “me time”.

What ends up ruining it is people increase distance, number of runs per week and speed all too quickly. A key indicator of fitness is the ability to maintain a constant pace for extending periods of time.

There no point sprinting 60 meters and then dying a death when you have a total of 3km to run. Start slow. One-minute run, one-minute brisk walk. The reason for this is your body and muscles and joints get time to rest and replenish energy back into the muscles, so you can work those muscles again, without them being too fatigued (which can lead to injury).

To create an adaptation in your body you must exercise it, rest it, exercise it, rest it. Doing this, many times during one session will help build resilience. As you improve, your rest periods are shorter, and your speed is quicker!

Weight Training After pregnancy

So now lets look at weight training as an exercise after pregnancy. Pick a weight that you feel comfortable with. In fact, don’t pick a weight at all and complete some body weight exercises.

Try the following at home before you go back to the gym:
10 squats holding onto a chair- get that butt down to your heels
10 lunges
20 seconds plank
10 Push-ups (on knees)
Rest 30 seconds and repeat 5 times
Body weight exercises can be just as tough as doing weights. The problem with weight training is that you tend to fatigue. When you fatigue, you don’t squat down as deep (as you may be afraid that you won’t get back up!) or you do half reps. This is bad. This trains your body to be strong only in the range of the reps that you are completing.
Try body-weight exercises and building up the weight slowly. Going harder does not make it better if you tire out before the end of the session. You will just end up injured. Maintain a constant pace for the session and increase that the next session.

Its very common for women to go through a weights program in order to exercise after pregnancy but improper form, fatigue and ignoring pain during exercises leads to massive problems down the line. in the past i’ve had to reel in patients and bring them back to basic exercises as their form was way off. In attempting to exercise after pregnancy they went in to the gym and strenghtened all these bad movement issues they had developed from picking up their child or leaning them on one hip. These leads to massive imbalances and unfortunately some of the hard work they had put in was lost as we had to reign in her training intensity.

Pilates After Pregnancy

Finally, let’s look at Pilates. Absolutely excellent type of exercise for post-partum mothers. BUT…  you need to be doing it correctly. All to frequently,  I get people coming into the clinic showing me exercises that they are doing in Pilates class and their form is way off. They are instructed to keep that lower back pressed against the floor but after 2-3 sessions that goes out the window. Key tip is to place a face cloth under lower back in the centre. This will give you some feedback on your lower back control. Pilates is designed to be tough, so if you’re finding it easy then you’re probably not controlling it correctly. Poor form leads to tight lower back and hip flexors as you are not bracing your abdominal correctly

If you are unsure of going back to exercises and feel you need to have a professional look at the way you move, feel free to give us a call or book online at

Common issue found after pregnancy

  • Neck pain- due to weak core muscles. This generally is noticed during sit ups, planks and or Pilates.
  • Hip pain experience rising from a chair or turning over in bed. This can be due to pelvic floor weakness or spasm. Yes, not all pelvic floor can be weak post-pregnancy. They may also be too tight. So, if you are doing all these Kegel exercises and your seeing no improvement, more than likely you need to release and relax. This can be done very easily by breathing and pelvic rotation which we can demonstrate in the clinic
  • Lower back pain. This is generally caused by weakness in the hips and core. Again, this is easily resolved with the correct programme once we assess and see how you are compensating.
  • Pelvic girdle dysfunction. This is the extreme end of pelvic issues post-pregnancy and takes time to resolve when a comprehensive programme is adhered to.

Common factors when resolving pain post pregnancy…. Strengthening, breathing and consistency.

Once you are set up on programme, then we follow up with your weekly check-in’s through Whats app and also in clinic, as needed. This will definitely improve outcomes for you and helps improve success rates!

Kula Health