Get Back In Shape After Pregnancy - Part 1

Post Natal Exercise

How to Get Back in Shape After Pregnancy

A number of our friends and clients are expecting their first baby in early 2018, so I though this a good time to write a series on How to Get Back in Shape After Pregnancy. One of the most natural things in this world is to raise a family. For women, having children is both an amazing experience and a challenging physical event. The female body transforms while pregnant undergoing a myriad for hormonal and postural change. After being pregnant for 9 months, many mothers are anxious to get their bodies back into shape. It is very important to do this correctly, as a new mothers body has gone through many changes that leave them venerable to injuries.

Hormones to understand

Before discussing how to get back in shape it is important to understand what the basic changes are that have happened to your body; related to exercise and physical activity. There are a large number of hormonal changes that are essential for a successful pregnancy but they also make exercise both during and after pregnancy more difficult.

A large amount of estrogen is released (during one pregnancy more estrogen is produced than an entire lifetime when not pregnant) along with progesterone, which makes most things become bigger. It quickly becomes uncomfortable to move, as weight increases, breasts become bigger and posture, along with the centre of gravity, changes. The posture changes affect the joint positions and length-tension relations of the musculature surrounding the pelvis, lumbar and thoracic spine (lower and upper back) as well as the neck. When joints are out of alignment the surround musculature is placed under greater strain leading to a higher rise of injury.

These joint positions (posture) and muscle length-tension relationship must be returned to normal to minimise risk of injury, avoid aches and pains and to function correctly. The diagram above shows the major muscles that become stiff and tight and their counterparts that become lengthened and weak. Restoring the length (tighten loosened muscles and loosen muscles that have become stiff) and tension (strengthen muscles that have become weak) relationship is the key to restoring posture and protecting against potential future injuries.

It is not just the muscles that get affected during pregnancy. The biggest concerns for exercise after giving birth are due to the increased levels of the hormone relaxin. Relaxin causes loosening of the ligaments. Ligaments are what connect the joints (bone to bone) and hold them in place. When ligaments are loosened joints a very venerable to injury.

Focus on Posture:

The weight of the baby, the changing centre of gravity, the loosening and stiffening of joints and muscles means a woman’s body after birth can feel and operate quite differently than before. The diagram below highlights the main areas to focus on for correcting yourposture and function. You need to perform exercises that do the following:

  • Stretch and lengthen the following muscles – calves, hip flexors, lower back, pectorials (chest), intercostal’s (ribs) and upper traps (back of neck)
  • The muscles that need strengthening are the: quadriceps, glutes (bum), abdominals (particularly the transversus abdominis (TVA)), upper back muscles (rhomboids, lower traps, posterior deltoid and external rotator cuffs) as well as the neck flexors (longus capitis, longus colli)

There are a large number of exercises available to stretch the short and strengthen the weak muscles. To reduce or avoid pain and limit your risk of injury selecting exercises that focus on the above outcomes are the best to choose.

It is also extremely important that the exercises you use are low impact with moderate resistance/weight to ensure the safety of your joints. Bodyweight movements (or calisthenics) are the best option because there is no external load to control. Bodyweight exercises improve coordination, proprioperception (self body awareness), balance, proper function and full range of movement.

However, before you do anything, work closely with your doctor, or a qualified postnatal exercise professional, to make sure everything is safe and to determine a proper workout plan. A general rule is to not return to exercise or conduct strenuous physical activity until 6 weeks after a normal birth. If you have a caesarean delivery (C-Section) you would be advised to wait 12 weeks before beginning an exercise routine.

Next month in part 2 I will explain how to rehabilitate your core (click here to read) after giving birth… stay tuned…

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