Written by Tijana Daly | Photography by Paul Buceta

For women who love to lift, waiting for the all-safe to begin training again after having a baby can be challenging. As a new mom, getting back to your workouts can be a powerful form of self-care that boosts your energy, encourages autonomy, and may even provide you with a social outlet. But there’s more to consider than just your love of deadlifts when it comes to returning to your program. 

The muscles of the pelvic floor and core go through massive changes from the added load of growing a baby, not to mention the physical stress of delivery, whether it was vaginal or cesarean. So regaining strength becomes a little more delicate and involved than haphazardly repping it out. Postpartum training should focus first and foremost on restoring core and pelvic floor function (see sidebar, “Breathe Deep”). Doing this will save you from pain, pressure, and leaking, in your workouts and otherwise. 

When you’re cleared to return, workouts should include all major muscle groups, with a focus on strengthening the posterior chain to balance out carrying and feeding baby. It’s best to avoid front-loaded movements, ab-focused exercises like crunches, and relatively heavy loads. This limits added pressure to the abdominal wall, which is still healing. When you can resume lifting weights will highly depend on your situation and rate of healing, so be sure to check with your doc first.

The Workout

How To: This workout can be performed when you’re cleared to begin exercising again as long as you’re not experiencing core or pelvic floor dysfunction. Slowly work your way up to completing four rounds, resting 60 seconds between rounds. 

Equipment Needed: A bench, mat, resistance band, and two light- to moderate-weight dumbbells. 

Breathe Deep

The first few weeks postpartum should be spent learning to connect to the pelvic floor and deep core muscles with breathing. This is known as a core breath, or Kegel exercise.

Perform core breath both throughout the day (especially early postpartum) and during exercise in the first few weeks upon resuming training. As you inhale, think of your diaphragm expanding and your pelvic floor muscles relaxing. As you exhale, your diaphragm contracts and your pelvic floor lifts. Think of squeezing a tampon inside your vagina when you exhale. In your workouts, the exhale would come on the exertion portion of the exercise (for example, up phase of a squat).

12 reps each side

Hold dumbbells by your sides and take a long stance with your toes facing forward (A). Keeping the chest lifted, bend the knees, bringing the back knee towards the floor (B). Both knees should be bent at 90-degree angles at the bottom position, with the front knee staying in line with the big toe. Press back up to start and repeat for remaining reps before changing sides.

12 reps

Sit on a flat bench with a dumbbell in each hand, resting them on the bench (A). Raise the dumbbells to shoulder height (B), keeping the back relaxed and leading with the elbows. Slowly lower the dumbbells so they touch the bench. 

Trainer Tip: No momentum here! Keep the entire movement controlled.

12 reps

Place the bench on a slight incline. Holding dumbbells, lie face down with your chin over the top of the bench (A). Engage through the back and drive the elbows up, keeping them close to your body (B). Lower slowly and with control.

Trainer Tip: This version allows you to focus on using your back without added pressure on the abs.

10-12 reps

On a flat bench, place your mid-back on the edge and walk both feet forward so the knees are bent at 90 degrees (A). Keep your gaze straight forward, not up, at all times. Lift one leg up and balance weight on the other foot (B). Lower your hips, keeping the torso engaged. Drive the hips powerfully up, squeezing the glutes, then slowly lower back down.

20 reps

Secure a resistance band to a sturdy object at chest level. Hold the band at the chest and step to the side so you get some tension (A), grounding into the feet at hip-distance apart. Maintain stability in the core as you extend your arms forward (B). Return to the chest slowly. 

Trainer Tip: Your core and glutes will fire up to resist rotation on the extension.

20-40 seconds each side

Lie on your side, supporting your body with your forearm. Stack the hips and keep the knees together (A). Engage the core and glutes and lift your hips off the ground (B), maintaining your alignment. 

Modification: To make this move easier, drop the bottom knee.
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