The Right Way to Exercise After Pregnancy: Why You Should Say No to Bootcamp

I’m often asked to identify the best way to get back in shape after baby.  People often balk at what I say, and go on to join the first mommy bootcamp they can find. Most come back to me with their tailbone tucked between their legs, a poochy tummy that hasn’t flattened even though they can ‘hold a plank for 3 minutes,’ back pain that won’t go away even though they do ‘core exercise 3-5x a week,’ and leak ‘only when they jump or run or do jumping jacks.’  Get my point?

The best way to exercise after pregnancy is to focus on restorative core exercises.  Let me say that again…Restorative Core Exercise.  Getting your body back doesn’t mean joining a marathon training group, crunching your way to oblivion, deciding to give Crossfit a try or opting for a local mommy bootcamp class.  I’ve said it before,  and I’ll say it again, mommy and bootcamp do not belong in the same sentence.

Pregnancy challenges your body with hormones, posture changes, muscle and connective tissue stretching, and pelvic floor overload (to name just a few).  These happen over nine months and are followed by the intense and amazing experience of birth.  The muscles of the core (and by core I mean the deep core – the pelvic floor, the diaphragm, the multifidus and the transversus abdominus) are put to the test and are often injured or in a less than optimal state after you give birth.  Connective tissue has been stretched, abdominal muscles have been stretched and have become weak, the pelvic floor has carried the weight of the baby(ies) and fluid during the pregnancy and then been stretched and sometimes injured during birth. So, why do women think the postpartum period is a great time to jump and pound and crunch?  Because they want the hardest activity possible so they can lose the ‘baby weight’ quickly and because healthcare professionals are not advising them about proper recovery choices.  Here’s the deal: the postpartum body is not able to withstand the load of bootcamp-style exercise.  Once the core is restored then you can gradually add on more intense activity and return to your favourite bootcamp, but if you notice any leaking, any belly pooching, any back pain or any feeling of ‘something is just not quite right’ then you must stop and back it up again with inner core alignment and restorative exercise.

The keys to getting your body back in shape are optimal alignment that will allow the core to function properly, optimal breathing to ensure oxygenation of tissues and the correct movement of the pelvic floor, restorative exercise that calls on the deep core team to work together, and gentle stretching to create healing space and promote relaxation and restoration.

Rest and restorative breathing is the focus of the first one to two weeks postpartum.  Restorative breathing with one to two deep core exercises and some gentle walking is the focus of weeks two to four.  I always recommend that women make an appointment to see a pelvic floor physiotherapist at the sixth week mark, even if they feel fine.  It is important to get your insides checked out so you can catch any concerns early and prevent them from becoming problems down the road.  For the next month I suggest continuing with restorative breathing and walking daily along with an additional four to six deep core exercises.  Have your physiotherapist or a trainer qualified in deep core work assess you and determine your ability to start adding on more intense activity.  A great program is the Bellies Inc core exercise program - it is designed for use in pregnancy and postpartum and remember, once you have had a baby you are always postpartum so this exercise program is suitable for every woman who has had a baby and even those who haven’t!

No amount of bootcamp or crossfit or insanity or P90X will be effective until the inner core is functioning properly and able to withstand the loads demanded of you in these activities.  Restore your core BEFORE bootcamp!