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Postpartum Weight Lifting: When Is It Safe? How Should I start?

If you are like me and lifted weights before getting pregnant, or even during pregnancy, you might be a little bit antsy to get back into your routine post partum.

After I had my 4th baby, about 1 week after she was born, I was so ready to be able to be myself again. I was ready to lift those heavy weights. I was ready to kick butt on my 5k runs. I was ready to be fit and stronger than what I was. It didn't help that I gained so much weight during the pregnancy. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed being pregnant to an extent, but I missed my fitness routine.

Mentally, I was ready. But, let's be honest here...when you are post partum you feel like you just got ran over by a truck. It's really a long road to recovery after you have had a baby. It is so important to be able to know how to get back into shape safely and effectively. No - you cannot, and should not jump all in after those 3 months after birth. Even if you feel like you might be ready to lift heavy.

I've seen so many women who are just like me, and who want to be able to have their body back. They want to be fit and strong and lift hard. That's wonderful, it really is. But you also have to remember, you just had a baby. You gave birth to this wonderful human being. And your body went through some major changes.

I love helping women get back into their fitness routine, and having other women become inspired to be stronger than what they were before pregnancy. I think it's truly amazing! But, it's so important to be able to develop good habits and rebuild some muscle before you go all out.

Here, we will talk about some helpful pointers about what you should and should not do when getting back into your exercise program so that you can have confidence in your postpartum weight training.

Tip #1 - Do NOT jump right back into your regular workouts at 6 weeks postpartum

Even if your doctor has told you it is safe to exercise, your pelvic floor muscles are still weak and probably not quite ready to go full on intense training.

Believe it or not, most women do head back to gym or even CrossFit around their 6 week check up. After my 3rd pregnancy, I was one of them. In fact, I was so excited to be out and about without carrying around extra weight that dragged me down, that I tried running. Yes. I was this stupid.

This was not a good decision. My pelvic floor muscles were so incredibly weak, that I actually peed while running on the treadmill! I ran out of the gym so fast and sat in my car and cried. I was mortified!

So, ladies, learn from my mistakes, and please work on those pelvic floor muscles before you even think about jumping on that treadmill or completing CrossFit.

Make sure you have developed a good plan for postpartum weight training.

It's also super important to be able to build your pelvic floor muscles to prevent the risk of Pelvic Organ Prolapse and physical injury. You are also causing yourself unnecessary mental suffering by putting these ridiculous standards on yourself.

Yes, and I mean those thoughts that come through your mind that tell you "A baby messed up my body, now I'll never be the same again". Oh yes - those thoughts will happen.

But, no. That's not the truth. Your body is amazing. You will become strong again. You will lose that baby weight you put on. It just takes time and dedication.

Tip #2 - Treat Postpartum like you’re Recovering from an Injury

I have found that this trick worked for me as well as many other women. You can use the approach of thinking that the return to your fitness routine is like recovering from an injury when you are first starting your journey of weight lifting after pregnancy.

Yes, it might sound a bit silly, but really it's true. Your body went through this amazing thing of giving birth to another human being! Your body stretched, bones shifted and organs moved to make room for this new life. It's purely amazing what a woman's body can do!

Now that your bundle of joy is out in this new world, your body's bones, muscles and organs are all trying to find their place back where it's suppose to be. And there's a little bit of recovery process for everything to move back and for you to feel like yourself again, especially when you are on a postpartum weight lifting journey.

If you happened to break your leg, you wouldn’t rest it for 6 weeks, then try to squat the same weight you squatted *before* the injury. You would start with exercises that are lower demand so you can build your strength and let your leg get use to weights again.

Tip #3 - Start EARLY & Gentle

So you have went to the doctor's appointment at 6 weeks and they tell you "go ahead and exercise. Your clear" - you might be getting a little bit too excited at this point. You might be thinking "oh yeah! Can't wait to hit up those weight machines and bench presses!" You might want to re-think your plans.

When recovering postpartum, it is so important to be able to start out gentle. When I got the clear after my 4th baby, believe me, I was so excited to return to my exercise program. But, I knew my body wasn't ready for the intensity that I had once done.

As a personal trainer, I knew how important having a strong core was. So I spent some time each day doing a few core strengthening exercises.

There are a lot of postpartum ab exercises that will help build those core muscles back up. They took a beating when they stretched out to fit your growing baby. Not only will you help your abs heal and prevent Diastasis Recti, but it will also help with your lower back pain if you have any.

I also took it easy and completed arm circles and shoulder shrugs. I also incorporated some light stretching. There were some days where I felt so weak, even these exercises were a challenge in itself.

Tip #4 - Complete Exercises that are LOW Demand on the Pelvic Floor

When you do start ‘strength’ exercises, you want to START with glute activation exercises that are LOW demand on your pelvic floor. One of my favorite exercises is the glute bridge.

The glute bridge is fairly easy to do. Another good exercise is also the clam shell. Both of these take the weight off your pelvic floor, which is super important because you want to heal it, not increase your changes of a pelvic organ prolapse.

Tip #5 - Start with little weights or Bodyweight Exercises

Bodyweight exercises are so great to start out with postpartum. No matter what fitness level you were at pre-pregnancy, everyone starts out at zero when they are postpartum.

With the help of bodyweight exercises, you can build up your strength, balance and stamina. You might want to consider these types of movement in your routine postpartum:

  • A PULL or a ROW

  • A PUSH - either horizontal (chest) or vertical (shoulders), or both

  • A lower body/leg exercise - in the beginning a hip-dominant exercise like a deadlift, but later on you’ll include quad-dominant exercises like squats

All of these exercises are light and easy on the pelvic floor muscles, which is what you want essentially. Remember my story above with the running at the gym? Yeah, you don't want that to happen to you. Slow and Easy to start out.

Postpartum Weightlifting, main takeaways:

  1. Treat postpartum exercises like you would recovering from an injury and start slow

  2. Follow programming that is designed to address postpartum issues.

  3. Protect your pelvic floor by completing gentle exercises at first

Learning how to complete exercises with proper form is so essential to building the body you want. Weather you are a seasoned gym goer, or a newbie, we have tips and trick for everyone on their fitness journey.

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