Modifying and scaling during pregnancy was humbling, but it was nothing compared to postpartum training. After giving birth, doctors recommend (strongly) six weeks of rest and recovery which means walking and MAYBE light weights. I’m not an elite athlete but I’m definitely competitive. Six weeks of walking? Please…
A ton of things happen in the body during the first six weeks postpartum. One of these things is that the abdominal muscles start to knit back together, layman’s terms. As the uterus grows, the abdominal wall is no longer a wall. It becomes separate bricks, and separate bricks are not as strong as a wall. In most cases it takes longer than six weeks for a woman’s abdominals to come back together and even if they do, they aren’t nearly as strong.
To rebuild the abdominal wall, it is recommended that low impact exercises are done. No sit ups, a few planks, but certainly well-supported, full abdominal movements. It isn’t just the washboard stomach that weakens during pregnancy but also the muscles of the sides and the back. The entire corset of the trunk needs to be strengthened before weight is added to movement. Instead of snatches, cleans, and presses with a barbell, the first 6 weeks, (if you decide to jump back in early), are spent doing seated presses with dumbbells to rebuild the core stability necessary to send weight overhead.
Any jumping and any weighted squats are out. Obviously during labor the pelvic floor is, well, stressed. With so much happening to that region, giving it time to heal is paramount. Air squats are acceptable as only body weight is being moved. Any added weight would cause unnecessary and potentially unmanageable strain on the pelvic floor muscles. The same can be said for jumping movements, such as box jumps or double unders. The sudden jarring of the body in the landing of a jump could hinder the healing of the pelvic floor muscles. Kegels are highly recommended to rebuild and strengthen the pelvic muscles. So you don’t pee when you jump rope.
Starting lighter and slower also serves to rebuild cardiovascular endurance. During pregnancy, the amount of blood in the body increases by 50%, which means the heart works harder. Postpartum, the body needs to adjust to the new amount of blood and heart rate. Giving it time is necessary. During pregnancy, a woman is usually advised to keep her heart rate below a certain BPM to ensure enough oxygen is getting to the baby. This restriction in itself causes a loss of cardio endurance. So walking instead of running, and even rowing if it’s done carefully.
As much as I hate to say it, taking it easy for the first six weeks postpartum is necessary for long term gains and performance. Getting hurt now would only make the recovery period longer. So be smart, be safe, and dial it back for six weeks. Then if it feels good, give the gym hell.