Post Natal Exercise – What’s OK and What’s Not? Dale Bell 23 February, 2015 Expert, Health & Fitness, Living There seems to be so much pressure these days to get back in your skinny jeans a mere few weeks after you’ve given birth and although I’ve got to say I really was looking forward to getting back into shape after my children, it’s something you really must take care when doing. Firstly, you shouldn’t start exercise until you’ve had the OK from your doctor, and secondly, when you are ready to start, there are some exercises that you should steer clear of. We’ve asked Pregnancy Fitness Specialist Dale Bell to give us a few tips. So, you’ve had your baby. You’re feeling up to exercise, but you don’t quite know what you should and shouldn’t be doing when it comes down to it. You know certain areas of your body have been affected, but how do you know what to strengthen, what to stretch, and what to focus on? As an Ante/Postnatal Instructor, I prefer new mums to return to an exercise class that is designed specifically for them, so this would be point number one. Several postural changes occur in the body during pregnancy, and it’s important that postnatal women target muscles that have weakened and lengthened to help strengthen, re-align and shorten them back to their optimum position again. Below, I’ve summarised the areas of the body that a postnatal exercise class should concentrate on: GLUTE STRENGTHENING EXERCISES Your glutes actually lengthen and weaken during pregnancy because your pelvis tips forwards to allow your ever-growing bump to come forwards, so your bottom is definitely on the list of muscles you want to focus on after birth. And, why wouldn’t you?! It’s important to do exercises to the glutes that keep the pelvis stable by activating the core muscles too though. Any strengthening exercise performed for these sets of muscles should be done so in a slow, controlled manor, ensuring your technique and pelvic positioning is maintained. Exercises such as squats and lunges are ideal, but there are a few watch points to consider, especially for your lower back when performing them. So, make sure your pelvic floor or core is switched on, keep the lower back from arching, and perform the exercises slowly and with control, for maximum results. ABDOMINALS The abdominals weaken and lengthen during pregnancy, and I’m specifically talking about the six-pack muscle which runs from your breastbone, to your pubic bone, vertically down the front of your stomach. Sometimes these muscles separate, but not in all pregnancies. The deep, internal abdominal muscle called the Transverse Abdominis, sometimes referred to as your “core” muscle should be your main focus. Sit ups aren’t suitable for postnatal women to do, so stop them immediately if you are, and neither are forceful rotational movements where you twist your torso from right to left. It’s safer to perform exercises which target the pelvic floor and deep abdominal muscles or “core”, as these help stabilise your pelvis and the exercises themselves have numerous benefits. UPPER BACK STRENGTHENING EXERCISES This may seem a peculiar area of a new mum’s body to mention, but, during pregnancy, you may have noticed that your shoulders have rounded slightly, because your breasts enlarge and your centre of gravity is shifted forwards, causing your shoulders to round. What’s happening at the upper back (specifically the lower Trapezius muscle) is that the muscles here are busy weakening and lengthening to separate your shoulder blades further apart from each other, and in turn they’re tightening your chest at the front. If you strengthen your upper back, the shoulder blades will return to a more optimum position eg closer together. The other reason I do a lot of upper back work in my postnatal classes is because everything you do as a new mum involves you leaning forwards/rounding your shoulders even more eg feeding baby, pushing your buggy, lifting your baby up, changing baby etc, so there’s method in my madness here. Although you may not like doing the exercises, often it’s the ones you find challenging that you need to more of. CHEST STRETCHING EXERCISES Now, whilst your upper back is busy weakening, your chest/front of your shoulders are busy tightening. As I mentioned above, you need to incorporate upper back strengthening exercises to combat rounded shoulders, but, you also need to stretch out the front of your shoulders/chest too, because these muscles get overused and need to be released, so after any exercise, always do a chest stretch by placing your arms/hands behind you. Be careful not to arch your lower back, and keep your chin lifted, so as not to put strain on your neck. HIP OPENING EXERCISES So, we touched on the glutes earlier. Do you remember what happens to them? That’s right – they weaken and lengthen. Whilst they’re doing this, your poor hip flexors at the front of your hips are busy getting tighter and tighter as your pregnancy develops, to accommodate baby bump at your front. So, again, this is another area of the body that needs some attention when it comes to stretching or cool down. If you sit down a lot, your hip flexors are in a state of contraction, so stretching these muscles out really helps bring your pelvis back into alignment again. Remember with any stretch, you don’t want to hold it for more than 10-15 seconds; don’t bounce or jerk; and remember to breathe. And, there you have it. Lots to consider, isn’t there? I hope you enjoyed reading this information. If you have any questions about any of the content, do get in touch.