How I’ve approached my postpartum fitness
As I’m writing this post, I’m 14 weeks into my postpartum fitness journey. And while it feels like we’ve had Brady in our lives forever, these past three months have been the fastest of our lives. My life used to revolve around fitness for so many years, and these days, fitness is really just one part of the day that I have to fit in. And getting back to where I was before Brady, and even before getting pregnant, will be quite the job, because spoiler alert: I’m not there yet. Let’s dig in …
My postpartum fitness journey
Now, in case you’re new around here — I’m a group fitness instructor and personal trainer who was super active for many years. Leading up to getting pregnant, I was doing quite a bit less fitness-wise, because I discovered my frequent tough workouts were affecting my hormones and fertility, so I have been on a reduced workout schedule for almost two full years. Yet, my reduced schedule has always included about five workouts, so it was still a full week for most people.
I also taught group classes and worked out throughout my pregnancy, and even lifted weights just one day before going to the hospital to give birth. I love working out. I love teaching and taking group fitness, and I love talking and writing about fitness too.
(Me at 14 weeks postpartum.)
All that being said, coming back from childbirth was initially a lot more difficult than I expected. The first time I attempted a light workout, I felt uncoordinated, immobile, inflexible and weak. All at once. It was rough. I felt like I didn’t know how to do a bodyweight squat or how to balance. And some things continue to be hard eight weeks into working out again.
Yet, I think that going through the process of coming back and building back up has taught me so much about what a lot of people who are new to the fitness world feel. It’s hard. You’re unsure. You could easily give up. And I’ll certainly be able to be a better fitness professional after doing this.
How I took care of my core during pregnancy
I gave birth on September 30, at 38 weeks pregnant and had a vaginal delivery with some minor issues, so I was told by my doctor to stay away from exercise for six weeks, and I followed those instructions (you can read my birth stories here and here).
I did not have any ab separation (diastisis recti), which I would like to think is because I knew exactly what to avoid and when to stop certain moves during pregnancy to make sure I didn’t let it happen. For instance, I felt strain on my abs (which can lead to ab separation) during push-ups around 26 weeks, so I stopped doing push-ups and planks at that time, and instead did kneeling push-ups or planks on my knees for the remainder of my pregnancy. I also stopped doing crunches and super heavy overhead lifting at around 20 weeks as well. And you can read more about my tips for working out while pregnant here.
Getting started slowly with walking and barre
About three weeks after having Brady, I started taking slow walks, and I was still having a little pain and discomfort walking at that point, so would go for 20-30 minutes at a time at most. Gradually, I built up and was doing maybe 45-minute walks leading up until I hit six weeks postpartum. And that’s all I did. No other exercising at all. I used those walks to get fresh air and get out of the house with Brady in the stroller, but they also helped to keep me active.
I didn’t go to the doctor for my postpartum check-up until six weeks and two days to get my “all clear,” so I actually did my first short workout at six weeks and three days postpartum.
For my first workout, I did 20 minutes of a barre-style isometric workout at home in my bare feet, using 2.5 pound weights for the upper-body portion. And after 20 minutes, I was spent. Like wow. I continued doing barre workouts a few times a week at home, adding on five minutes at a time of duration. These workouts include plies, little leg lifts, calf work on the ball of the foot and little arm stuff, like flyes and tricep kickbacks. It was not easy, but it was gentle enough so that I wasn’t going too hard too soon. And I wasn’t ready to work out outside the house yet either. (Updated to add: I would recommend wearing sneakers for barre-style workouts on hard surfaces for a few months postpartum, because your body can be very sensitive and you’re more prone to stress fractures during the postpartum time, especially if nursing. Wood floors, like I had at home, are not ideal, as most group fitness studios have more of a softer give. I ended up aggravating an old stress fracture from the past even with just super short at-home barre sessions after several months. I cleared it up by switching to sneakers during barre workouts for a bit.)
After a couple of weeks, I added in some yoga and eventually added in some short 30-minute lifting sessions at the gym on the weekends and even some BODYPUMP classes, as well as full barre studio classes too.
(What am I thinking? That I miss teaching group fitness classes!)
Where I’m at right now at 14 weeks postpartum
Right now, I’m doing about five or six workouts a week, usually two with some sort of resistance, one short yoga session, some barre classes (when I get the freedom to go to a class, which is only on the weekends or rare evenings), and the workouts are usually about 30 minutes total, unless I go to a class. I also walk about five days a week, usually for 30 minutes at a time.
Most days, I get more than 10,000 steps from the walking and the back and forth to the nursery to change diapers too, so I’m moving a lot. (Below, you’ll find a recap of my workouts week by week, and you’ll see that I added on duration and movement and variety as the weeks went on.)
Adding on variety little by little
Like I said already, I chose barre workouts as my first to go back to, because the movement is smaller and isolated and targets the whole body. When I first tried yoga at around seven-and-a-half weeks postpartum, I found it incredibly hard, because I had lost so much flexibility and my balance was off from my changing body. In addition, I had a little pain in the pelvic bones and hips, from healing and stretching, so I had to be careful. I didn’t do any super wide or low squatting or splits, because those weren’t feeling quite right.
When I moved on to weightlifting, I started out doing basic functional moves, like squats, deadlifts, lunges and rows — using very light dumbbells to start. I added in some push-ups on my knees about nine weeks postpartum, and they were incredibly tough. Not only had I lost upper-body and core strength, which you need for push-ups, but I also had extra weight on my body that had to be pushed — a tough combo.
Finally, at around 12 weeks, I decided to start working my core, feeling like it was healed enough to focus on it. I began with slightly crunching (although crunches are not my favorite, nor preference), and I did a few planks a week (by the way, the best core exercises for newly postpartum women include lying on your back doing deep breathing or leg drops, in which your knees are over your hips and you tap your toes to the ground). My first plank felt hard in my core and my shoulders, but they began getting easier. I could probably hold a plank for about two minutes right now, when I used to be able to hold one for more than five minutes.
I gradually started lifting slightly heavier weights and am now using 10-20 pound dumbbells for my short weight circuits, which is much less than what I could do before getting pregnant. Last year at this time, I could squat about 100 pounds, and right now, I haven’t done more than 40 pounds.
Getting stronger and more mobile by the day
But throughout this all, I’ve finally started to feel more mobile and stronger. And I’ve also overcome that awkward and uncoordinated feeling that I had when I first worked out at around six weeks postpartum. Thank goodness. Workouts are hard still, but they’re doable. And they’re much more fun too.
(Wearing Fabletics leggings.)
So here’s what I will say — each week I’ve tried to add some skills and moves, so that I have approached coming back gradually. I’ve continued to walk a lot to stay active, and I’ve done plenty of stretching and at least one yoga session a week to open up my tightness.
My fitness goals for the near future
My goal is to work up to at least three 45-minute to 1-hour weight-training sessions weekly, with a barre or yoga thrown in there and some fast walking for cardio. As you guys know, I don’t love cardio, and the only time I really like it is when I’m teaching Les Mills BODYATTACK, which I’m not teaching right now. (But I have done portions of the class at home twice in the past two weeks and hope to one day teach it again, with all of its plyometric tuck-jumping glory.)
But I do love movement, and I do love feeling progress. I also like seeing progress aesthetically, and that’s not happening super fast for me. I’ve got a tiny bit of muscle tone showing, but not much. I will admit that I have not put as much focus or time into my fitness routine as I had thought I would. I was so excited to work out again, but I’m also very tired and always caring for Brady — which cuts into my motivation and availability for working out and working on my body.
In addition to that, nutrition is super important for aesthetics, and while I eat healthy, I eat a lot and my macros are not on point, and I’ve not yet lost all of the 35 pounds that I gained and have about five more to go. I’m okay with all of this for now, and if and when I feel like I really want to tone up, I will make some changes. But for now, I’m enjoying my daily movement, and I’m enjoying the journey. And I hope to be back in fighting shape no later than six months postpartum.
(Also enjoying these awesome custom Nikes — one of the best gifts ever from Dave.)
I’m going to stay the course and keep working, because I sure do love fitness, and even though I’m not able to devote as much time to it regularly as I would like to, I always feel way better after every single sweat session and walk.
Moral of the story: Even for a fitness person, coming back from pregnancy is challenging. It’s not an overnight process, and it’s best to go with a slow and steady approach. I sure hope to be back in front of the group fitness studio on the mic looking and feeling good soon, but that’s not exactly happening tomorrow.
My postpartum weekly workout recaps
Here’s that breakdown of what I did week by week …
- Monday: 45-minute walk
- Tuesday: 1-hour walk, 20 minutes of barre at home
- Wednesday: 25 minutes of barre at home, 30-minute walk
- Thursday: 40 minutes of barre at home
- Friday: 40 minutes of barre at home, 20-minute walk
- Saturday: Gym session — walked on the treadmill on incline for 10 minutes, warmed up, foam rolled and did squats, deadlifts, bridges, flyes and bicep curls using 10 and 15 pound dumbbells and my bodyweight
- Sunday: Gym session — walked on the treadmill on incline for 10 minutes, warmed up, foam rolled and did step-ups, tricep kickbacks and shoulder raises using 8 and 10 pound dumbbells
- Monday: 1.5 hour walk
- Tuesday: 30 minutes of barre at home
- Wednesday: 30-minute yoga flow at home
- Thursday: Walked in a 5K turkey trot
- Friday: Gym session — walked on the treadmill on incline for 10 minutes, warmed up, foam rolled and did lower-body moves, including squats, deadlifts and bridges using 10 and 15 pound dumbbells
- Saturday: Gym session — walked on the treadmill on incline for 10 minutes, warmed up, foam rolled and did upper-body moves, including rows, shoulder raises and modified push-ups using 10 and 15 pound dumbbells and my bodyweight
- Sunday: Rest day
- Monday: 30-minute walk, 30 minutes of barre at home
- Tuesday: 1-hour walk, 30 minutes of yoga at home
- Wednesday: 30-minute walk, 30 minutes of barre at home
- Thursday: 1-hour stroller boot camp workout outside
- Friday: 1.5-hour walk
- Saturday: Gym session — walked on the treadmill on incline for 10 minutes, warmed up, foam rolled and did a full-body session, including squats, bridges, shoulder raises and modified push-ups using 10 and 20 pound dumbbells and my bodyweight
- Sunday: 40-minute walk
- Monday: 30-minute walk, 40 minutes of barre at home
- Tuesday: 1-hour walk, 20 minutes of barre at home
- Wednesday: 40-minute bodyweight workout outdoors with strollers
- Thursday: Gym session — walked on the treadmill on incline for 10 minutes, warmed up, foam rolled and did a full-body session, including squats, deadlifts, deadrows and shoulder raises using 10, 15 and 20 pound dumbbells
- Friday: 1-hour yoga class, 30-minute walk
- Saturday: Rest day
- Sunday: 25-minute walk
- Monday: 20-minute bodyweight bootcamp taught by Harley Pasternak
- Tuesday: 20-minute walk, 30-minute yoga flow at home
- Wednesday: Took 1-hour BODYPUMP class, 30-minute walk
- Thursday: 30-minute walk, 30 minutes of barre at home
- Friday: Took 1-hour BODYPUMP class, 30-minute walk
- Saturday: 1-hour walk
- Sunday: 25-minute walk
- Monday: 30-minute barre workout at home, 30-minute walk
- Tuesday: 1-hour walk, 1-hour CorePower yoga class
- Wednesday: Taught and did a 35-minute outdoor bootcamp
- Thursday: 1-hour BODYPUMP workout at home, 30-minute walk
- Friday: 1-hour walk
- Saturday: 1-hour Bar Method class, 1-hour walk
- Sunday: 1-hour Bar Method class, 1-hour walk
- Monday: 1-hour walk
- Tuesday: 1-hour Bar Method class
- Wednesday: 25 minutes of BODYATTACK at home, 30-minute walk
- Thursday: 45 minutes of BODYPUMP at home, 30-minute walk
- Friday: 1-hour walk, 20 minutes of yoga at home
- Saturday: 1-hour Bar Method class
- Sunday: 30-minute gym session including 10 minutes of incline walking, foam rolling, mobility warm-ups and three sets of 15 squat presses with 10 pound dumbbells, TRX rows and TRX chest presses, 30-minute walk
- Monday: 1-hour walk
- Tuesday: 1-hour walk, 1-hour Bar Method class
- Wednesday: 45 minutes of BODYPUMP at home
- Thursday: 1-hour walk, 20 minutes of yoga
- Friday: 45 minutes of BODYPUMP at home
- Saturday: 1-hour Bar Method class
- Sunday: Rest day
Tips for getting back to workouts postpartum
Quick disclaimer: Of course, you should talk to your doctor and your own post-natal certified personal trainer before beginning a new postpartum fitness program, because safety first, people. But now, here are some tips for exercising, if you’re also postpartum …
- Walk. It should be safe to take slow walks about two weeks after childbirth if you’re up for it. But don’t power walk. Don’t go crazy. Just stroll. Keep it light.
- Start small. Your first workout back should NOT be an hour — start with 15-20 minutes and add on by five minutes each time. And only do this workout after your doctor has said you’re good to go, and you feel the energy to do it. If you’re not ready, wait a little longer.
- Do it solo. Although I’m a group fitness lover through and through, I think you should do your own light and short workouts before heading to a class postpartum. Classes are typically higher in intensity and designed for the average person who doesn’t have a lot of limitations, so work up to classes, not launch into them right off the bat. And once you do go to a class, let the instructor know you’re postpartum and need to modify at times.
- Keep it close. Know that you won’t have the flexibility or mobility that you once had (even if your joints are still loose from the hormone relaxin your body produced to help grow and birth the baby), so keep your range of motion limited. No splits, nothing crazy. And also, it’s best to avoid wide weighted squats too.
- Watch the core. Avoid crunching, planks, toe push-ups and heavy overhead work that strains your core until you’re sure you’re stronger and healed, which is NOT six weeks from birth, but probably closer to 12-16 weeks postpartum for many women. Better safe than sorry! I started crunching and planking at 12 weeks when it felt right. And you should listen to your body to know if it’s right for you or if you need more time. Your insides went through a lot, so the outside may look better when the interior needs actually more time to heal.
- Be kind to yourself. In addition to growing and birthing a child, you’re also currently caring for a child and probably low on sleep and energy. High intensity workouts are not ideal for a newly postpartum woman, so choose low impact options as much as you can and choose workouts that feel good and don’t feel too harsh or intense.
- Variety is key, but movement is better. When you’re getting back into exercising after having a baby, it’s not the time to start a super intense and scientific training regimen with body-part splits and strict lifting regimens. While I always advocate for a routine with weights, flexibility and cardio each week to hit all the bases, to be honest — when you’re JUST starting back out, it’s okay if you want to do just walking or just light cardio for a few weeks before diversifying. Once again, start slow and just move.
- Nap-time workouts are key. If you’re short on time, which you will be, do bodyweight moves in your bare feet on the carpet next to your napping baby. Squats, lunges, modified push-ups, glute bridges — keep it super simple. Just do something.
- Mind your posture. As a pregnant woman and mom, you may notice your shoulders are hunched forward as you are constantly picking things up or leaning over to take care of your baby. In your workouts, focus on keeping your shoulders rolled back and down and focus on the posterior chain or back side of the body — meaning rowing and pulling moves to strengthen your back and ultimately help your posture. Even when walking, mind your posture.
- Once again, be kind. It won’t be easy and you may be frustrated, but exercising, even just a little bit a day, will help you to be healthier and will also set a good example for your littles. Take it slow and thank your body for all it has done and will do for you. And when in doubt, walk, walk, walk.
That’s about it, friends! To all my mommas out there, sending you MUCH respect for what you’ve been through to grow and birth a child (or just raise one, if you adopted). Parenting is so incredibly rewarding, but also pretty draining both physically and mentally. I wish you the best of luck getting back into your fitness endeavors and remember to give yourself a little grace.
Thanks for reading, my friends! If you have any questions for me at all about postpartum fitness, please leave them in the comments! Take care!
P.S. You may also like this post, which I wrote more than a year after this initial postpartum report … Five things no one tells you about postpartum exercise.Check out this postpartum fitness journey and fitness tips for new moms on A Lady Goes West ... #fitness #postpartum Click To Tweet
Questions of the day
Have you ever come back from an injury or pregnancy? And if so, what was your first workout back?
What’s your favorite go-to low-impact exercise format?
Thanks for sharing! I would agree with all your postpartum workout tips. It takes a lot of time to ease back into a workout routine. I think slow and gentle is definitely the way to go. Also reading this really made me want to take a barre class. Hope you have a great day.
Hi Emily! I know — barre workouts have been so good to be both in pregnancy and postpartum — and to think I used to not like them. Cheers to you, Momma!!
Love your honesty! Even at 2.5 years later, just the overall fatigue has really shown me that anything is better then nothing, even if its a 15 min stretch. Brady will start to sleep longer which will help with the tiredness…but I wish I was like you ..I jumped back in and though I didn’t do any damage long term, I think it was too much too soon. It took me a full year to lose all the weight and body is definitely a different shape then it was pre baby and that’s okay. I have to refocus on feeling good because it helps me be a better mom and person then the ‘look’ of being fit. I found it so humbling to start from almost day zero again and work my way up and see how my body could push and change again and it was a nice challenge but man it’s tough work and can feel discouraging! I love your outlook and know that as Brady gets older, it does get easier to get back to feeling like the old you again..but different..ha if that makes any sense! xo
Hi Fiona! I had a few people tell me they did too much too soon and ended up messing up their core and pelvic floor — which is NOT something I wanted to do — so I’ve been super careful. And I am soooo hoping he starts sleeping longer stretches soon, but I know the whole mothering thing will always be tiring hehehe It’s definitely a new normal! And YES to anything better than nothing! Good work!
Okay can I just say I love love love that you keep it so real? The honesty is on point about how you struggled with this and you don’t try to sugar coat anything. It’s my favorite girlfriend! Also you’re definitely being used as a motivator for me. A goal for this year is strength training and while I planned on staring January 1st a slip on ice and bruised/cut up knees derailed that plan. But I’m taking your postpartum tips and using that to start with strength training. Starting small so I don’t burn out and being totally okay with modifying any moves to start are going to help me get where I want to be. Thank you Ashley! Have a wonderful day 🙂
Hi Maureen! Oh no!! So sorry about your fall — a bruised knee is certainly not the greatest condition for starting strength training — but you will feel better soon. And yes — starting with your own bodyweight is a great way to do it! Good luck, you can do it! And you’ll be SO happy when you start to see results!
Love this! You look GREAT!
Thanks, Kelli! You are so sweet! 🙂
Love this! I’m 6.5 months postpartum and still feel different. It took my body almost 6 months to be able to even do anything more than walking because of my pelvic pain. I was shocked at how long everything was taking because I used to work out 6 days a week! I love your point about being kind to yourself…so necessary. I try to remind myself that my priority is being healthy and being a mom right now.
Hi Heather! Yes — I’ve heard from a few fit friends that their pelvic pain stayed around for a long time — and it’s good you didn’t try to work out through that too much. I feel ya! This momming thing is hard and our bodies go through a lot! Being healthy is the key, more so than the appearance factor right now for sure! 🙂
I’m at 6 weeks post partum here so a perfect time to read this post! I’ve managed a few yoga poses and pelvic floor Pilates excercises this week and wow so humbling! My biggest issue right now is finding any time while taking care of my little gal all day. I attempted a 15 min Pilates video and she didn’t last more than 5! It’s like hmm eat, shower or workout? Haha. I went with eat 🙂 Hopefully naps get longer and more consistent (as in consistent at all??) and I can back into some routine. Love your tips and I’ll be taking them as I start moving again. Your consistency with a baby at home is inspiring and I guess I just have to carve it the time!
Hi Rose! Oh man! I find that I am able to work out now usually after our walk — he gets sleepy on the walk, so I fit it in right after. Most recently, I’ve found that Brady is able to WATCH me exercise if I put him close and he is entertained, which is super nice. But that’s a fairly new thing. You’ll find your routine and rhythm soon heheh! Keep up the good work, lady! 🙂
You’re crushing it, Ashley, I’m bookmarking this for inspiration for after the baby is born! 🙂 Thanks for being such a strong mama!
Thanks so much, Jamie! I have NO doubt you will be super fit and strong momma when your little one arrives! Enjoy these last few weeks of quiet time heheh!
Can’t wait to read your bar method review! I trained and became certified to be a bar method instructor and ended up quitting because it was too structured and almost cult-like. I love planks and to have someone tell me I can’t teach more than 2, 1 Minute planks per class just didn’t seem right. I love many aspects of the workout but not enough to keep teaching It nor continuing to go to their classes.
Hi Amy — Oh no! Sorry to hear you went through the process of training and then ended up not enjoying teaching it. The workout does have some good aspects, and I will share more soon! Thanks for reading! Hope you’ve found another class or studio you are enjoying more now! 🙂
Thank you for being so open and real! Working out after a baby is HARD!
I’m almost 9 weeks PP and I still can’t believe how much harder everything is. My belly is feeling a little less like jelly though haha. I’m hoping that’s a sign I’m getting a little core strength back.
I’ve gone to Jazzercise a couple times because I missed it like crazy. I’m an instructor so I feel confident doing low impact and modifying while taking a class. Otherwise I’ve been doing light lifting and postnatal yoga during nap time and mat time, which usually doesn’t last long. Last night my 30 minute yoga video turned into an hour with a nursing break in the middle lol
Hi Kaci! That’s so awesome you’re starting to feel a little less jelly ahahh! I know what you mean! And I’ve always wanted to try Jazzercise — so cool you’ve been back already. And I have also had to stop some workouts to feed or change Brady hahaha — but hey, a break is no big deal, as long as you’re trying. Keep up the good work, Momma! 🙂
I’m 6 weeks out from baby #3 and just getting started again. I’ve always struggled to workout while breastfeeding, because I’ve found that any intensity causes my supply to drop almost immediately. I’ve heard that protein shakes immediately before or after workouts can help. Is this a topic you would consider covering? 🙂
Interesting topic, Karri! I haven’t noticed a reduction in supply yet — but I’ve been careful to keep my calories and my water intake up. Let me think about this and research! I’ll cover if I can dig into it more soon! 🙂
I love how you are adding variety and doing the best you can. Good goal for the workouts. I actually haven’t done an hour long workout in forever. I found that 30 minute workouts worked best for me after having my daughter, and now 30 minutes is about all the time I have with two kiddos running around. Great job keeping it real!
Hi Heather! Seriously! I have never loved 30-minute workouts more than I do now, because it’s the perfect amount of time. I see a lot more of them in my future! 🙂 Thanks for reading, my friend!
This sounds like such a great and healthy approach to getting back into the swing of things postpartum – thanks for sharing, Ashley!
Thank you for reading, Nicci! Returning from pregnancy is not easy, but totally worth it! 🙂
Glad you’ve been able to take it slow and get back into it. It’s always so hard coming back after anything medical, but I bet this is especially challenging!
Hi Julie! Totally — it’s been quite a bit harder than I expected. But totally worth the effort! 🙂 Thanks for reading, lady!
I read another article of yours where you said you got a stress fracture in your feet at 4 months postpartum, which happened after you wrote this. Shouldn’t you update or add a note to this one about that? While posting in real time was a good thing, you weren’t able to foresee that you were doing too much (or not supporting your feet enough) and that it would lead to an injury. Just another reason to go slowly, be super careful with modifications and supports, and to listen to tour body/avoid pushing through certain types of pain, especially when nursing.
Hi Niah, thanks for reading and for weighing in. Ohhhh postpartum fitness is a touchy subject. I can assure you my approach was the most conservative of any fitness professional around — I most definitely did my best to put out appropriate and safe information, especially in this post, which I wrote 3.5 months into my postpartum journey. But yes, even just very short at-home barre workouts on hard wood floors aggravated an old stress fracture I had from the past in one of my feet (having been extra sensitive due to nursing), which I was able to fix by wearing sneakers for a while. I went back into this post and added a note about safety of feet doing barre work at home on hard floors, so in case anyone else comes across this they have that information. I also linked the more recent postpartum post for others. You learn as you go, and I’m always writing new posts to share the new things I’m learning. I appreciate your input. 🙂