Finding Exercise After Pregnancy Hard? You’re Not Alone
As rewarding as life as a new mum can be, having a newborn baby can be an incredibly vulnerable and tough time.
Your body has likely gone through immense change during pregnancy and birth, your hormones can feel like they’re riding a rollercoaster, and chances are, your daily life looks completely different as you get used to taking care of this new little human.
Being a new mum can be challenging enough as it is, without adding any pressure or expectation around rebuilding your fitness. It’s easy to look at Instagram and think everyone else got their fitness back overnight and found the return to exercise easy, but that’s not always the case.
Whether you had a natural birth or a c-section, your body has been through an enormous amount of change! You wouldn’t expect someone to be back at their usual level of fitness and movement after a major surgery, so why should birth be any different?
Take it from our trainers, who know all too well that exercise after pregnancy is no walk in the park (in fact, it often looks like frustration and tears).
If you’re ready to return to exercise, make sure you receive the all-clear from your healthcare provider first and remember to take it at your own pace.
Take this opportunity to give your body all the time it needs, to exercise because it feels good, and forget about expectations and comparisons.
Take baby steps
“My first exercise session after giving birth to Arna was only for two minutes,” says Head Trainer Kayla Itsines.
“I did one minute on the treadmill and then thought I could get down on the ground and do push-ups, and started crying because I couldn’t. I lay on the ground and was sobbing. I thought I was never going to get my fitness back.”
From there, she increased her sessions by one minute at a time, often just walking on her treadmill at home while Arna slept.
“I ended one session thinking I was ready to do a lat-pulldown, but went to stretch up and couldn’t, and I cried again. But I just kept showing up each day and my sessions got longer, one minute at a time.”
For Kayla, consistency is her number one tip for new mums who want to exercise again, and having equipment at home like a treadmill can make it easier to get a workout in while your baby sleeps. Walking with your baby in their pram can be great too!
She also says it’s important to connect with other women, either in real life or online, who understand how you’re feeling and will make you feel less alone in what you’re going through. It’s going to be tough and you’ll have good days and bad days, but if you keep showing up (even if it’s for two minutes a day), you’ll feel things start to improve.
If you’ve been cleared to resume exercise and feel ready, Kayla’s post-pregnancy program is available in the Sweat app, with short 15-minute low-intensity workouts.
Things won’t always go to plan
Chontel Duncan, a mother of five, has recently given birth to twins and knows a thing or two about things not going to plan. People often call her a superwoman and ask her how she does it all and makes it look so easy, but truth be told, she often feels like an imposter.
“Raising mini humans is one of the most challenging and rewarding jobs. I go through highs and lows, have great days and awful days. My heart is full and I pinch myself that I get to live my dream, but I'm also very exhausted, feel alone at times and am an emotional wreck,” Chontel shared on Instagram.
“Having already had three bubbas, I also went into this incredibly naive and thinking it wouldn't rattle us. Prem babies are a whole new ball game, colic and reflux is just awful, and twins… Well they are NEXT LEVEL!”
She says comparison really is the thief of joy and she tries not to compare herself to others, because things don’t always go to plan when you have to look after little ones.
“It’s exhausting just getting to the gym. I’m usually on edge as I enter, wondering if I just wasted my time because they might wake or because I had a rough night and they’ve just been draining my tanks all day.”
Take the pressure off and celebrate small wins
During her first exercise session after having the twins, Chontel felt sore, frustrated and out of breath. She hadn’t felt like herself in a long-time but still felt proud to take that time out for herself and her wellbeing. With everything going on, working out is something that helps her cope and manage stress with a more positive mindset.
“I’ve definitely had sessions where I’ve left and cried because it was just not happening. I’ve felt guilty for dragging my babies to the gym to work out and guilty for being frustrated. Some days are good, and some days are great. You have to keep putting your best foot forward because every day is a new opportunity.”
Cass Olholm can relate to these feelings, saying she didn’t feel like herself for a long time, and the experience of returning to exercise after having a baby was quite a shock.
After being given clearance from her healthcare provider to gradually start exercising again, her first session was a series of low-impact, beginner bodyweight exercises to see how each one felt. There was no time frame, no pressure, and definitely no reps or sets to complete.
“I wasn’t oblivious to the fact that of course I wouldn’t be as strong as I was, but I didn’t expect to feel what I felt. It was like I had no muscle-mind connection, no coordination, no balance and every exercise felt extremely foreign.”
“As a trainer and someone who has been fit her entire life, this was BIG for me. I remember feeling lost and crying to my husband on the phone after struggling through basic lunges, but as hard as that moment felt, I also knew that this was my starting point which meant that I could only get stronger and fitter from here.”
Be kind to yourself
Starting this new chapter as a mother felt beautiful for Cass, but also very challenging. She wants women to know the experience is hard for everyone and progress isn’t always linear.
“You will walk away from some sessions feeling like you’ve made huge progress and other days you’ll wonder why you even bother. It will take a lot of hard work, discipline and consistency, but I promise you that it is worth it! Your ‘I can do this’, will become ‘I DID IT!’”
Kelsey says that although she was cleared to exercise six weeks postpartum, she didn’t do a lot for another two months.
Even when she did make a plan, sticking to it wasn’t important or realistic, and she says new mums need to give themselves flexibility and compassion.
Her PWR Post-Pregnancy program in the Sweat app is focused on healing and restoring your body, and only moves on to building strength after five weeks.
“Your body has been through amazing changes. Maybe you’re putting pressure on yourself to get back to a certain level of strength or to look a certain way. Remember what your body has done and celebrate that!” Kelsey says.
“Instead of beginning your fitness routine with expectations, begin with the goal of healing your body and showing it the care and love it deserves.”
Have you recently returned to fitness after having a baby? Let us know what advice you would give to other new mums in the comments!
* Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. Sweat assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.