Getting back into running can require some special considerations, no matter the reason for your hiatus. Pregnancy is certainly one of the bigger, life-changing events that can cause a detour, whether for just a few months or even years postpartum. But even though your life, mind, and body have undergone an enormous shift, with some consideration and a few running tips, it’s simple to get back into running and once again enjoy our amazing sport.
One thing to keep in mind is that depending on where you’re at in your postpartum journey, keep in mind that the intensity of your exercise can affect your milk supply. If you’re still nursing your baby, keep your intensity low to moderate with easy runs. Of course, you should also have been cleared by your doctor to resume exercise.
To start getting back into running, remember to go slowly. Even more slowly than you want to. You might yearn for the mental break of a good cardio session or the emotional release of the runner’s high. But your body and brain are on two different paths. Your body just went through almost 10 months of growing a human being (and another organ!). Everything from your hormones to your muscles to your brain has undergone change and it takes a while to let everything settle and normalize. Even if you’re farther along on your postpartum timeline, if you’ve been on a long layoff, it’s just as important to come back slowly, especially to reduce your risk of injury.
Suffice to say getting back into running is a marathon, not a sprint (pun intended).
It’s difficult, but try not to get stuck on your lost endurance and fitness. It will only distract you from your efforts to get back into running. Yes, it’s hard to accept that those long weekend runs aren’t in your wheelhouse right now. Or that the strength you built in the gym has slowly but surely dwindled. In fact, the first time you go out for a run it will probably be pretty uncomfortable. My first run after taking time off for pregnancy was a heavy, slow, and awkward affair. But we have to remember that it’s a temporary phase of returning to running, and just as we built our fitness the first time, we can do it again. Maybe even better than before.
See, you can reframe your thinking to use this comeback as a way to improve your skills. While your mileage is low or you’re using a walk breaks to build up to longer distances again, you’ll have time for some cross-training such as running form drills, strength training, and mobility. Each of those additions will benefit your health and fitness, and there are certain examples that are best suited for postpartum women to include in their training program, which we’ll outline below.
Pregnancy has much more of a whole-body effect than we tend to realize. From carrying extra weight and a shifted center of gravity while pregnant to carrying a growing baby in your arms for months, the term “alignment” may start to seem like a foreign concept.
Starting while pregnant, a woman’s pelvis commonly starts to shift into a more anterior position. Normally, the pelvis is in an upright, level position, much like a bowl sitting on a table. As time goes on, the weight of a growing baby and a shifting center of gravity pull the pelvis forward. The level bowl—your pelvis—is now slightly tipped forward as if to spill the contents out.
While this is a normal part of pregnancy, it’s something to be mindful of in the postpartum period. After months of standing and sitting with that slight tilt, it can become a habit carried over into your day-to-day posture. The danger of this tilt is that it puts your hips in a less stable position and makes you much more likely to experience lower back pain. It also makes it much more difficult to engage your glutes and hamstrings when your pelvis is tilted forward, especially when you get started running again.
You can read much more about the pelvis and hip posture in this article, Hip Posture: The #1 Way To Achieve Proper Run Form.
In spite of the fact that it’s a part of both the male and female body, the pelvic floor isn’t discussed much outside of the doctor’s office or when a woman laughingly mentions “sneeze pee.” Whether it’s a matter of “out of sight, out of mind” or it’s the embarrassment factor, it’s vital to learn more about the pelvic floor as it plays such an important role in pregnancy and postpartum health.
Briefly, the pelvic floor is a muscular sling that supports the bladder and bowels for both genders, as well as the uterus for women. Understandably, the pelvic floor experiences some strain through the months of extra weight and pressure of pregnancy, and the trauma of birth itself. Even if you’ve had a Cesarean section, the pelvic floor still needs time to recover before returning to exercise.
As with all the body’s systems, the pelvic floor doesn’t exist in isolation. These muscles are involved in your core stability, your hip and glute strength, your breathing patterns, and more, so using functional movements in your training can help ensure you’re working everything together, from the deep core muscles to the pelvic floor, rather than just those surface ab muscles.
While pelvic floor rehabilitation is beyond the scope of this article, we highly recommend visiting a pelvic floor physical therapist to be fully assessed before returning to exercise. These therapists are able to complete a more specific exam that will yield more information and feedback than the standard 6-week checkup with your doctor, midwife, or OB-GYN.
If you aren’t able to see a pelvic floor physical therapist in person, there are some great online resources available. PopUp is a comprehensive guide to pelvic organ prolapse by Haley Shevener & Annemarie Everett. Restore Your Core by Lauren Ohayon is a fantastic resource when dealing with either diastasis recti or pelvic organ prolapse.
When you spend hours each day sitting nursing, you probably hunch your shoulders forward and drop your head down to gaze at the baby’s face without even thinking about it. This bonding time is incredible, but not so friendly to your upper body. Personally, “nursing-neck” was one of the rougher adjustments to postpartum life. I’d never experienced such frequent neck aches and tension, and I was constantly rolling my head from side to side to stretch out my neck and shoulders.
Additionally, once baby puts on some weight and you’ve got the equivalent of a 10-, 15-, or 20-pound dumbbell on your arm, there are new considerations to keep in mind. Unless you’re very diligent about alternating which side you hold the baby on, one arm may start to look like Popeye’s, while the other looks more like Olive Oyl’s. After all, it’s easier to hold your baby in your non-dominant arm so that your dominant hand is available to complete your daily tasks.
I admit, reading the previous sections might have you feeling a bit skeptical about getting back into running. That’s not the intent, I promise. What that information is really for is to build awareness of new areas to focus on. Yes, your core might be weaker and your endurance shorter than they were before. But that doesn’t mean they have to stay that way.
Practicing running drills is a great way to get your running habit back on track. These drills narrow your focus to factors such as your breathing, your arm swing, or your cadence. Because you’re more focused on your mechanics, you’re less likely to pile on the distance before you’re ready. You’ll have a purpose for your run so you don’t feel frustrated by sticking to shorter distances while you’re still rebuilding your endurance.
You can even perform many of them while walking or on the treadmill, so they’re achievable no matter your fitness level.
Two of our favorite drills apply to every runner out there, but they are particularly suited to women coming back from pregnancy and time off, as they address two areas mentioned above in the effects pregnancy can have on the body. One drill will help promote stable hips while running. The second drill practices maintaining core strength and stability while running. Follow along with running Coach Nate here:
After any long break from running, building back up with strength training is essential. This is especially true if you’re getting back into running after pregnancy. Due to the hormone cocktail of pregnancy, birth, and postpartum time, your joints and ligaments are looser and weaker and running injuries are more likely to occur. You may also be experiencing low back pain from extra weight, increases time spent sitting, or from repeatedly lifting and carrying your growing baby.
Our biggest recommendation is to include strength training in your training plan to counteract these effects. By focusing on your glutes, hips, and core, you’re essentially shoring up the muscles around your weakest points. Stability through the hips will help correct the pelvic tilt mentioned earlier, as well as provide support to your core and posture, which helps take some of the load off your pelvic floor.
Coach Morgan will take you through a follow-along workout that will focus on building stable hips. You don’t need any equipment and you can do the workout at home in your living room or back yard.
Whether from repeatedly sitting to nurse your baby or from holding your one-year-old on your arm for long periods of time, your upper body can become a crunchy, stiff mess. You might be slouching more than you care to admit, your shoulders are probably holding a lot of tension, and your upper back is likely stiff and immobile.
A stiff upper body is not only uncomfortable, but it can also hinder your running efforts. If your shoulders and back are stiff from slouching over, you’ll likely also be slightly hunched over while running, simply because your body has gotten used to this posture. On the other hand, if you practice relaxing your shoulders and upper back, maintaining your full range of motion, and letting go of tension, chances are it’ll be easier to have a nice upright posture while running.
With just a lacrosse ball or massage ball, you can work on these upper body hot spots before they become a bigger issue. In the following video, Coach Nate walks through three upper-body mobility exercises that are brilliant for addressing those common problem areas. You’ll target your pectorals, or chest muscles, your lats, and your T-spine, which is your upper back. You can use these at any time, including rest days, but I would highly recommend doing them after you’ve been sitting with your baby for a while, and see what a difference you feel in your posture.
With these resources, you should feel confident that getting back into running is an achievable goal. If you want to ramp up with even more programming, we’ve got your covered. The 14 Day Run Fit Challenge is a two-week guide to getting into running shape, with a 10-minute workout for each day, varying from running to strength training to mobility. It’s totally free, and you can even follow each day on our app, which you can download on iOS or Android platforms. Enjoy!