First of all, I love high impact exercise. I am a big fan of running and plyometrics (jumping). A long time ago I used to think that you couldn’t a good workout in if you didn’t go full on high impact.. I know now that high impact just isn’t appropriate for everyone and particularly in pregnancy and in the postnatal period it is sensible to protect your weakened pelvic floor and core by switching to low impact strength work. After years of teaching pregnancy and postnatal exercise classes, it’s become second nature to offer low-impact, safe variations of the “normal” types of exercises we do. I should also add here that if you ever attend an exercise class and the instructor can’t (or even worse won’t) give you a modification to an exercise then please don’t attend that class again! And continue reading to arm yourself with the knowledge to adapt the exercises yourself..
Anyone who has done one of my “low impact” classes knows that they are JUST as challenging, yet much kinder and more appropriate for the body, especially during pregnancy, after having a baby, recovering from injury, or those who just want to avoid jumping/impact in general. Mama on the Move’s strength and fitness online programmes are ALL low impact.
Here are some (video) examples of modifications of your beloved impact exercises without taking down the intensity:
NOTE: Please make sure you get the all clear from your midwife/doctor before commencing on any exercise programme. We would not advise doing the “step out” burpees or frontal plank if you are suffering from diastasis recti or in the 3rd trimester. In addition if you suffer from Pelvic Girdle Pain you may find some of these exercises (even the modified ones) not appropriate so as always listen to your body and stop if you feel any pain/discomfort.
Tips on how to decrease impact and modify exercises:
- Keep at least one foot on the floor. If you want to change a traditional jumping movement, keep one foot on the floor at all times. For example – see our star jump alternatives..
- Step it out…. Break the exercise out into separate segents… See our burpee variation
3) Arms up! By raising your arms above your head, your heart rate will increase. If you’re keeping the moves low-impact, try to think of some ways to add in controlled arm movements to increase your intensity (light weights can also be added..)
4) Instead of jumping, rise up onto your toes. See our squat jump alternative - Come down into a squat and rise up onto your toes (getting calf workout in too), reaching your arms up. Move quickly and your heart rate will soon start pumping!
5) Pulse it out…. Instead of jumping, add a pulse to ramp up the intensity -see our jump lunge variation, you will really feel the burn with small movements but without the impact..
6) Decrease the range of motion.. For example, don’t go so low in the squats/lunges, start with small movements and build up from there.
7) For planks and push ups try using a wall or slight incline (like the back of a sofa) to avoid excessive pressure on your core. If you have no diastasis recti after having your baby then you can start to build up to floor work for side planks and push ups but always start on your knees..
While I was having coffee and <ahem> eating cake with my lovely Pregnancy Pilates group the other day we were discussing the subject of the “mum bum”. How during or post pregnancy many of us find that our bottoms feel rather soft and lacking in muscle tone! It’s expected to have a squishy tummy post baby but the bottom too?! Why is this? Well, during pregnancy your centre of gravity shifts and as a result, many women try to counterbalance that shift by tucking their tailbone. This means that you end up underusing your glute muscles and overusing the posterior pelvic floor muscles. This results in a flattened backside that can’t fill up or hold up a pair of jeans.
While it might seem a bit odd, the next time you are with your mum friends... check out their derrieres (surreptitiously of course!) – what do you see? Chances are you will see a lot of flat bums, flat backs and jeans that are continuously being pulled up. The ‘mum bum’ epidemic is out of control; if you want to avoid it then read on for some advice and exercises to help keep your bottom bootylicious, and, as an added benefit your pelvic floor will thank you too!
Sitting does nothing to build the glutes and everything to make your bum as flat as a pancake. This is tricky in the early postnatal weeks as we are often glued to the sofa feeding our little ones. However, in between those feeds minimizing the amount of time spent sitting is critical to maintaining a healthy backside!
One of the best exercises out there is walking, and something that all new mums and mums to be can and should do as often as possible. It is a low impact form of exercise, so kind to the pelvic floor as well as a good way of getting the endorphins flowing. Hill walking is particularly beneficial, as when you add in the incline of a hill, it really blasts those glutes into high gear along with elevating your heart rate.
- Glute Bridges
The simple route to a perfect posterior is to master the glute bridge. As well as helping your bum look fabulous this exercise will also help improve your hip flexibility and mobility. To increase the challenge, try raising one leg off the ground and keeping it steady as you bridge, or move both feet on top of a table or box.
- Lie on your back on an exercise mat or the floor in a bent-knee position with your feet flat on the floor.
- Place your feet hip-width apart with the toes facing away from you. Gently contract your abdominal muscles to flatten your low back into the floor. Attempt to maintain this TVA activation throughout the exercise.
- Gently exhale. Keep the abdominals engaged and lift your hips up off the floor. Press your heels into the floor for added stability.
- Inhale and slowly lower yourself back to your starting position.
Watch points: Avoid pushing your hips too high, which can cause hyperextension (arching) in your low back. Keeping your abdominals strong helps to prevent excessive arching in the low back.
During pregnancy you should be cautious if you choose to exercise while lying on your back due to supine hypotensive syndrome, particularly after 16 weeks. Exercise on the back for short durations only and watch out for feelings of dizziness. If you experience dizziness, stop exercising immediately.
Squatting is a great bum builder and is also a functional movement as you will be always bending down to pick up the little ones or the paraphernalia that comes with motherhood. Squatting can be done (and should be done) during pregnancy and within a few weeks postnatally. The range of motion can be modified but you want to aim for a nice deep squat with the tailbone un-tucked and your pelvis in neutral (keeping the small curve in your low back). Squats are one of my favourite exercises and there are many variations that can be done to keep things interesting.
- Stand with feet slightly wider than hips. Keep your back straight, with your neutral spine, and your chest and shoulders up. Keep looking straight ahead
- Toes should be slightly pointed outwards and engage your core by sucking your tummy button into your spine to work your transverse abdominals. (The girdle that holds everything in your abdominals together.)
- Slowly bend your knees and lower yourself to the ground as if to sit in a chair position – pushing your bottom back and down. As you squat down, focus on keeping your knees in line with your feet.
- Stop when your thighs are parallel with the floor.
- Push back up through your heels, exhaling at the same time.
Inhale when lowering body, exhae when pushing back up. Keep your toes pointed forward. Don't allow your chest to drop and sink onto the tops of your thighs.
During pregnancy there are times though when squats are not beneficial. You should avoid squatting when baby is not in an optimal position after 30 weeks, as squats help descend a baby deeper down into the pelvis. If there is any pain when you perform a squat then you may need to have your technique assessed to correct your form or you can choose from different variations to reduce any discomfort. There are some scenarios when you don’t want to induce early labour, a couple of examples might be Vasa Previa and multiple pregnancies under 35 weeks.
- The Oyster
The oyster helps to open up the hip joint, as well as strengthening the glutes and stabilising your pelvis. The opening and closing of the leg are also a great way of working your pelvic floor muscles.
- Lie on your right side with your shoulders and hips aligned on top of each other. If you are pregnancy you may wish to use a pillow under your head and bump for comfort.
- Place your left hand on the mat in front of you and bend both knees so that your heels are in a line with the back of your pelvis.
- Inhale to prepare and then exhale and keeping the feet connected lift up your top knee. Keep the pelvis still and stable and move from the hip joint.
- Inhale and control the leg back to the start position.
Only open the top leg as far as you can whilst keeping the pelvis still. Keep your core engaged and your waist lifted off the mat throughout the exercise. Try and place as little pressure through the top arm as possible
- The Glute Pulse
This exercise focuses on building strength in the glutes and hamstrings. Completing the move in four point position will also challenge the core muscles as you work to keep the torso stabilised and the spine in neutral against the movement of your leg.
- Start in four point kneeling position with wrists under shoulders and knees under hip joints.
- Inhale to prepare. Then exhale and keeping the core muscles engaged, slowly lift the left leg.
- Your knee should stay bent as you press your foot up toward the ceiling.
- Inhale and lower the leg back to start position.
Keep your spine in neutral by engaging your core muscles, and avoid rotating your hip s by keeping the shoulders and hips squared to the floor during the entire exercise.
We've created some short tabata workouts to get those glutes working:
Congratulations on your new little bundle of joy! The focus in the first crazy weeks postnatally should be on getting to know your new baby and giving your body time to heal from the marathon of labour and birth AND the 9 months of pregnancy. Don’t expect to be getting back to the gym any time soon, some days just getting dressed will be a challenge so please be kind and patient with yourself in these early weeks/months.
There should be absolutely NO PRESSURE to lose your baby weight until you are ready, be that 6 weeks, 6 months, 1 year or more. Having said that, I firmly believe that gentle, appropriate exercise and good nutrition is key for good physical health and mental well-being for new mums, whose bodies (and minds!) need to be looked after in order to recover from pregnancy and birth. Most mums I know (including myself) can suffer from aches and pains, back problems, pelvic floor issues, weak core (and tummy separation) and low mood which all effects their daily lives and can makes us pretty miserable. Exercise has been proven to promote happiness and well being and we all know the physical health benefits of maintaining a healthy weight. So when you feel ready mamas, follow the steps below to get back to feeling like your old self again. You deserve to look after yourself as well as your new baby!
- Firstly always always be kind and patient with your body when working to lose the baby weight – it has taken 9 months to grow your amazing little bundle and can take that long or longer to lose the extra weight – and that is perfectly OK
- Breastfeeding can be a great way to help naturally lose some of the baby in the early weeks BUT please note that some people may actually hang onto those last 5 to 10 pounds until you stop nursing. Why? Because your body needs the extra fat stores to produce milk. Of course everyone knows someone who lost all their baby weight and more through breastfeeding alone (lucky them!). Remember everyone’s experiences are different but we all know the health benefits of breastfeeding for both mum and baby.
- Do your deep core exercises and correct breathing to restore your core - pelvic tilts and pelvic floor exercises can be done after delivery and its vital to start to activate these muscles as soon as possible. Some great safe, postnatal Pilates exercises that can be done immediately after birth can be found here.
- Quite simply - Get up and move. Which with a new baby can be easier said than done when you are stuck to the sofa feeding constantly. Additionally most new mums are too sleep-deprived and overwhelmed to even think about exercise. That's perfectly OK, and remember most women's bodies aren't ready for serious exercise until at least six weeks after giving birth, 10 weeks if they've had a C section or a difficult instrumental delivery. However, you could start by just walking with the buggy. If it feels good and doesn't cause or exacerbate bleeding, walk a little farther the next day. Pushing a buggy 1-2 miles in 30 minutes burns approx. 150 calories and getting out and about in the fresh air also does wonders for you and your baby. Do this until your 6-8 week postnatal checkup, after which you should be ready to do start more formal types of exercise.
- Body weight training will go a long way toward speeding up your metabolism. However, instead of going to the gym weight room, there are lots of safe body weight exercises you can do at home such as lunges and squats that feature in our postnatal strength programme AND it doesn’t have to take long – just 10 minutes of exercise can have great results.
- Watch calories and fat. Say no to empty-calorie foods such as sweets, crisps, biscuits, cakes…. (you get the idea!) as well as fad diets that eliminate entire food groups. Instead, fill your diet with a variety of nutrient-rich meals containing lean protein, whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables. We definitely advise against going on a diet right after giving birth. To get your body back, you have to think health first, your body is working to repair itself and shouldn’t be deprived.
- Eating small, frequent meals throughout the day will keep your blood- sugar levels steady and help prevent you from overeating, as well as breakfast, lunch and dinner aim for a mid morning and mid afternoon snack. For more details and coaching on healthy eating and nutrition, plus a 100s of healthy recipe ideas have a look at our postnatal programme.
- Eat healthy snacks. As mentioned above, snacks are fine and help keep blood sugar levels even as long as you choose a healthy variety. To avoid temptation, keep only nutritious foods at your fingertips; veggies and hummus, hard boiled eggs, greek yoghurt with fruit, apple slices with almond butter are all good choices.
- Prioritise sleep… Yes I know this is an irritating one as obviously getting enough sleep with a baby is easier said than done… BUT, getting plenty of sleep has been shown to help with weight loss because you're not compelled to binge on high-calorie, high-sugar foods for energy. Strange sleep cycles like those forced on you by a newborn can upset your metabolism and make it harder for you to lose your pregnancy weight. Take a nap anytime the baby does, housework be damned. That way, you won't end up with a long-term sleep deficit, and you'll keep your energy levels and your potentially naughty cravings in check. Whatever you do, don't sacrifice sleep for exercise time in those early weeks. If you don't sleep enough, you won't have enough energy for satisfying workouts, anyway.
- Drink plenty of water! Hydration is key for adequate milk production (if breastfeeding) but it can also help you determine if you are actually hungry or just thirsty. Once you feel thirsty you are already dehydrated and that for many can be confused with feeling hungry, so drink up!
- Meet up with other mums to exercise and motivate each other. It’s always great to workout with friends, it can make it much more enjoyable and turns what some people view as a chore into a social event! Getting out and about at an exercise class designed for new mums with their babies is a great way to meet other mums. Or get together with some mummy friends and work out together in a local park or at someone’s house so you don’t have to worry about childcare as babies come too.
If you would like to find out more about safe and effective workouts check out Mama on the Move’s Postnatal Exercise and Pilates online programmes.