Nine months ago, six weeks of no running would’ve seemed like an eternity, but now it’s a drop in the bucket. Whether you chose to hang up your sneakers during your pregnancy or were forced to due to your changing body, your little bundle has arrived and you’re ready to hit the road. As you await that much anticipated post-partum check-up, take this time to prepare your new body for the stresses of running.
Aside from that massive belly you grew, your pregnancy spawned several other physical changes; many of which are ready to thwart your efforts the moment you hit your stride. In addition to the hormone surge and weight gain you undoubtedly encountered, your muscular system also experienced a transformation of sorts. The key to resuming a running routine after baby, without encountering injury, is to address any of these transformations you may have had with corrective exercises. Sprinkle these essential movements into your day around feeding and cuddle sessions to safely get back to that other thing you love: running.
Begin with one set of each exercise, gradually working your way up to three sets. Remember, your body is still healing. Play it slow and listen to your body; if something is uncomfortable or hurts, stop.
Chest and Upper Back
Tight pectoral muscles will cause your shoulders and upper back to round forward, resulting in pain and discomfort, especially while running.
Doorway Stretch: Stand in a doorway or in front of a weight machine (as shown) with your upper arms horizontal to the floor and your elbows bent to 90 degrees. Place the inside of your lower arm against the outside of the door frame. Inhale deeply then breathe out as you gently push your chest forward until you feel a mild stretch. Hold here for 30 seconds, breathing normally. Repeat two to three times throughout the day.
Caution must be taken with your abdominal muscles; it will take a considerable amount of time to regain strength and firmness in your belly.
Abdominal Bracing: Lay on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor, and arms extended overhead. Brace your abdomen by contracting your stomach muscles as much as possible and pressing your low back into the floor. This is the starting position.
With Arm Movement: Lower one arm straight back while lowering the other to the side of the body. Alternate your arms back and forth while breathing deeply and evenly. Concentrate on keeping your abdomen and pelvis stable. Complete 10 arm movements on each side.
With Leg Movement: Straighten one leg at a time or both legs simultaneously while maintaining the abdominal brace position. A more advanced option involves lifting the legs so that your shins are horizontal to the floor and your knees bend 90 degrees. Hold the abdominal brace and slowly lower one leg to tap your toes on the floor. Return to the starting position and tap the other foot. Continue to alternate until you have completed 10 taps with each foot. As your strength improves, work up to a double-toe tap.
Tight low-back muscles will do nothing but cause irritation and discomfort when you pick up running again.
Knees-to-Chest: Lay on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Draw your knees to your chest, gently pulling them into your body with your hands. Lower your feet back to the floor to complete the rep. Perform five to 10 repetitions.
As a runner, you already know the importance of stretching your hip flexors. However, now that you’re recovering from pregnancy, it’s that much more important. Tight hip flexors put stress on your lumbar spine, leading to low back pain and fatigue in the muscles.
Couch Stretch: Assume the lunge position with your right leg back in front of a sturdy object, such as a couch or chair. Place the top of your right foot on top of the chair and adjust your body until your butt is as close to your heal as possible and your right knee is completely flexed (as shown). Press your hips forward and down by squeezing your glutes until you feel a stretch in the front of your right hip. Hold this position for at least 30 seconds. Repeat the stretch with your left leg. You may want to place a folded towel or mat under your knee to prevent your knee cap from grinding against the floor.
Weak gluteal muscles are the last issue you want to deal with when you get back to running. The entire glute area is not only responsible for hip extension and abduction, but also for hip and pelvis stability. Once things start to go awry in your hips, you’ll likely also experience problems in your knees and ankles. It’s always better to prevent injuries than spend weeks rehabbing them.
Side Plank with Leg Lift: Lay on your left side, elbow supporting your upper body, with your hips and legs stacked. Place your left hand behind your head. Stabilize your core and lift your hips off the floor until your body forms a straight line from head to toe (as shown). Maintain this position and lift your left leg upward until it is horizontal with the floor. Hold for a count of one then lower your leg to complete one repetition. Perform five to 10 reps then switch sides to repeat the exercise.
Glute Extensions: Position yourself on all fours with your upper body supported by your elbows. Stabilize your abdomen and transfer your weight to your left knee. Extend your right leg, and lift your heal toward the ceiling until you reach full hip extension. Pause here before lowering your leg back to the floor. Complete 10 to 15 repetitions then switch legs. To up the intensity of the exercise, perform the hip extension while maintaining a front plank position.