There comes a point mid to late pregnancy where running just is not enjoyable anymore. For some this point comes earlier than others and other people, like myself, are able to run all the way to the end of their pregnancy without any problems other than general discomfort. Whoever you are, whether you are only able to run through the first half of pregnancy or if you are someone who can run through the whole 40 weeks, the one thing that stays consistent is that you must take 4-6 weeks off post-delivery to recover before returning to training. The 6 weeks after giving birth to your baby are very important for your body to heal and your uterus to shrink back to normal size before jumping into training again.
So what is the best practice for returning to running after pregnancy and giving birth?
First things first, make sure you are ready both physically and mentally to return to running. The first few weeks and months after being pregnant and giving birth are precious times that you can never get back; it is important to take that time to enjoy your new baby, get as much rest as you can (since you probably are not sleeping much at night), and allow your body and mind to return to a place where you are 100% ready to get going again. Starting with walking is a great way to get your body used to moving again, get some fresh air and you can even bring your baby with you and enjoy that time together. Walking will also allow you to prepare your mind and body for the increase volume and intensity that comes along with running.
The next step is to make sure your core is ready to get going. Our core is the base and the foundation that keeps us healthy from our hips to our feet. Core weakness can effect so many things so make sure you have taken the time to get in some core work and start activating those muscles again. I suggest taking 10-15 minutes every day to do some core work to prepare for running and to start waking up some of the muscles that were stretched to their limit during pregnancy.
McMillan Running Coach Katie McGee suggests doing pelvic floor exercises three or more times per day. This involves holding a pelvic floor squeeze for 2 seconds 10 times and then doing 10 times at a 10 second hold. If you return to running before you have lost all the weight gained during pregnancy, don’t fret it, it will slowly come off over time. Everyone is different, but I would give yourself a grace period of at least 6-9 months to lose weight and get muscle tone back before you feel like yourself.
Greg McMillan devised a core routine that you can fit into your day conveniently and that you can do anywhere.
Finally, after what seems like an eternity it is time to start running. You are mentally more than ready and physically, although you may feel a little nervous, you think you are ready. Things may feel a little bouncier than they used to but that will change as you progress in your running and the more time your body has to heal post-delivery.
Start slow: some people find that doing 1 minute run/1 minute walk is a great beginning step while others find that doing a very slow one mile run works. With my first child I started back slowly once I was cleared to do so with 20 minute jogs every other day for a week and then slowly added in more volume and days to my routine. With my second child I was roaring to go 3 weeks post partum and headed out for my first run, a 1 mile jog, only to discover that although my mind was ready, my body was not. I walked home and gave myself 3 more weeks before I started again, this time starting with a 3 minute run/1 minute walk ratio the first day and then progressed into 20 minute jogs every other day until that felt comfortable. Remember that everyone’s body is different and some people may bounce back faster than others. The biggest thing to remember is to take it slow, do your core work and don’t force anything.
I can’t reiterate enough the importance of taking it slow and listening to your body. The athletes I coach know that I talk a lot about the training errors I have made in the past (and I have made A LOT). One big error I made after my most recent pregnancy was not giving myself enough time to recoup before bouncing back into not only running, but working out in general. I tried to start back to running too soon and although I did give myself some more time before trying to run again, I forced myself into doing exercise every day because I wanted to lose the rest of the baby weight (yep, I too had to work at it!) With my first baby the weight miraculously melted away without effort but with my second child I found myself stuck with 10 pounds to go… and they did not want to budge! I was anxious to get it off so I started jumping rope, doing a lot of intense core work and eventually found myself feeling a little depressed, super tired, and still had that ten pounds on me. So, I suggest to take it easy, take it slow and please listen to your body. If you are going to cross train before you can start running make sure to ask your physician, and make sure you are not overloading yourself with the demands of caring for a new life.
My last suggestion is that when you are ready to run again, follow one of the maintenance training plans offered in our RunClub platform, which are designed specifically to help runners rebuild their fitness. These plans will guide you to build back up to the level of running you had before the pregnancy and then you can transition to other training modules when you are ready. Plus a subscription to RunClub also includes core and strength training programs and access to our coaches (like me!) for support and assistance on your journey back to running. Here’s a link to learn more about RunClub.
Returning to running after a pregnancy can be a great journey, but one that should be taken slowly and cautiously. Take care of yourself, enjoy it and soak up the snuggles from your new baby when you return!
Recommended Additional Reading: Balancing Running with Kids
Annika Braun is a McMillan Running Coach. Learn more about our Personal Coaching where you can train with a coach like Annika by your side to plan your training and talk about race strategy, performance nutrition, injury prevention, stretching, and much more.
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