Updated: May 9, 2021
Have you tried running after pregnancy and it just doesn't feel the same? You may never run the same as you did before pregnancy... and this is OKAY!
You CAN return to running your previous distances and speeds, but it takes careful consideration of your pelvic floor and core integrity, technique and strength.
My name is Claire, I am the founder of North Shore Running & Outdoor Fitness, a running coach, strength and conditioning coach and mum to 2 little ladies, Izzy & Tilly, currently 5 months and 2 ½ years old. I class myself as a recreational runner, I love running, I love fun runs, but I am certainly not competing for a podium position! I run for physical and mental health, for “me time” and to exercise my energetic German Pointer!
I have worked with mums who are learning to run for the first time in their life, through to half marathon winners who run faster than I can sprint! I have supported mums who run up to the day they give birth, and those that give running a rest but want to maintain strength and fitness to support their return to running post-partum. I have coached women who breeze through my 7-step return to running process in a matter of weeks, and others who have experienced severe pelvic floor trauma and take longer to get through the process, or jump in and out as their busy life allows.
So you’ve had a baby, and you’re wondering when and how to return to running?
Regardless of whether you ran through your pregnancy or not, I follow a 7-step process with all mums. The time it takes to progress through the steps is dependent on previous running history, your birth, and your lifestyle. You can start this process as early as 4-6 weeks.
1. ASSESSMENT: Have your pelvic floor & core assessed by a women's health physio.
Unfortunately the 6-week GP check-up is NOT enough. Generally they are great at checking on your mental health, perhaps checking your incision or stitches, checking your bubba is having their needs met, but rarely will they check your pelvic floor function or refer you to a women’s health physio. A women’s health will ultimately sign you off on returning to running when you’re ready.
2. RESTORATION: Progress through pelvic floor & core restoration exercises
On consultation with your women’s health physio, and strength coach, progress through targeted restoration exercises for your diaphragm, pelvic floor and core. These muscle groups provide the foundation for single leg stability and strength – after all, running is just one single leg balance after the other!
3. WALK WALK WALK: Progress to walking the same weekly duration you'd like to run, or have previously run
If you’d like to run 3-4x a week, then I suggest building the habit of running 3-4x a week. First up it might just be 10 mins at a time, but this will build as you settle into life with your bub. Build up to a similar duration that you might like to run. Not only does this ingrain the habit, but it makes the return to running a lot less daunting. As runners we love to ‘feel the burn’, get out of breath and hot and sweaty, and often underestimate the fitness and strength that walking can provide.
4. STRENGTH: Advance to targeted running specific strength training
Now you have a strong foundation, it’s time to work running specific strength through lots of single leg exercises and increasing resistance in basic movements such as the lunge, deadlift, squat and step up. Let’s not forget mobility and strength through the upper back (breastfeeding or not, we hold our bubbas a lot!), to allow for tension free running!
5. TECHNIQUE: Assess running technique and adapt as necessary
Once you get the nod to start running, you may feel like a baby giraffe learning to walk for the first time. Bones move, ligaments stretch, hormones are circling like a great white on the west coast, running may just feel different. A running coach is able to provide you with some tips to adapt your running technique to your new shape so you continue to run safely and efficiently.
6. RUN: obviously!! Following a safe return to running protocol
Replace some of your walking days with walk/run intervals until you slowly build up to running continuously for short efforts. Then you can build duration or speed if you wish.
7. REVISIT: this is a cyclical process, be prepared to revisit all steps at some point
Things happen…if you suddenly get a heavy feeling in the pelvic floor, or you leak, then you may need to go back and see your women’s health physio. If you’ve fallen off the strength training bandwagon and you start feeling some niggles, you may need to revisit step 5. If your baby hits the 4/8/14 month sleep regression, or is going through a leap, you may prioritise sleep and rest, and have to rewind a few weeks. As you get stronger, your technique may change again, and it might be worth seeing your technique coach for a quick tune up. The important thing is to recognise these changes early, so you can sort them out and keep progressing.
This may look like a long process, but if we do it right from the start, we will minimise the risk of setbacks, and get you back to your prime fitness faster!
Whilst on “maternity leave” I am working with mums through online consultations and 1:1 coaching.
Our 8-week return to running strength and running programs will resume in Winter 2021. In the meantime, I am more than happy to answer any questions you may have. Feel free to connect with me through Instagram @return_to_running or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org