Today, I want to talk about running.  Why?  Because it’s a topic that I get asked about quite frequently from postpartum moms and it’s one that they consider to be a “gentler” way to start exercising again post birth.

Running is a great activity that burns a lot of calories (along with strength training), helps you build up your aerobic endurance, and it’s a great stress reliever!  The discouraging part is that many postpartum women lace up their shoes and head out the door too soon.

When you combine this with poor running mechanics and form, and the fact that running is indeed a high-intensity exercise, the risk of developing injuries, leaking, and pelvic organ prolapse is VERY real for these ladies.

Before we continue though, there are two things that I want you to keep in mind here:

  • The most important concept here is that it’s NOT just the amount of time you wait before you can try running again postpartum. I will say though that it’s most certainly NOT right after your doctor or midwife has cleared you for exercise at the 6-week check-up.
  • Postpartum is a recovery PROCESS. It’s important to make sure that your core and pelvic floor are functioning well again, with good muscle tone, strength, and endurance to FIRST support your body through simple everyday activities before we layer on more stressful activities like running and weightlifting.

If running is your jam, then I want to provide you with a system and talk with you about some small adjustments you can make that will have a big impact on your body and your performance. All of this, of course, only when it is the right time to start running again postpartum.

On a side note, I’m not really a fan of continuing to run later on into pregnancy.  Just because you may feel like you can do it, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you should do it.  The pelvic floor is already under a lot of strain, pressure and stress due to the weight of your growing baby and your uterus bearing down on the pelvic organs (and therefore, the pelvic floor).  If you’re craving that “runner’s high” as you progress through pregnancy, I would suggest substituting your running for some incline interval walking.

Anywho…let’s talk about those guidelines to get you back into running safely and feeling strong throughout your entire body…especially the core and pelvic floor.  Generally speaking, I prefer to have my runners wait until the 4-6 months (more like the 6 month mark) postpartum mark to begin small bouts of running.

I feel like even 4 months tends to be a bit too soon.  There are a lot of factors that we need to consider here that play a role in how well your body will respond to this high impact activity such as:

  • How did your labor and delivery go?
  • How well is your core and pelvic floor healing? Are you doing any of sort of restorative exercise for the core and pelvic floor yet?
  • Whether or not you are breastfeeding.
  • Are you doing anything to SAFELY build full-body strength again?
  • How are you adjusting to life as a new mom?
  • Are you getting enough sleep at night (AT LEAST 6 hours per night)? Sleep plays a huge role in our overall recovery, not to mention our ability to recover from exercise as well.
  • There is no sign of a prolapse, incontinence, hip, back, or pelvic pain, and you don’t have any feelings of heaviness or bulging in your pelvis.

Something else to keep in mind is that if you are breastfeeding, you will want to consider holding off on running even longer.  As long as you continue to breastfeed, your body will continue to have elevated levels of Relaxin.  And as we have already covered, Relaxin causes all of the muscles and joints of your body to be a little less stable.  Many physical therapists actually advise waiting a year and potentially longer for breastfeeding moms because hormonal factors could affect tissue quality.

There is a strong possibility that pushing yourself too hard and too soon will impede your postpartum recovery. The core and pelvic floor are too vulnerable for the first few months to handle any excessive movement of the pelvis and jarring of the pelvic floor as we see with jogging and running.

*Remember, these are general guidelines! Every woman’s body heals differently, so you may be able to handle a bit more intense exercise sooner or it may take you longer to ease back into more intense aerobic exercise.

Phase 1 (Approximately 0-4 Months): Leisurely Walking

 

In the early weeks and months following the birth of your baby, leisurely walks are an ideal way to introduce regular gentle exercise into your routine. Like I said earlier, I do not suggest trying to jump back into any sort of jogging or running too soon; the effects of pregnancy and delivery have taken a greater toll on your body than you may realize.

  • Begin with short sessions of gentle and leisurely walking a few times a week on FLAT ground.
  • The time and frequency of your walks is totally dependent on you and your schedule. Adjusting to life with a newborn is very challenging, stressful, and exhausting. However, a good starting point is to aim for 10-15 minutes of walking.  As you begin to feel stronger and more energized, continue to add on 5 minute blocks to your walks.
  • In general, I don’t like to prescribe long bouts of cardio because there are more efficient ways to get your cardio done. Your time is precious right now and it is better spent on activities like your core and pelvic floor program and light-to-moderate resistance training. These activities will better serve you in rehabbing your body after baby.  Right now, walking should be looked at as more of a restorative activity and SLOWLY rebuilding your aerobic base, not necessarily a weight loss activity.
  • Keep the intensity of your walks at a low to moderate intensity (4-6 on the RPE/Rate of Perceived Exertion scale).
  • This is also a good time to a postnatal specific strength training program.

 

Key Points: Leisurely Walking Form

 

  • Maintain the correct alignment (ribs stacked over pelvis, pelvis untucked) and walk tall.
  • Strike the ground first with your heel.
  • Roll through the step from heel to toe.
  • Push off with your big toe.
  • Bring your back leg forward to strike again with the heel and activate the glutes.
  • Keep your knees aligned and avoid rolling them in.
  • Keep your hips level and avoid dipping from side to side.
  • Relax your elbows and let them drop down into the sides of your body.
  • If walking without a stroller, let your arms swing naturally from the shoulders.
  • If walking with a stroller, hold the handle with a relaxed grip and preferably on the side of the handle frame.

 

Phase 2 (Approximately 4-6 Months): Uphill & Downhill Walking

 

To move onto this phase, I want you to make sure you have been following some type of core and pelvic floor rehab program, you’ve done AT LEAST 3 months/12 weeks of your postnatal strength training program a few times per week, and you’ve done lots of flat leisurely walking before progressing to incline walking.

I know you may be itching to start running again at this point, so uphill and downhill interval walking is a good way to feed that “runner’s high” that you’ve been craving for some time now.  It’s also a great way to train those glutes as well!

Uphill & Downhill Walking Pointers

 

  • Maintain the correct alignment
  • Shorten your stride.
  • Strike the ground first with your heel.
  • Roll through the step from heel to toe.
  • Push off with your big toe
  • Bring your back leg forward to strike again with the heel and activate the glutes.
  • Keep your knees aligned and avoid rolling them in.
  • Keep your hips level and minimize dipping from side to side.
  • Lean slightly forward from your hips going both uphill and downhill, but still with good alignment.
  • Relax your elbows and let them drop down into the sides of your body.
  • If walking without a stroller, let your arms swing naturally from the shoulders.
  • If walking with a stroller, hold the handle with a relaxed grip and preferably on the side of the handle frame. Also, keep your hips close to the stroller so as to prevent you from leaning too far forward going uphill.
  • Try to keep your uphill and downhill intervals short in nature at first. Remember, we want to start slowly instead of jumping right into incline and decline walking.  Keep the incline intervals between 10-30 seconds long at first and if walking on a treadmill.

 

Phase 3 (Approximately 6 Months & Beyond): Interval Uphill Running →Interval Flat Service Running→Longer, Steady State Running

 

You may have found that you are ready to handle some running before you hit your 6 month mark, but I have suggested starting closer towards 6 months because it takes closer to 6 months or more for your pelvis to heal from pregnancy and birth.  If you have tested out running a little bit at this point and your pelvis tends to feel heavy afterwards…that’s a sign that you are not ready for running!

Now, before we talk about lacing up those running shoes again, let’s talk about some considerations to keep in mind that will give us a better idea as to whether or not you are ready to start running again:

  • Have you done a program like Restore My Core to restore strength, stability and function to the core and pelvic floor?
  • There are no signs of a prolapse (or your prolapse is well managed), incontinence, hip, back, or pelvic pain, and you don’t have any feelings of heaviness or bulging in your pelvis.
  • Have you performed at least 12 weeks (3 months) of a consistent postnatal-friendly strength training program, preferably 2-3 times per week?
  • Are you using the core breathing technique and good alignment to lift your baby, lift and carry household items, lift weights, or to run?
  • Is your Diastasis Recti well-healed? Are there no signs of any bulging, coning, doming along the midline of your belly?  Does the connective tissue between your abs feel dense, taut, and like it’s able to produce good tension when you activate your core and pelvic floor?
  • Have you booked an appointment with a pelvic floor physical therapist to see if everything is as it should be internally?

Before you move on to incline running, be sure that incline interval walking has been feeling comfortable and tolerable for your body.  Before you progress to flat surface running, it is better to ease into it with some uphill interval running on softer terrain. The softer the terrain the lower the impact will be on the joints and pelvis.

  • Initially, keep your intervals running uphill very short in duration (i.e. 10-20 seconds long, 30 seconds maximum when you are ready for longer intervals) and then walk downhill for your recovery. Your recovery time should be AT LEAST double the time of the intervals to allow for a full recovery (i.e. if your interval time is 30 seconds, then your recovery time should be 60 seconds or more).
  • An interval pace is one that feels like a fast run or harder (7-8 on the RPE/Rate of Perceived Exertion Scale) than a casual pace.
  • Keep the number of intervals (volume) low on the first few workouts to see how your body tolerates it. Also, notice how you feel in the days following.  If you feel any pain, pressure or general feelings of discomfort in the core and pelvic floor, then you may need to back off a bit next time.
  • You can increase the intensity of your uphill running intervals by increasing the time of each interval or the number of overall intervals. Just remember to cap these intervals at 30 seconds.
  • Once you are feeling stronger with your running, go ahead and give running on flat terrain a try.
  • You can then progress your flat terrain running with intervals of running and walking as you become more tolerant and can run for longer periods of time and distance.
  • Once you are feeling good with flat running intervals try progressing to longer periods of steady state (moderate pace) running.

 

Uphill Running Pointers

 

  • Maintain the correct alignment (ribs over hips, tailbone untucked)
  • Shorten your stride.
  • Keep your knees aligned and avoid rolling them in.
  • Keep your hips level and minimize dipping from side to side.
  • Lean slightly forward from your hips going uphill.
  • Relax your elbows and let them drop down into the sides of your body.
  • Let your arms swing naturally from the shoulders.

 

Flat Service Interval Running Pointers

 

  • Start out on grass or ground, or indoor on a treadmill
  • These intervals are especially forgiving for the body on grass.
  • Remember to walk for AT LEAST twice as long as your running time (e.g. run for 20 seconds, rest for AT LEAST 40 seconds).
  • Shorten your stride.
  • Keep your feet under your body.
  • Keep your knees aligned and avoid rolling them in.
  • Keep your hips level and minimize dipping from side to side.
  • Relax your elbows and let them drop down into the sides of your body.
  • Let your arms swing naturally from the shoulders.

 

Longer, Steady State Running Pointers

 

  • If your short intervals on flat terrain have been feeling good, then longer steady state running might be appropriate at this time.
  • You can slowly increase your interval of running time longer, as long as it continues to feel good on your body.
  • Walk when you feel the need to walk.
  • Maintain the correct alignment.
  • Shorten your stride.
  • Keep your feet under your body.
  • Keep your knees aligned and avoid rolling them in.
  • Keep your hips level and minimize dipping from side to side.
  • Relax your elbows and let them drop down into the sides of your body.
  • Let your arms swing naturally from the shoulders.

 

6 More Factors For Efficient And Safer Running

 

Running form is ABSOLUTELY crucial: how you carry yourself, balance and shift your weight determines what muscles you use and engage while running.  Do you ever notice why some women have great looking behinds from running while others develop big calves?  It has a lot to do with the type of technique they use while running.

Factor #1: How is Your Running Form?

 

How are you transferring your energy?  Do you bounce up and down when you run or are you propelling yourself forward?

If you allow yourself to bounce up and down too much and propel yourself forward enough, this increases the impact on your body with each foot strike on the ground (which means more load on the pelvic floor).

Let’s keep in mind that the pelvic floor doesn’t like a whole lot of pounding and impact…especially during the first 6 months postpartum.

Bouncing up and down while you run also means slower running and overworking your calf muscles

Trying to propel yourself forward increases your speed and the need to engage your glutes more (which is a good thing) to help push off the ground and keep you moving forward.  Strong glutes protect your lower back and your pelvic floor from injury.

A propelling forward motion = better glute development and more efficient running.

How do you know if you are someone that runs up and down or propels yourself forward?  Listen to your feet next time you go out for a run.  Do you sound like a Clydesdale horse galloping down the street or do you sound like a cheetah about to sneak up on its prey?

Factor #2: How do you feel on your feet…heavy or light?

 

If you’re feeling rather heavy and sluggish, then think about performing some running intervals instead of slow steady state running. Gauge how you feel during the first few minutes of running, if you feel heavy on your feet, then opt for intervals instead of going out for a slow 30 minute jog.  Try to perform a few intervals of 1 minute of faster running followed by 2 minutes of recovery walking.

Another great option that will help to strengthen your core and glutes (but is also less impact on the pelvic floor) is to try go back to uphill or incline running.  Remember to keep your inclines small and short starting out, and think about powering up those hills by driving through the heels and back side of your legs to engage the glutes more.

Factor #3:  Where is Your Head At?

 

What is your head doing while you run?  Are you jutting your chin forward?

Forward head posture actually decreases core activation and stability as well as glute recruitment.

Make sure to check in with yourself while you are out on your run and notice your head positioning. Think about tucking your chin in slightly to help realign your body and activate those abs.

Something else that happens as you jut your chin forward is your shoulders become more rounded forward and you tuck your tailbone under.

Just don’t go overboard here!  I’m not talking military posture here.  That’s too much and it just makes your back work harder.  If your lower back gets tired or strained, then you are working too hard on your posture.  Keep it simple with a simple little tucking of the chin towards your chest.

Factor #4: How’s Your Breathing?

 

One thing I often hear from a lot of postpartum moms is that they can’t seem to get enough air when they breathe.  It makes sense because in order for your body to adapt to a growing baby during pregnancy there are some postural and biomechanical  shifts that go on to accommodate baby:  the muscles in your back get very tight, and your diaphragm gets shortened and pushed up into your chest cavity.

This in turn shuts down your breathing system completely and you become a chest breather.

We want to be able to breathe down into the rib cage (no chest breathing) and let our ribs both fully expand and “shrink” back down with each breath.  If you don’t do anything to correct your breathing, then you will end up causing the muscles through your neck, shoulders, and upper back to become very tense and overworked.  As a result, you may find that you tense through the upper body a lot and with your shoulders up by your ears as you run.

Here’s a quick drill you can do to help improve your breathing:

Core Breathing Tutorial

Factor #5: How big are your steps?

 

Are you taking steps that are too large?

If so, this can cause potential injury like hamstring strains and prolapse.  Reaching too far forward increases the impact through your heel and up through the joints.

Heel strike isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but we are trying to soften the load on your joints.  So, try not to reach out too far forward with your foot.  Think instead about getting a bigger push off from your glutes Not all heel striking is bad, but if you want to soften the load on your joints and increase the demand on your muscles, try not to reach out quite as far with your foot. Think about getting a bigger push off from your glutes than reaching too far forward with your foot.

When you try and reach too far forward with the foot instead of pushing off the ground with the foot, this will cause your tailbone to tuck under.  When you tuck the pelvic floor under, this causes the glutes to shut off and the quadriceps and calves to take over.

Factor #6: What Are Your Arms Doing?

 

Are you letting your arms be loosey goosey while you run, or are you using them to help propel you forward?

We want to get a good front to back arm swing going to help activate the muscles in your upper back and activate your core.

One last thing is to not let your elbows “chicken wing” out and away from the body.  Keep your arms tucked in close to your body to help you run faster and activate your core and glutes!

 

I hope this helps you when you are ready to “hit the ground running” again.  I know I also mentioned that I would like you to get at least 3 months of postnatal strength training under your belt, so here is a 4 week program to help you get started.

VixieFit

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