This postpartum workout guide will teach you how to safely and gradually return to your pre-pregnancy activities after giving birth.
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Soon after welcoming your little one into the world, you might feel antsy to ditch the slow walks around the block, stroller in tow, and get back to your more challenging pre-pregnancy fitness routine — HIIT workouts, heavy lifting, long runs, and all. But rushing back to physical activity after childbirth could do you more harm than good.

Here, trainers break down why it's so important to carefully reintroduce physical activity into your life and the tips to keep in mind while you do so. Plus, they share a gentle postpartum workout that will help you begin to rebuild strength in your core and pelvic floor after carrying a baby for nine months.

The Benefits of Postpartum Workouts

So long as your doctor gives you the all-clear, easing yourself back into a fitness routine after childbirth can have big payoffs. Participating in regular aerobic exercise in the postpartum period has been linked to improved cardiovascular fitness, weight loss, and a reduction in postpartum depression and anxiety, according to research published in the journal Obstetrical & Gynecological Survey. Core-strengthening postpartum exercises are also beneficial in the postpartum period, as they may decrease inter-rectus distance (re: the amount of space between the rectus muscles — the two large parallel bands of muscles that meet in the middle of the abdomen and separate during pregnancy to accommodate the baby), according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

In addition to the physical benefits of postpartum workouts, staying physically active after childbirth can improve your mental health, says Emily Skye, a personal trainer and the creator of the Emily Skye FIT Post-Pregnancy program. "I have found it to be huge for regaining my confidence, knowing that I will be strong and healthy enough to care for my family," says Skye. "It took me time to get back to fitness after my baby boy arrived, but [now] I feel the best I've ever felt."

To score those perks, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services generally recommends people tackle at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity throughout the week, both during pregnancy and the postpartum period. That said, folks who were regularly active or participated in vigorous-intensity activities pre-pregnancy can typically continue on with their routines in both of these periods, according to the ACOG. To gauge the intensity of your postpartum workout, think about your rating of perceived exertion, or how much effort you feel like you're putting into your workout. A moderate-intensity workout would be a 5 to 6.2 on a scale of 1 to 10, for example, per the USDHHS. You can also use the "talk test" to calculate your workout's intensity in real-time, and you should be able to carry on a conversation — but not sing — during a moderate-intensity workout.

When Can You Start Doing Postpartum Exercises?

How soon you can safely start testing the fitness waters after childbirth depends on how you delivered (whether it was a vaginal or cesarean birth) and if you're dealing with any medical or surgical complications from childbirth, according to the ACOG. While you shouldn't feel pressured to do anything but rest and soak in this new parenting thing, know that it's typically safe to start pelvic floor exercises in the immediate postpartum period (re: the first 24 hours after birth). Research has shown pelvic floor exercises can help reduce urinary incontinence — a side effect more than one-fourth of women experience in the first year postpartum), according to the ACOG. This is also when you can also start practicing diaphragmatic breathing — a technique that helps you engage your pelvic floor and core, says Caitlin Ritt, a pre/postnatal exercise specialist and the founder and CEO of The Lotus Method, a pre and postnatal fitness studio in California. "If you had a C-section, you might want to wait a little bit longer because engaging that area just might [feel] a little more tender," she explains. "But you can start integrating that pelvic floor and core awareness as early as within that first week."

Once you feel mentally and physically ready — you're no longer bleeding, experiencing pain, or are having issues with your C-section scar — Ritt recommends gradually incorporating some movement into your day. Try going for gentle walks, marching in place, and performing postpartum exercises such as bridges and clamshells.

Typically, your doctor will give you the go-ahead to get back to your usual workout routine about six to eight weeks postpartum. But that approval doesn't necessarily mean you have to feel comfortable tackling a long run or HIIT session right then and there, says Ritt. "A lot of women will get cleared at the six-week check-up…and then they go for a run and then they're like, 'Oh my God, why does it feel like my vagina's falling out or I'm still leaking?'" she says. In all cases, listen to your body, dial back on the intensity as needed, and slowly work your way back to your pre-pregnancy fitness regimen, she suggests. "Returning to fitness is a journey, and you should take it at your pace," adds Skye.

What to Keep In Mind While Trying Prenatal Workouts

Focus on key muscle groups.

Once you get the all-clear to exercise from your doctor, you'll want to focus your postpartum workouts on the same muscle groups you did while you were pregnant — that means your glutes, pelvic floor, core, and upper body.

Glutes and Pelvic Floor

Your glutes are your powerhouse, and you call on them to perform countless everyday activities, says Ritt. You engage your gluteus maximus to rise from a seated position, straighten from a bending position, walk up the stairs or a hill, and run. And your gluteus minimus and gluteus medius ​​stabilize your pelvis when you walk and help to keep you balanced. You'll constantly be lifting your baby off the floor or out of the crib and holding a heavy car seat in one hand now that you're a parent, so you'll need to keep those booty muscles in tip-top shape. Try bridges, clamshells, kickstand deadlifts, lunges, and squats.

Your glutes also work in tandem with your pelvic floor, a group of muscles that form a "hammock" across the floor of the pelvis and help to hold the uterus, cervix, vagina, and other organs in place, allowing them to function properly, according to the National Institutes of Health. "Your glutes are going to be what supports your pelvis, and then obviously your pelvic floor muscles are in control of the bottom of your pelvis," says Ritt. "If one is weak, the other's going compensate." Keeping your pelvic floor strong also has perks for your bladder: Performing pelvic floor exercises (think: Kegels) after birth has been shown to help reduce urinary incontinence, according to research

FTR, it's important to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles regardless of how your baby was delivered. "Just because you have a C-section does not mean you are immune to pelvic floor issues or dysfunction because just the weight of the baby [during pregnancy] can cause some issues," explains Ritt. (Related: 4 Important Things to Know About Your Pelvic Floor)

Core

Reminder: Performing abs-strengthening moves in the postpartum period can help shorten the distance between the two parallel rectus abdominis muscles, according to the ACOG. Plus, practicing diaphragmatic breathing helps your core work in unison with your pelvic floor muscles and regulates intra-abdominal pressure, which allows you to breathe properly and stabilizes the spine and pelvis while you move, helping to prevent injury, according to an article from The Lotus Method. "Integrating that pelvic floor and core awareness, starting to turn on those glutes again, all of that is just going to massively set you up to get back to the activity you love," says Ritt.

To practice this breathing technique, sit on an exercise ball or chair and put one hand on your ribs and the other on your low belly. Pretend an umbrella is in your ribcage, and when you inhale through your nose, imagine it opening up, says Ritt. At that point, you should feel your belly softening and your pelvic floor relaxing and dropping. Then, exhale out through your mouth as if you're blowing on a straw. Simultaneously, imagine you're "picking a blueberry up through your vagina and bringing it up to your belly button" to activate your pelvic floor, says Ritt. Aim to do this for roughly 10 reps a few times a week to get the hang of the breathing pattern, then start integrating it into your daily movement and postpartum workouts, she suggests. (This guide will teach you all there is to know about abs muscles — and how to build them up.)

Upper Body 

To make all the one-handed baby-holding and stroller-lugging you'll do as a parent a breeze, Ritt recommends incorporating unilateral upper-body exercises (re: moves that work one side of the body at a time) into your postpartum workout. You'll also want to focus on building strength in your back, adds Skye. "Breastfeeding, as well as simply lifting and carrying your baby, demands a lot of your back, so the stronger it is, the fewer aches and pains you will have," she explains. Try single-arm overhead presses and rows, Paloff presses, and reverse flys. (You can do these back exercises from the comfort of your home.)

Don't rush back into it.

Thanks to snap-back culture, the pressure to return to your pre-pregnancy state as quickly as possible is real — but it's important to tune it out. "The biggest safety risk with postpartum exercise is going too hard too early," says Skye. "You're not going to be doing a high-intensity cardio circuit or lifting heavy just four weeks after giving birth — you have to ease yourself back into any form of training."

Think about it: If you sprained your ankle, you wouldn't attempt to run a 5K the day after receiving clearance to exercise from your doctor. Instead, you'd gradually progress your workouts and maybe do some physical therapy — and the same approach should be applied when it comes to postpartum workouts, says Ritt. "The biggest thing I see with postpartum is people just wanting to rush back, and unfortunately, it can often cause more issues," she adds.

For example, doing core work that's too strenuous can lead to coning (aka doming) — when your intra-abdominal pressure pushes outward and through the tissue separating the right and left rectus abdominis muscles, causing a "shark fin" to stick out of your stomach, which can delay your abdominal separation's healing process, says Ritt. And getting back to endurance runs or boot camp classes before you're body's fully ready may lead to urinary leakage or a feeling of "heaviness" in your vagina (aka pressure on your pelvic floor) — a potential sign that one of the organs in the pelvis slipped down from its normal position and bulged into the vagina, she says. Take on too much too soon and start experiencing those issues, and "it's just going to take you longer to recover," says Ritt.

To gradually build up your strength, start by performing the postpartum exercises suggested above with your body weight only. Once that feels doable and you're not experiencing any bleeding or pain, hold your baby while you try squats and lunges, then move onto some core moves, such as deadlifts and Paloff presses, says Ritt. If you want to get back into running, start off by jogging for two minutes, walking for two minutes, and alternating between these work and rest periods throughout the workout. Feeling good after a few days of that training plan? Try running for 10 minutes and see how your body responds, she suggests. 

Listen to your body.

When you start slowly incorporating postpartum workouts into your routine, continue to check in with your body and how you're feeling. If you're experiencing any kind of bleeding, pain, pelvic floor heaviness, or leakage — particularly if it's happening during or immediately after a postpartum exercise — take it as a sign that movement was a bit too strenuous for your body, and modify the activity, says Ritt. 

You can also use a lack of symptoms to understand when it's time to progress your workout routine. "If you're not having any of those symptoms, if you have good activation through your pelvic floor and core…and you're not seeing any kind of coning or doming, then get on with your bad self," says Ritt.

Be kind to yourself.

ICYMI, your body just went through a massive transformation over the course of nine-ish months, and while it can be tough mentally and emotionally to come to terms with its changes, know you have to give yourself at least the same amount of time to recover from it, says Ritt. Translation: Don't feel pressured to "bounce back," adds Skye.

"I want new mamas to focus on how their body feels and what it can do — no time limits and no expectations," she says. "It can be helpful to set goals for your postpartum fitness journey — you might aim for gentle walking and pelvic floor exercises in the early weeks, then progress to moving a little every day, whether that's a workout with me or pushing the stroller around the park. Be flexible and take the small wins. You'll get there." (Related: Tia Mowry Has an Empowering Message for New Moms Who Feel Pressured to "Snap Back")

Emily Skye's Core and Kegels Postpartum Workout

When you're ready to reintroduce your body to physical activity — and your doctor has given you clearance to do so — try this postpartum workout from Skye's FIT Post-Pregnancy program available through the Emily Skye FIT app. "[This postpartum workout] is full of essential exercises for rebuilding strength in the early weeks of your postpartum return to fitness," she explains.

How it works: Start your postpartum workout off with a warm-up. Then perform each exercise in the postpartum workout for the recommended time, with 20 seconds of rest between each move. Complete the postpartum circuit twice, resting for 60 seconds between rounds. Cap off your prenatal workout with the cool-down.

You'll need: A towel and a mat

Note: Always consult your doctor before beginning any new exercise program, as there are some situations where exercise may not be advised. This information should be used as a guide only and should not replace the advice of your medical practitioner. Check with your doctor if you are unsure.

Warm-Up

March In Place

A. Stand tall with feet hip-width apart, chest lifted, arms bent with elbows at sides, and gaze forward. Engage core by imagining you're zipping up a pair of jeans.

B. Slowly raise right arm and lift left leg off the floor and gently march in place, avoiding bouncing or jumping.

Repeat for 30 seconds.

Mini-Ballet Squat

A. Stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, toes pointed out, and a slight bend in the knees. Raise both arms over head.

B. On an exhale, slowly lower arms down to body and bring hands together at chest. On an inhale, raise both arms back over head. Continue, matching movement to breath.

Repeat for 30 seconds.

Standing Side Stretch

A. Stand with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart. Raise right arm up to ceiling and reach hand over to the opposite side as far as comfortable. Hold for a few breaths, then slowly release and repeat on other side.

Repeat for 30 seconds.

Shoulder Circles

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart and engage core by imagining you're zipping up a pair of jeans.

B. With arms at sides in line with shoulders, move shoulders forward as if creating small circles. Repeat a few rotations, then reverse the movement. 

Repeat for 30 seconds.

Chest, Neck, and Shoulder Stretch

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart and engage core by imagining you're zipping up a pair of jeans.

B. Extend arms in front of body and place backs of hands together. Take a few deep breaths.

C. On an exhale, bring arms in and extend them behind you, placing backs of hands together. Take a few deep breaths. 

Repeat for 30 seconds.

Postpartum Workout

Kegels 

A. Stand straight with feet hip-width apart. Take a big breath in. 

B. On an exhale, squeeze and lift pelvic floor up from the center by imagining you're holding the flow of urine. Slowly inhale to release, making sure to feel the dropping of the pelvic floor before the next Kegel.

Repeat for 30 seconds.

Kegel Holds

A. Stand straight with feet hip-width apart. Take a big deep breath in.

B. On an exhale, squeeze and lift pelvic floor up from the center by imagining you're holding the flow of urine. 

C. Hold at the top, continue to breathe shallowly.

Hold for up to 10 seconds.

Thoracic Extension

A. Roll up a towel and place it on the ground. Slowly come down onto back from your side and lie on top of a towel so that it's in line with your bra strap.

B. Place hands behind head and slowly lower back of head to the floor. You should feel a nice stretch through upper back. 

Hold for 30 seconds.

*Note, perform this exercise in the first round only. 

Angels with Core Activation

A. Lie on the floor with stomach facing the ceiling. On an inhale, slowly raise arms up and over head, pressing the backs of arms into the surface of the floor. 

B. On an exhale, squeeze and lift pelvic floor and engage core by imagining you're zipping up a pair of jeans. Simultaneously, slowly lower arms down by bending elbows until they touch sides of body, pressing backs of hands, wrists, arms, and shoulders down into the floor.

Repeat for 30 seconds.

Mini-Crunch with Core Activation

A. Fold a towel into thirds lengthwise, then wrap it around waist so towel ends are crossed in front of hips. Lie on the floor with stomach facing the ceiling, hands holding opposite towel ends. Take a big breath in. 

B. On an exhale, squeeze and lift pelvic floor and engage core by imagining you're zipping up a pair of jeans. Slightly lift head and shoulder blades up off the floor, pulling the ends of the towel across waist, and hold. 

C. On an inhale, slowly lower head and shoulder blades back down to the floor, loosening ends of the towel.

Repeat for 30 seconds.

Alternating Leg Lifts with Core Activation

A. Lie on the floor with stomach facing the ceiling, knees bent, feet flat on the floor, and arms at sides. Take a big breath in.

B. On an exhale, squeeze and lift pelvic floor and engage core by imagining you're zipping up a pair of jeans. Bring right leg up into tabletop position, keeping a bent knee. 

C. On an inhale, slowly lower right leg back down to the floor. 

Repeat for 30 seconds, alternating legs.

Cool-Down

Hamstring Stretch

A. Lie on the floor with stomach facing the ceiling, knees bent, feet flat on floor. 

B. Bring right knee up toward chest, clasp hands around calf, and hold. Continue to breathe normally, and stretch only to a level seven out of 10 for discomfort.

Hold for 15 seconds each side.

Glute Stretch 

A. Lie on the floor with stomach facing the ceiling, knees bent, feet flat on floor. 

B. Extend right leg up, placing right calf against left thigh and both hands around left hamstring. Continue to breathe normally, keeping hips square, and stretch only to a level seven out of 10 for discomfort.

Hold for 15 seconds each side.

Cat-Cow 

A. Start in a table-top position with wrists under shoulders and knees under hips. 

B. On an exhale, push through the hands to round out through the spine into cat. 

C. On an inhale, arch back into cow, looking up toward ceiling. If you have abdominal separation, only return to a neutral position.

Repeat for 30 seconds.

Seated Arm Stretch

A. Sit tall and draw shoulders down and back. Place right arm across front of body and hold it with opposite hand. 

B. Continue to breathe normally, and stretch only to a level seven out of 10 for discomfort. Slowly release and repeat on the other side.

Repeat for 30 seconds each side.

Kegels 

A. Stand straight with feet hip-width apart. Take a big breath in. 

B. On an exhale, squeeze and lift pelvic floor up from the center by imagining you're holding the flow of urine. Slowly inhale to release, making sure to feel the dropping of the pelvic floor before the next Kegel.

Repeat for 30 seconds.

Belly Breaths

A. Place hands on rib cage, with fingertips facing toward one another and touching. Take a deep breath in, expanding into the sides of the ribcage and filling belly. Fingertips will come apart. 

B. While exhaling, breathe out every last little bit of air, bringing fingertips back together. Abs should feel like they're engaging at the end of the breath.

Repeat for 30 seconds.