The female body goes through a pretty miraculous process throughout pregnancy. If you’ve been through it yourself, you’ll know how extraordinary the whole experience is. It’s quite mind-boggling growing another human being inside your body, feeding and nourishing a little embryo that eventually becomes a fully developed baby. It’s a huge process for the female body to go through and it doesn’t come without some changes physically. The body adapts in so many ways to accommodate the growing foetus throughout pregnancy and to facilitate birth. Although it’s possible for the body to settle back to how it was pre-pregnancy without exercise, it is worth analysing what might have changed and how you can aid recovery. Lucky for us, we’ve managed to consult postnatal trainer Rosie Stockley, founder of the MAMAWELL Method and the expert Vogue Williams turned to after the birth of her son. Below she shares her go-to postnatal workout to help build strength and stability after birth. Once you’ve got your six-week post-partum check signed off by your doctor, you’re ready to rock and roll.
It is important to be mindful of the core post birth, as this is where the biggest adaptations have occurred and where most people feel weak/disconnected. Think of your core as the abdominals, lower back and pelvis and you can see how connected these joints are crucial for stability and strength.
- Transverse Abdominis Breathing
Great for activating the abdominals and promoting the stomach muscle to start knitting back together.
Lie flat on your back with the knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Allow your spine to have a natural curve in it, so don’t imprint your back into the floor. Inhale fully to the diaphragm. On the end of the exhale engage the core – feel like the belly button is connecting to the spine and the sides of the body are drawing in like you’re wearing a tight belt. Hold for 5 seconds, then relax the core as you inhale fully again. This can also be performed on all fours.
Repeat up to 10 times.
- Elbow to knee
Great for strengthening and stabilising the back and the stomach in tandem.
On all fours, with a flat spine, engage your core by activating belly button to spine. Stretch one leg out behind you and the opposite arm out in front. Imagine both your hip bones are facing towards the floor. Hold this position for a slow count of 5 and then come back to the starting position.
Adaptation 2: The same techniques apply but instead of returning to the starting position, draw your elbow to knee, rounding your spine and then stretch again. Try and imagine your core is really working to pull your knee in to promote strength in this area. Repeat up to 10 each side.
- Hip Raises
These movements are great for activating and strengthening the core, back and glutes. You may also feel your hamstrings activating.
Lie on your back with your knees bent, legs apart. Start the movement by tilting your pelvis, then continue by peeling your spine off the ground, vertebrae by vertebrae until your hips are high. At the top of the movement, squeeze your glutes and think of activating your abdominals (the phrase ‘belly button to spine’ helps). Hold for a count of 3 before coming down through your spine to the floor. Repeat for a count of 10.
Adaptation: Raise your hips. At the top of the movement, raise your arms above your head until they touch the floor behind you. Keeping your hips high, bring the arms back to the floor, then finally lower the hips down. Repeat for 10.
- Heel Taps
Great for activating all of your abdominal muscles, you should feel this quite deeply – move slowly and mindfully for best effect.
Lie on your back with your feet in the air, knees bent at 90 degrees. Imprint your whole back into the floor and place your hands behind your head, or by your sides for more support. Without letting any part of your back lift from the floor, slowly lower one leg to the mat, keeping it bent, until the heel taps. Then lift it again and repeat on the other side. It is important to really hold onto the core here and not let the back arch. Keep moving slowly for a count of 10 before resting and repeating.
- Pelvic Floor
It is important to do these exercises both slowly to promote the endurance aspect of this muscle, and quickly to strengthen the pelvic floor for when you need more support, for example in higher intensity exercise or when you cough.
Get in a comfortable position, either lying on your back with your legs bent, kneeling on all fours or seated with a straight spine Take a few deep clearing breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Then, inhale deeply and at the end of the exhale imagine drawing up through your pelvis and anus but keep your buttocks relaxed. The contraction is like when you try and stop yourself urinating. Let the pelvic floor relax gently and immediately inhale to start the process again. This exercise can be done in two ways:
- Slowly: as described above. Hold the contraction for a slow count of 5, then release. Do around 10 at this speed.
- Quickly: At the end of the inhale, contract (pull up) your front and/or back passages and then pulse them for a count of 10. Relax, then repeat another 5 times.
Always consult your GP before starting a new postnatal fitness routine.
Words by Rosie Stockley, fitness trainer and founder of the MAMAWELL Method, a new online video series for postnatal fitness.