Much like a healthy diet, an effective fitness routine after pregnancy can help ensure your short- and long-term wellness.
Much like a healthy diet, an effective fitness routine after pregnancy can help ensure your short- and long-term wellness. You should expect to reach your pre-pregnancy weight within six months of delivery, according to the National Library of Medicine, and avoid weight-loss efforts for the first six weeks or two months if you're nursing. Then work your way back into exercise slowly to avoid injury, taking special precautions if you've had a C-section. The following 10 exercises will make great additions to your post-delivery fitness plan.
An adrenaline rush and flood of relief often follow childbirth, but that doesn't mean you should take off sprinting. "Even though the baby has arrived, you should consider your body still in a transitional state and avoid intense exercise," says Leslie McNabb, a restorative exercise specialist and Pilates instructor in New York City. Walking provides a low-impact way to gradually increase your activity while enhancing circulation throughout your body. To soothe you and your baby, take her for a walk in a stroller. Even a quick jaunt around the block is a great way to start adding activity to your routine, according to the National Library of Medicine. Over time, you can increase your pace and distance for added cardiovascular benefits and calorie burn.
Read more: 6 Ways to Burn More Calories by Walking
2. Stability Ball Crunches
Focusing on proper alignment of the bones attached to your core muscles helps your abdominal muscles gradually return to pre-pregnancy form, says certified athletic instructor Leslie McNabb. A stability ball allows you to do basic crunches with ample support. Begin ball crunches by positioning your butt toward the front of the ball so your torso is nearly upright, with your hands gently supporting your head. Then crunch forward, tightening your abs as you lift your head. As you gain strength, you can position yourself farther back on the ball, making the movement more challenging. Start with sets of five to 10, working your way up to sets of 15 to 20.
3. Cobra Pose
Yoga has numerous benefits for moms, including increased back and shoulder strength and improved posture. Cobra pose allows you to stretch your abdominal muscles after rounds of crunches and opens up your chest for easier breathing. To do it, lie on your stomach on an exercise mat then raise your torso up, bracing yourself with your hands on the mat. Tilt your face slightly upward, breathing easily. Hold the position for 15 to 30 seconds. You can also rely on Cobra for relaxation, which can enhance weight control by reducing production of ghrelin — an appetite-stimulating substance, according to an Obesity Reviews study published in May 2011.
4. Bridge Pose
To take your belly-tightening moves further, Erin Denton, a certified postnatal exercise specialist suggests adding Bridge post to workout routine. To do it, lie on your back with your knees bent, your legs hip-width apart and your feet flat on the floor. Slowly raise your back and butt off the floor, and then return to your starting position. Denton suggests doing 10 reps at a time to start, and then increasing your reps to 20. For added gluteal (booty) muscle toning, hold the raised position for several seconds or more before lowering yourself. For comfort and support, use an exercise mat.
Just 30 minutes of low-impact aerobics burns about 205 calories if you weigh 155 pounds, according to Harvard Health Publications. While breastfeeding requires you to consume more calories and getting too few calories poses health risks to you and your baby, you'll need to burn more calories than you consume to shed excess weight once you're approved for exercise. Low-impact aerobics can help strengthen your heart, tone your body and boost your mood. Unlike high-impact aerobics and running, there's little risk of joint injury and overexertion. Music makes exercise more enjoyable — and thus, easier to stick to. For camaraderie, consider taking a low-impact dance class with girlfriends or fellow moms.
Read more: 10 Types of Low-Impact Exercise That Keep You Fit and Injury-Free
6. Water Aerobics
If you enjoy aerobics and the water, why not take your workout to the pool? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people report enjoying water-based exercise more than exercising on land. You can also exercise longer in the water without added risks of muscle pain and joint stiffness — both of which can interfere with your ability to keep up comfortably with your new parenting responsibilities. Water aerobics burns close to one calorie per pound of body weight per half-hour, making it a useful tool for slimming down. And because water athletics can also boost emotional well-being in mothers, you'll likely feel happier and less stressed in the process.
7. Stroller Lunges
Whether your little one is a few months old or well into her first two years, your stroller can serve dual-purpose as a leg-strengthening workout machine. Angela Salveo, a certified personal trainer, recommends pushing your baby in the stroller and taking large steps forward into a 90-degree lunge position. "Because the weight (the baby) is in the front, be sure to keep your abs pulled in tight so you don't hurt your lower back," she says. "Watch the front knee so it doesn't go over the front toes." To add difficulty, hold the lunge position for several seconds. Alternate your legs until you've completed a full set of 12 to 16 lunges.
Read more: 5 Fast Strength-Building Exercises for New Moms
8. Baby Bench Squats
While you're on your walk, stop at a neighborhood park bench for a set of squats. To add difficulty and involve your wee one, personal trainer Angela Salveo recommends holding him as you squat and sit on the bench. Then stand up and repeat. Doing so will strengthen your quadriceps, hamstrings and core. "Draw the belly in tight as you drive through the heels and stand up," Salveo says. If you don't have access to a bench, use a chair in your backyard or living room or sit with your back against a tree. For an added challenge, hold the lowered position for several seconds before standing and repeating. Like lunges, aim for sets of about 12 to 15.
9. Baby Overhead Press
As your baby grows, you'll need more and more strength to carry her. Lifting her repeatedly as an exercise allows your muscles to keep up with her growth. Personal trainer Angela Salveo suggests holding your baby from a standing position, and then lifting her up in the air to strengthen your shoulders. To exercise your forearms and triceps, lift your infant while you lie on your back. "Keep [your] abdominals tight to protect your lower back," Salveo writes. "Bring the baby back down for kisses and repeat." Do a few sets of 12 to 15 reps at a time, increasing the frequency if they seem too easy.
Read more: The Perfect Post-Pregnancy Workout to Get Back in Shape
10. Kripalu Yoga
A 2012 study published in the International Journal of Yoga Therapy found that Kripalu yoga, a form of yoga that emphasizes meditation and self-acceptance, can enhance weight control, psychological well-being and nutritional behaviors. The 37 participants not only lost weight following the five-day training program, but more than half of them retained their weight loss one year later. Yoga provides a useful way to strengthen, tone and stretch your body while enhancing posture, breathing and relaxation — all important for busy moms. For best results, find a class or individual training from a certified instructor. You can also do yoga at home using an instructional DVD while your baby naps or find a mommy and me class.
What Do YOU Think?
What's your favorite way to stay fit following pregnancy? Which slide struck a chord with you? Any questions or pointers to add? We love hearing from you, so share your thoughts, suggestions and questions in the comments below!