Pregnancy can be a somewhat divisive experience for women: some feel like it was one of the most beautiful seasons of their life and they felt really happy and healthy during their pregnancy while other women struggle through some or all of the nine months and can’t wait to have their body back to the way that it was.
Even if you are one of the lucky ones who had a wonderful pregnancy, pregnancy is undeniably pretty hard on the body, and labor and delivery further put your body through a tremendous amount of stress.
Therefore, returning to running postpartum can be quite difficult for many runners.
In this article, we will discuss postpartum running, including how to return to running postpartum safely and a postpartum running plan we created to help guide your return.
We will cover:
- Why Is Running Postpartum Difficult?
- When Can I Start My Postpartum Running Plan?
- Tips For Returning To Running
- Postpartum Running Plan
Let’s get started!
Why Is Running Postpartum Difficult?
Your body may look and feel like it’s similar to your pre-pregnancy state, but there can be many changes that occurred throughout your pregnancy. You might not have even been able to run all the way—if at all—during your pregnancy.
As a result, returning to running postpartum can be somewhat akin to returning after an injury.
Furthermore, the pregnancy and delivery processes alter your hormonal profile, ligamentous laxity, and muscle tone, which can significantly impact your body’s tolerance to running.
For example, studies suggest the pelvic floor muscles (pubococcygeus, iliococcygeus, and levator ani) can stretch up to 259% of their normal length during the later stages of pregnancy and during vaginal delivery.
When Can I Start My Postpartum Running Plan?
You should only start running postpartum when your own OB/GYN clears you to run.
For most runners, this is around 12 weeks after giving birth.
While you might be cleared to start exercising at 6 weeks postpartum, the first several weeks back should be low-impact exercise like walking, cycling, and swimming, as well as low-intensity exercise.
For these reasons, returning to running postpartum requires a longer wait.
However, provided you get medical clearance to exercise, during that 6-12 week period, you can and should start building back your fitness and strength with low-impact and low- to moderate-intensity exercise.
Doing so will help prepare your body for the demands of running and transition smoothly into training once your body is ready.
The 2019 postpartum exercise guidelines, which is endorsed by the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Sports and Exercise Medicine, reports that waiting 3 months postpartum before resuming running can reduce the risk of serious health conditions such as pelvic floor dysfunction, pelvic organ prolapse, hernias, muscle tears, falls, and urinary and fecal incontinence.
The postpartum running journey may need to begin even later for runners who had complications with pregnancy or delivery, including giving birth via cesarean section (C-section), postpartum depression, perineal tearing, excessive pelvic scarring, obesity prior to pregnancy, or diastasis recti, which is the separation of abdominal muscles.
5 Tips For Returning To Running
#1: Start Walking As Soon Possible
As soon as you receive medical clearance to start walking, get out and walk.
Provided you had a fairly healthy pregnancy and delivery, you might be able to start walking up to 30 minutes or so as soon as a couple days after giving birth.
Walking will not only help you feel better and get your muscles accustomed to some amount of movement, but it will help you maintain your fitness while you wait to be ready to run.
#2: Strengthen Your Pelvic Floor
Arguably the single best thing you can do to support your postpartum running journey is to strengthen and rebuild your pelvic floor after delivery.
Your pelvic floor muscles undergo quite a bit of trauma during the birthing process, and the importance of these muscles cannot be overstated.
Your pelvic floor muscles support your pelvic organs, such as your bladder and uterus, and they control urination and defecation.
Moreover, as the base of the entire core, your pelvic floor muscles play a role in every phase of your running stride.
When your foot lands, the pelvic floor contracts and shortens (concentric contraction) to cradle and support the load of your abdominal cavity and pelvic organs. As you push off and are in the flight phase of running, the pelvic floor muscles lengthen (eccentric contraction).
Work with a pelvic floor physical therapist or research the best pelvic floor exercises for runners and perform them diligently in the weeks between giving birth and being cleared for postpartum running.
Continue your exercises once you start running, and add additional core strengthening work.
#3: Test Yourself
You should always obtain clearance from your OB/GYN prior to starting a postpartum running plan, but even once you have the go-ahead, it’s a good idea to test your readiness to run.
If you’re not working with a pelvic floor physical therapist, you can take a pelvic floor screen like this one.
According to UT Southwestern Medical Center, you should be able to jog in place for one minute, and perform at least 10 single-leg hops per leg without pain.
Another good test is to ensure you can do at least a few single-leg squats per side without any pelvic pain, as well as 10 single-leg “running man” poses per side. This involves extending your opposite arm and leg and holding the position for a breath.
Finally, you should be able to do 20 single-leg bridges per side, 20 sit-to-stand transitions, and 20 single-leg calf raises without pain.
These mini readiness checks can help ensure your body has healed enough to handle the impact and intensity of easy running.
#4: Build Up Slowly
As you will see in the postpartum running plan, building up your mileage and intensity slowly is really important when you are returning to running postpartum.
It’s normal to get excited to be back to exercising again, but doing too much too soon is a recipe for injury.
It can take a long time for your hormone levels—and thus the elasticity of your ligaments and tendons—to return to normal, so the risk of injury remains elevated for several months.
Additionally, as is the case when returning from any extended time off, you need to give your body time to re-adapt to the stress of running.
Even if you ran consistently up until you gave birth, it will have been a minimum of 12 weeks since you were training.
Therefore, your muscles, joints, bones, and connective tissues will have atrophied somewhat and will need time to adjust back to the impact and demands of running.
#5: Listen to Your Body
It’s natural to feel some different sensations in your body as you start a postpartum running plan, but if you have excessive soreness, pain, or discomfort, you should immediately stop running and consult your OB/GYN or physical therapist before continuing.
Postpartum Running Plan
This postpartum running plan is designed for intermediate runners returning to running postpartum. It is not intended for beginners who are just starting running for the first time.
You should be up to walking briskly for 30 minutes or more when you begin this postpartum running plan.
Incorporate bodyweight strength training exercises, such as squats, lunges, planks, bridges, and push-ups, as tolerated 2-3 days per week.
|Run 8-10 x 1 minute with 1 minute walk in between||30 minutes low-impact cross-training||Run 8 x 90 seconds with 1 minute walk in between||Rest||30 minutes low-impact cross-training||Run 4 x 2 minutes and 4 x 90 seconds with 1 minute walk in between||Rest|
|Run 8 x 90 seconds with 30 seconds walk in between||30 minutes low-impact cross-training||Run 10 x 2 minutes with 30 seconds walk in between||Rest||30 minutes low-impact cross-training||Run 5 x 3 minutes with 1 minute walk in between||30-45 minutes low-impact cross-training|
|Run 4 x 4 minutes with 1 minute walk in between||40 minutes low-impact cross-training||Run 3 x 5 minutes with 45 seconds walk in between||Rest||30-45 minutes low-impact cross-training||Run 2 x 6 minutes with 1 minute walk in between and then run 4 more minutes||30-45 minutes low-impact cross-training|
|Run 2 x 10 minutes with 1 minute walk in between||45 minutes low-impact cross-training||Run 15 minutes||Rest||Run 18 minutes||Run 15 minutes||45-60 minutes low-impact cross-training|
|Run 20 minutes||45-60 minutes low-impact cross-training||Run 22 minutes||Rest||Run 25 minutes||Run 20 minutes||45-60 minutes low-impact cross-training|
|Run 30 minutes||Rest||Run 30 minutes||30-45 minutes low-impact cross-training||Run 30 minutes||30-45 minutes low-impact cross-training||Rest|
Enjoy motherhood and your postpartum running journey. There will be challenges and triumphs, hard days and amazing days. Take it all in and congratulations on your new baby!
To compliment this postpartum running plan, add in strength training with our bodyweight workout for runners. Then, when you feel stronger, add in some weight to the same exercises to continue to improve.