How to regain your running legs whilst on mat leave
So you may feel like you have endured Bali belly for 6 months, delivered a watermelon and are currently partying on a nightly basis like it’s 1999.
So the bod may not be bouncing back just as you envisaged. Can I just say, from one mother to another, everyone’s recovery experience is very different, and an Insta bounce-back is often the exception, not the rule.
Hint: Playing it smart and throwing your preconceived expectations out the window will make returning to exercise more enjoyable and sustainable.
Whilst our body undergoes postural, metabolic and musculoskeletal changes during pre & postpartum, maintaining a healthy level of movement is of utmost importance.
But before you reach for your running shoes, finding a suitable form of exercise that stimulates endorphins, delivers muscle conditioning and promotes weight management without causing stress on already fragile areas, is the first port of call.
A low impact exercise regime that focuses on control, stability and strength i.e. Pilates and ‘conscious’ walking, will fundamentally develop your smaller and deeper muscles, so you can safely return to higher intensity forms of exercise, including running. So here’s the run-down once you’ve been cleared by your doctor and/or physiotherapist to resume your sweat sessions.
Hone your finer self
Running and walking are exercises dominated by our large, global muscles. So in order to ensure the all-important stabilising and core muscles are engaged, it is best to start with workouts that are slow, controlled and alignment focused. Pilates and yoga are an effective way to concurrently strengthen, tone and lengthen muscles as well as improve balance and proprioception.
A progressive and functional weights program will target weaknesses and develop strength. Going for a conscious walk improves body alignment and promotes muscle conditioning. Conscious walking is simply walking with good control and form. To do so, start by walking with your hands on your hips and imagine having a belt across your hips that remains horizontal and isn’t swinging from side to side. Maintain pelvic control for as long as you can before taking a break, then repeat.
Once you’re comfortable with the feeling of switching your imaginary belt on (your core, glutes and pelvic floor), you can rest your arms whilst engaging your belt. Once you have built up a fundamental level of conditioning and fitness, maintaining a few sessions of low intensity, high control exercises per week is advised.
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Start with form running
If you haven’t run for more than 3 months, starting with a progressive form-focused running program is recommended. To do so, take yourself off to the nearest oval or sporting ground. Measure out a short distance – approx 50-100m, turn on the Nike Run Club tracking App (it’s free) and turn up your headphones. The aim is to shuttle back and forth, keeping good form with a short stride, minimal hip swing, body centred and core engaged.
The pace is a comfortable trot, running forwards, backwards and sideways if you desire. When you get tired, puffed or have a feeling of tightness, either start consciously walking or drop to the ground to perform a set of plank, dead bug or sit-ups. Repeat until you hit your fatigue threshold. Following your run, undertake a range of gentle stretches of your calf muscles, hamstrings, quads and hip flexors and finish with Downward Dog. Aim for 3-4 sessions per week, slowly building up your endurance.
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Once you have built up your running form, then you can venture out. Start with relatively flat and stable terrain, with your initial distance similar to your last oval running session. The key is to work on your distance, or your pace, but not both at the same time. Start by working on your distance at a comfortable speed (say approx. 60% pace). Slowly build up your distance over time, increasing by 10-15% per week. Once you are 6-8 weeks into your distance program, you can add a pace run into your routine by reducing the distance back to a very comfortable level and increase the pace by 10%.
As you’re navigating uncharted running loads, listen to your bodies fatigue cues and utilise walk-run intervals if you need. Once you are smashing the flats, you can progressively start to add in hills, stairs or gentle trails. Oh, and take a raincheck on running with a friend or partner who is not at the same level as you are, until you’ve built up a fundamental level of fitness and conditioning.
During this time, it is essential that you uplevel your self-management strategies. A daily ritual of using a foam roller, stretching your tight muscles and rolling your feet over a tennis ball (or frozen water bottle), particularly after training, can pay major dividends.
Supporting your feet with sophisticated, science-backed insoles i.e. the Emily Braidwood footbeds help to align the feet and ankles, minimise soft tissue overload and provide shock absorption. Also investing in well-fitted, well-structured running shoes is important for any time you are clocking up steps or performing cardio work.If you experience any lower limb pain or bladder weakness, seek professional assessment and management. A prompt response to an acute injury can be a stitch in time.
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