Whether you’re a new or experienced mom, you can get back to running pain- and leak-free with one of our expert-approved programs.

Running After Baby

As every postpartum runner knows, the experience of pregnancy and childbirth drastically changes how you experience your favorite form of exercise. Where a quick jog around the block once felt light and effortless, suddenly you’re hurting in places you didn’t know could hurt.

If this is you, rest assured you’re not alone: More than one-third of new mother runners report pain—typically felt on the outside of one hip, deep in the pelvis or buttocks and/or in the lower back—27 percent report urine leakage (also known as stress urinary incontinence) and nearly one-third report abdominal separation (also known as diastasis recti), according to a recent Sports Health study of more than 500 postpartum runners.

Moms with older kids may also notice these symptoms while running. Nearly 38 percent of women still experience annoying symptoms like stress urinary incontinence (SUI) a full 12 years after giving birth, according to a recent long-term study of nearly 4,000 postpartum women in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

According to Elizabeth Chumanov, Ph.D., D.P.T., co-coordinator of the Active Moms clinic at the University of Wisconsin–Madison Sports Rehabilitation Clinic and co-author of the Sports Health study, this makes sense considering the changes to a woman’s body as a result of pregnancy and childbirth.

The uterus expands during pregnancy—it pushes on the abdominals, causing them to separate and weaken, while the weight of the growing fetus increases the demand on the pelvic floor. The act of giving birth—especially vaginal—creates stress on the pelvic floor, which needs time to recover. These and other changes ultimately weaken the abdominals, creating a domino effect of symptoms, such as low-back, hip or pelvic pain.

Many people assume the movement of running starts with the feet and ankles and travels up the chain. “But now we have a better understanding that a lot of your movement is generated from your core and hips and moves down,” Chumanov says. In other words, if your midsection is weak, you’re going to feel pain or discomfort in other areas of your body.

If you want to get back into running pain- and leak-free, follow one of these smart cardio- and strength-training plans, designed to meet you where you’re at.

The New Mom Program

Once you get the go-ahead from your doc, follow this seven-week plan provided by Chumanov. On this plan, you’ll gradually build up your core muscles while easing back into high-impact activity.

Do the prescribed cardio three to four times per week and the strength exercises a minimum of three times per week. You can even get your baby involved: Push a stroller as you walk or jog, and let your baby rest on your belly during glute bridges.

Your muscles may be sore during the first 24 to 48 hours after exercise, but you shouldn’t feel pain during or after your workout. Consult a physical therapist if your symptoms persist or worsen.

Week 1

Cardio

Walk at comfortable pace for 10 to 20 minutes, pushing the stroller if desired.

Strength

Belly Draw-in, 10 reps with a five- to 10-second hold

Glute Bridge, 10 to 15 reps with a five-second hold at the top

Week 2

Cardio 

Walk at brisk pace if comfortable for 20 to 30 minutes, pushing the stroller if desired.

Strength

Belly Draw-in, 10 reps with a five- to 10-second hold

Glute Bridge, 10 to 15 reps with a five-second hold at the top

Clam Shell, two sets of 10 to 15 reps per side

Week 3

Cardio 

Alternate 4 minutes walking with one minute running until you reach 20 to 30 minutes of total activity.

Strength

Belly Draw-in, 10 reps with a five- to 10-second hold

Glute Bridge, 10 to 15 reps with a five-second hold at the top

Clam Shell, two sets of 10 to 15 reps per side

Side Plank on elbow and knee, six reps per side with a 10-second hold at the top

Week 4

Cardio 

Alternate three minutes walking with 1 minute running until you reach 20 to 30 minutes of total activity.

Strength

Belly Draw-in, 10 reps with a five- to 10-second hold

Glute Bridge, 10 to 15 reps with a five-second hold at the top

Clam Shell, two sets of 10 to 15 reps per side

Side Plank on elbow and knee, six reps per side with a 10-second hold at the top

Four-Point Opposite Arm/Leg Reach, 10 to 15 reps per arm/leg combination with a five-second hold at the top

Week 5

Cardio 

Alternate two minutes walking with three minutes running until you reach 20 to 30 minutes of total activity.

Strength

Belly Draw-in, 10 reps with a five- to 10-second hold

Side Plank on elbows with legs straight, six reps per side with a 10-second hold at the top

Four-Point Opposite Arm/Leg Reach, 10 to 15 reps per arm/leg combination with a five-second hold at the top

Chair Pose Squat, two sets of 10 reps with a five-second hold

Week 6

Cardio 

Alternate one minute walking with four minutes running until you reach 20 to 30 minutes of total activity.

Strength

Belly Draw-in, 10 reps with a five- to 10-second hold

Side Plank on elbows with legs straight, six reps per side with a 10-second hold at the top

Four-Point Opposite Arm/Leg Reach, 10 to 15 reps per arm/leg combination with a 5-second hold at the top

Chair Pose Squat, two sets of 10 reps with a five-second hold

Week 7

Cardio 

20- to 30-minute run.

Strength

Belly Draw-in, 10 reps with a five- to 10-second hold

Side Plank on elbows with legs straight, six reps per side with a 10-second hold at the top

Chair Pose Squat, two sets of 10 reps with a five-second hold

Single-Leg Squat, two sets of 10 reps

The Experienced Mama Program

Mamas with older tykes who are still struggling to make it through a run pain- and leak-free will benefit from this program from Chumanov. Like the new-mom version, this plan will rebuild key running muscles while you ease into high-impact activity.

Cardio

Choose the appropriate cardio plan for your symptoms. If you can’t make it through a 10-minute run without any discomfort or pain, start with plan #1. With this plan, you’ll jump rope three to four times a week and gradually work your way back into running. Once you’re able to run symptom-free for 10 minutes, you’re ready for plan #2.

If you can’t tolerate running for at least 10 minutes…

Begin with a warm-up. Perform the following drills for two to three sets of 30 seconds each: Side Shuffle, Carioca, Skip.

Grab a jump rope. Mimic the motion of running by jumping rope one foot at a time. Perform three to five 30-second bouts, resting as long as needed in between.

Aim to jump rope three to four days per week,making sure to take one full day of rest in between sessions. After one week, see if you can run comfortably for at least 10 minutes. If not, repeat this jump rope program for another week.

If you can run comfortably for at least 10 minutes…

Begin with a warm-up.Perform the following drills for 30 seconds each: Side Shuffle, Carioca, Skip.

Go for a 10- to 20-minute run. This run should feel comfortable; it shouldn’t create or worsen any discomfort.

Aim to run three to four days per week, making sure to take one day of rest in between sessions. Once you’re able to run comfortably for 30 minutes, you can start doing back-to-back running days.

Increase mileage by at least 10 percent every week.

Strength

Perform the following strength exercises three to five days per week, whether you’re running or jumping rope. But while muscle soreness during the first 24 to 48 hours after exercise is normal, you shouldn’t feel pain during or after performing these exercises. Consult a physical therapist if your postpartum symptoms persist or worsen.

Bridge, 10 to 15 reps with a five-second hold at the top

Side Plank, six reps per side with a 10-second hold at the top

Lateral Banded Walk, two sets of 10 to 15 reps per side

Banded Skater Squat, two sets of 10 to 15 reps per side

Elevated Split Squat, two sets of 10 to 15 reps per side

Related:

Tina Muir’s Postpartum Advice: Don’t Neglect The Pelvic Floor

Post-Natal Running: Rebuilding Your Pelvis After Baby

Tips For Understanding And Running With Your Post-Pregnancy Body