Knowing when it’s okay to start running again after having a baby can seem a little murky. If you’re not talking to your doctor about the specific postpartum exercise goals you have, they may just tell you that after six weeks of recovery, you’re good to do whatever you want. But every new mother runner should be aware that after nine months of stretching and straining, your core strength is not going to be the same as it was before.
For runners in particular, the core is essential in protecting the spine from excessive force, maintaining posture, generating force, and improving running economy. “Sprinters need core strength in order to hold proper posture and the faster they go the more core strength is needed,” says Celeste Goodson, an ACE Medical Exercise Specialist and founder of ReCORE Fitness, “but also, the longer you go, the more core strength is needed.”
Postpartum women typically seek out Goodson’s core workout program because they have diastasis recti (DR) or ab separation and are looking for ways to close that gap. But she stresses that any postpartum woman should strengthen their core and regain control before returning to running in order to prevent injury.
Postpartum exercise programs, like the six-week ReCORE program, focus on four common problem areas that women face after having a baby: A deactivated inner core, weakened core muscles, pelvic instability, and ab separation or DR. The goal is to regain core control beyond the typical stability exercises that only activate the transverse abdominis muscles and ignore the pelvic floor, diaphragm, and outer core muscles.
“You want to train and get that strength back outside of running so the strength is there when you run,” says Goodson.
4 Postpartum Exercises to Rebuild Core Strength
These five moves will help you start to wake up those core muscles and engage them all together.
Learning diaphragmatic breathing is the foundation of rebuilding core engagement and will be incorporated into all the following postpartum exercises.
Start by sitting on the floor with your spine aligned in a straight posture and breathe deep into your belly as if you were filling up a balloon. Your chest will rise a little bit, but mostly you’re breathing into your diaphragm. As you exhale, your core should contract. This is the basis of your breath.
Once you have the breathing down, you can transition to laying on your back with your legs bent and feet flat on the floor. Start by exhaling and fully engaging your muscles for about three seconds. On the inhale, you’ll fully relax those muscles. During these your hips should not move and your back should not arch, maintaining that straight posture you had while you were sitting up. Do 20 reps.
In the same floor position as the ab sets, place a small ball or folded pillow between your knees. The goal is to engage the core by doing an ab set and kegel, while also squeezing to activate the adductor and glutes. Hold for five to 10 seconds. Repeat six times.
Running is a full body sport and regaining core control requires upper body strength as well. Modified push ups, such as these, allow you to work the core and arms in tandem, without putting too much pressure on the core too soon.
For this standing push up, start with your arms stretched out towards the wall at chest height with your feet slightly behind the rest of your body. As you go in towards the wall, your core should be engaged and then relaxed as you push up. Do 10 reps.
Lay on your back with legs bent. Focus on core control while you slowly lift the right leg off of the floor. Follow with the left leg. If you need a break, you can relax your core at the top of this exercise and then re-engage the core and pelvic floor while you slowly lower both your legs back to the ground. If you’re strong enough, you can keep that engagement throughout the entire movement. Do two sets of 10 reps.
With your hands against the wall (or you can press into a stability ball against the wall), get into a lunge position. Engage your core while you push into the wall for 10 seconds then release. Repeat five times.