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Get Back in Shape with a Gentle Workout after Pregnancy

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  • Post last modified:September 25, 2023

Soon after welcoming your newborn into the world, you may feel restless to abandon the leisurely strolls around the neighborhood with a stroller in hand and return to your more demanding pre-pregnancy fitness routine – HIIT workouts, intense weightlifting, long distance runs, and the like. However, hastily resuming physical activity after giving birth could have detrimental effects on your well-being.

In this article, fitness experts will explain why it is crucial to reintegrate physical activity into your life cautiously and provide tips to keep in mind during this process. Furthermore, they will share a gentle workout specifically designed for the postpartum period, which will help you start rebuilding strength in your core and pelvic floor after carrying a baby for nine months.

The Advantages of Postpartum Exercise

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Assuming your doctor has given you the green light, gradually returning to a fitness routine after childbirth can yield significant benefits. Engaging in regular aerobic exercise during the postpartum period has been associated with improved cardiovascular fitness, weight loss, and a decrease in postpartum depression and anxiety, as reported in research published in the Obstetrical & Gynecological Survey. Additionally, postpartum exercises focused on strengthening the core can be beneficial during this period, as they have the potential to reduce the distance between the rectus muscles – the two large parallel bands of muscles that come together in the middle of the abdomen and separate during pregnancy to accommodate the baby – according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Apart from the physical advantages, staying physically active after childbirth can also enhance your mental well-being, according to Emily Skye, a personal trainer and the creator of the Emily Skye FIT Post-Pregnancy program. Skye states, “I have discovered that it plays a significant role in rebuilding my self-assurance, knowing that I will possess the strength and vitality to care for my family.

It required me some time to regain my physical condition after the arrival of my young son, but [currently] I experience the utmost sensation I’ve ever experienced.

To obtain those benefits, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services generally suggests that individuals engage in at least 150 minutes of aerobic activity at a moderate-intensity level each week, both during pregnancy and after giving birth. However, individuals who were regularly active or participated in high-intensity activities before becoming pregnant can typically continue with their exercise routines during these periods, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). To determine the intensity of your postpartum workout, consider your perceived exertion rating, or how much effort you feel you are putting into the workout. For example, a moderate-intensity workout would fall within a rating of 5 to 6.2 on a scale of 1 to 10, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. You can also use the “talk test” to assess the intensity of your workout in real-time, and you should be able to hold a conversation (but not sing) during a moderate-intensity workout.

When Can You Begin Postpartum Exercises?

The timing for safely starting postpartum exercises after childbirth depends on the method of delivery (vaginal or cesarean) and any medical or surgical complications resulting from childbirth, according to the ACOG. While it is important to prioritize rest and adjust to the new parenting experience, it is typically safe to begin pelvic floor exercises immediately after giving birth (within the first 24 hours). Research has demonstrated that pelvic floor exercises can help reduce urinary incontinence, a condition experienced by more than a quarter of women in their first year postpartum, as stated by the ACOG.

This is also when you can commence practicing abdominal breathing — a technique that assists you in activating your pelvic floor and core, remarks Caitlin Ritt, a specialist in prenatal and postnatal exercises and the creator and CEO of The Lotus Method, a fitness studio focused on prenatal and postnatal fitness in California. “If you underwent a C-section, you may wish to delay it slightly because involving that region may be slightly more sensitive,” she clarifies. “However, you can begin incorporating that awareness of the pelvic floor and core as early as during that initial week.

Once you feel mentally and physically prepared — you’re no longer bleeding, experiencing discomfort, or are having issues with your C-section scar — Ritt suggests gradually incorporating some movement into your day. Try going for gentle walks, marching in place, and performing postpartum exercises such as bridges and clamshells.

Typically, your doctor will give you the green light to return to your usual workout routine about six to eight weeks after giving birth. However, that approval doesn’t necessarily mean you have to feel comfortable taking on a long run or HIIT session right away, says Ritt. “Many women will receive clearance at the six-week check-up… and then they go for a run and realize, ‘Oh my goodness, why does it feel like my vagina is falling out or I’m still leaking?'” she says. In all situations, listen to your body, reduce the intensity as necessary, and gradually work your way back to your pre-pregnancy fitness regimen, she suggests. “Getting back to fitness is a journey, and you should do it at your own pace,” adds Skye.

What to Keep In Mind While Attempting Prenatal Workouts

Focus on key muscle groups.

Once you receive clearance to exercise from your doctor, you’ll want to focus your postpartum workouts on the same muscle groups you targeted while you were pregnant — that means your glutes, pelvic floor, core, and upper body.

Glutes and Pelvic Floor

Your glutes are your powerhouse, and you depend on them to perform countless daily activities, says Ritt. You activate your gluteus maximus to rise from a seated position, straighten from a bending position, climb stairs or a hill, and run. And your gluteus minimus and gluteus medius stabilize your pelvis when you walk and assist in maintaining your balance. Now that you’re a parent, you’ll constantly be lifting your baby off the floor or out of the crib and carrying a heavy car seat in one hand, so you’ll need to keep those buttock muscles in excellent condition. Give bridges, clamshells, kickstand deadlifts, lunges, and squats a try.

Your gluteal muscles also work in conjunction with your pelvic floor, a collection of muscles that create a “hammock” across the base of the pelvis and assist in supporting the uterus, cervix, vagina, and other organs, enabling them to operate correctly, as stated by the National Institutes of Health. “Your glutes will be what maintains your pelvis, and then, naturally, your pelvic floor muscles will be in charge of the lower part of your pelvis,” says Ritt. “If one is weak, the other will compensate.” Keeping your pelvic floor strong also has advantages for your bladder: Conducting pelvic floor exercises (similar to Kegels) after giving birth has been proven to aid in reducing urinary incontinence, according to research.

For the record, it is vital to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles regardless of how your baby was delivered. “Just because you have a C-section does not mean you are immune to pelvic floor issues or dysfunction because just the weight of the baby [during pregnancy] can cause some issues,” explains Ritt.


Reminder: Engaging in abdominal-strengthening movements during the postpartum period can help decrease the gap between the two parallel rectus abdominis muscles, as per the ACOG. Additionally, practicing diaphragmatic breathing promotes coordination between your core and pelvic floor muscles and regulates intra-abdominal pressure, enabling proper breathing and stabilizing the spine and pelvis while in motion, which helps prevent injury, according to an article from The Lotus Method. “Integrating that pelvic floor and core awareness, starting to activate those glutes again, all of that will significantly prepare you to return to the activities you enjoy,” says Ritt.

To practice this breathing technique, sit on an exercise ball or chair and place one hand on your ribs and the other on your lower abdomen. Imagine an umbrella inside your ribcage, and as you inhale through your nostrils, envision it opening up, advises Ritt. At that point, you should feel your abdomen softening and your pelvic floor relaxing and descending. Then, exhale through your mouth as if blowing through a straw. Simultaneously, visualize yourself “lifting a blueberry up through your vagina and bringing it up to your navel” to engage your pelvic floor, says Ritt. Aim to do this for approximately 10 repetitions a few times per week to become familiar with the breathing pattern, and then start incorporating it into your daily movements and postpartum workouts, she suggests.

(This tutorial will educate you completely comprehend abs muscles — and how to construct them.)

Upper Body

To facilitate all the baby-holding with one hand and lugging the stroller around, Ritt suggests incorporating unilateral upper-body exercises (referring to movements that target one side of the body at a time) into your postpartum workout. Skye also advises focusing on building strength in your back. “Breastfeeding, as well as simply lifting and carrying your baby, places a lot of strain on your back. So, the stronger your back is, the fewer aches and pains you will experience,” she explains. Give single-arm overhead presses and rows, Paloff presses, and reverse flys a try. (You can perform these back exercises from the comfort of your home.)

Don’t hasten the process.

Thanks to the culture that emphasizes quickly bouncing back after pregnancy, the pressure to return to your pre-pregnancy state as soon as possible is real. However, it is crucial to ignore this pressure. “The most significant safety risk with postpartum exercise is pushing yourself too hard too soon,” says Skye. “You won’t be engaging in a high-intensity cardio circuit or lifting heavy weights just four weeks after giving birth. You need to gradually reintroduce yourself to any form of training.”

Think about it: If you sprained your ankle, you wouldn’t attempt to participate in a 5K run on the day after getting the green light to exercise from your doctor. Instead, you would gradually increase the intensity of your workouts and perhaps undergo some physical therapy. The same approach should be applied to postpartum workouts, says Ritt. “The most common mistake I see with postpartum individuals is their eagerness to rush back, and unfortunately, it often leads to more issues,” she adds.

For instance, performing excessively demanding core exercises can result in coning or doming. This happens when the pressure within your abdomen pushes outwards and causes the tissue separating the right and left rectus abdominis muscles to protrude, creating a “shark fin” appearance on your stomach. This can impede the healing process of your abdominal separation, according to Ritt. Additionally, returning to endurance runs or boot camp classes before your body is fully prepared may lead to urinary leakage or a sensation of “heaviness” in your vagina (indicative of pressure on your pelvic floor). This could be a potential sign that one of the organs in your pelvis has shifted from its normal position and bulged into the vagina, she explains.

Undertake an excessive amount at an early stage and begin encountering those problems, and “it will simply require you more time to recuperate,” states Ritt.

To gradually establish your strength, begin by performing the postnatal exercises proposed above with your physique weight exclusively. Once that feels achievable and you’re not encountering any bleeding or discomfort, hold your infant while attempting squats and lunges, then progress to some core movements, such as deadlifts and Paloff presses, states Ritt. If you desire to resume running, initiate by jogging for two minutes, walking for two minutes, and alternating between these work and rest intervals throughout the workout. Feeling positive after a few days of that training plan? Attempt running for 10 minutes and observe how your physique reacts, she suggests.

Pay attention to your physique.

When you begin gradually integrating postnatal exercises into your routine, continue to check in with your physique and how you’re feeling. If you’re encountering any form of bleeding, discomfort, pelvic floor heaviness, or leakage — particularly if it’s happening during or immediately after a postnatal exercise — interpret it as an indication that the movement was somewhat too strenuous for your physique, and modify the activity, says Ritt.

You can also employ a lack of symptoms to comprehend when it’s time to advance your workout routine. “If you’re not having any of those symptoms, if you have good activation through your pelvic floor and core…and you’re not seeing any kind of coning or doming, then get on with your bad self,” says Ritt.

Be gentle to yourself.

In case you missed it, your physique just underwent a massive transformation over the span of approximately nine months, and although it can be challenging mentally and emotionally to come to terms with its changes, know that you have to allow yourself at least the same duration of time to recover from it, says Ritt. Translation: Don’t feel compelled to “bounce back,” adds Skye.

“I want new mothers to concentrate on how their physique feels and what it can accomplish — no time constraints and no expectations,” she says. “It can be beneficial to set objectives for your postnatal fitness journey — you might strive for gentle walking and pelvic floor exercises in the early weeks, then progress to moving a little every day, whether that entails a workout with me or pushing the stroller around the park. Remain adaptable and relish the small victories. You’ll reach your goal.”

Emily Skye’s Core and Kegels Postnatal Workout

When you’re prepared to reintroduce your physique to physical activity — and your doctor has given you approval to do so — attempt this postnatal workout from Skye’s FIT Post-Pregnancy program available through the Emily Skye FIT app.

[This workout for after childbirth] is packed with vital exercises for restoring power in the initial weeks of your postpartum comeback to physical activity,” she clarifies.

How it operates: Commence your postnatal workout with a warm-up. Then execute each movement in the postnatal workout for the recommended duration, with a 20-second break between each action. Complete the postnatal circuit twice, resting for 60 seconds between rounds. Conclude your prenatal workout with the cooldown.

Requirements: A towel and a mat

Note: Always consult your physician before commencing any new exercise regimen, as there are specific scenarios where exercise may not be advised. This information should serve as a reference only and should not substitute the advice of your medical practitioner. If uncertain, consult your physician.


Marching On the Spot

A. Stand upright with feet hip-width apart, chest elevated, arms flexed with elbows at sides, and look straight ahead. Activate your core by visualizing you’re fastening a pair of jeans.

B. Gradually raise your right arm and lift your left leg off the ground, gently marching on the spot without bouncing or leaping.

Repeat for 30 seconds.

Petite Ballet Squat

A. Stand with feet slightly wider than the width of your shoulders, toes pointing outward, and a slight flex in the knees. Elevate both arms above your head.

B. On an exhale, gradually lower your arms to your body and unite your hands at your chest. On an inhale, raise both arms back over your head. Continue, coordinating the movement with your breath.

Repeat for 30 seconds.

Stand Side Stretch

A. Stand with feet slightly wider than the width of your hips. Raise your right arm up to the ceiling and stretch it over to the opposite side as far as is comfortable. Hold for a few breaths, then slowly release and repeat on the other side.

Repeat for 30 seconds.

Shoulder Circles

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart and activate your core by visualizing you’re fastening a pair of jeans.

B. With arms at your sides in line with your shoulders, move your shoulders forward as if creating small circles. Repeat a few rotations, then reverse the movement.

Repeat for 30 seconds.

Chest, Neck, and Shoulder Stretch

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart and activate your core by visualizing you’re fastening a pair of jeans.

B. Extend your arms in front of your body and bring the backs of your hands together. Take a few deep breaths.

C. On an exhale, bring your arms inward and extend them behind you, placing the backs of your hands together. Take a few deep breaths.

Repeat for 30 seconds.

Postnatal Workout


A. Stand upright with feet equidistant apart. Inhale deeply.

B. On an exhale, contract and elevate the pelvic floor from the center by envisioning that you are controlling the release of urine. Gradually inhale to release, ensuring that you sense the descent of the pelvic floor before the next Kegel.

Repeat for 30 seconds.

Kegel Holds

A. Stand upright with feet equidistant apart. Inhale deeply.

B. On an exhale, contract and elevate the pelvic floor from the center by envisioning that you are controlling the release of urine.

C. Maintain this position, and continue to breathe shallowly.

Maintain for up to 10 seconds.

Thoracic Extension

A. Roll up a towel and position it on the ground. Slowly transition onto your back from your side and lie on top of the towel in alignment with your bra strap.

B. Position your hands behind your head and gradually lower the back of your head to the floor. You should experience a pleasant stretch in your upper back.

Maintain for 30 seconds.

*Note, perform this exercise only in the first round.

Angels with Core Activation

A. Lie on the floor facing upwards. On an inhalation, gradually raise your arms up and over your head, pressing the backs of your arms onto the surface of the floor.

B. On an exhale, contract and elevate the pelvic floor and engage your core by envisioning that you are zipping up a pair of jeans. Simultaneously, slowly lower your arms down by bending your elbows until they touch the sides of your body, pressing the backs of your hands, wrists, arms, and shoulders onto the floor.

Repeat for 30 seconds.

Mini-Crunch with Core Activation

A. Fold a towel into thirds lengthwise, then wrap it around your waist so that the ends of the towel cross in front of your hips. Lie on the floor facing upwards, with your hands holding the opposite ends of the towel. Inhale deeply.

B. On an exhale, contract and elevate the pelvic floor and engage your core by envisioning that you are zipping up a pair of jeans. Slightly lift your head and shoulder blades off the floor, pulling the ends of the towel across your waist, and maintain this position.

C. On an inhalation, gradually lower your head and shoulder blades back down to the floor, loosening the ends of the towel.

Repeat for 30 seconds.

Alternating Leg Lifts with Core Activation

A. Lie on the floor facing upwards, with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor, and arms at your sides. Inhale deeply.

B. On an exhale, contract and elevate the pelvic floor and engage your core by envisioning that you are zipping up a pair of jeans. Bring your right leg up into a tabletop position, keeping the knee bent.

C. On an inhalation, slowly lower your right leg back down to the floor.

  • Repeat for 30 seconds, alternating legs.


Hamstring Stretch

A. Lie on the floor with stomach facing the ceiling, knees bent, feet flat on floor.

B. Bring right knee up toward chest, clasp hands around calf, and hold. Continue to breathe normally, and stretch only to a level seven out of 10 for discomfort.

Hold for 15 seconds each side.

Glute Stretch

A. Lie on the floor with stomach facing the ceiling, knees bent, feet flat on floor.

B. Extend right leg up, placing right calf against left thigh and both hands around left hamstring. Continue to breathe normally, keeping hips square, and stretch only to a level seven out of 10 for discomfort.

Hold for 15 seconds each side.


A. Start in a table-top position with wrists under shoulders and knees under hips.

B. On an exhale, push through the hands to round out through the spine into cat.

C. On an inhale, arch back into cow, looking up toward ceiling. If you have abdominal separation, only return to a neutral position.

Repeat for 30 seconds.

Seated Arm Stretch

A. Sit tall and draw shoulders down and back. Place right arm across front of body and hold it with opposite hand.

B. Continue to breathe normally, and stretch only to a level seven out of 10 for discomfort. Slowly release and repeat on the other side.

Repeat for 30 seconds each side.


A. Stand straight with feet hip-width apart. Take a big breath in.

B. On an exhale, squeeze and lift pelvic floor up from the center by imagining you’re holding the flow of urine. Slowly inhale to release, making sure to feel the dropping of the pelvic floor before the next Kegel.

Repeat for 30 seconds.

Belly Breaths

A. Place hands on rib cage, with fingertips facing toward one another and touching. Take a deep breath in, expanding into the sides of the ribcage and filling belly. Fingertips will come apart.

B. While exhaling, breathe out every last little bit of air, bringing fingertips back together. Abs should feel like they’re engaging at the end of the breath.

Repeat for 30 seconds.