Return to Running Postpartum
Are you eager to get back into running after having a baby — but aren’t sure if you’re ready? Did you get the green light to exercise during your six-week postpartum visit but still feel unprepared? Have you tried running but felt like you were moving through molasses? You’re not alone.
Even if you’re cleared by your provider, your body may not feel ready for running. You may be concerned about vaginal pain, leaking urine or feces, having weak or separated abdominal muscles (diastasis recti), experiencing hip or low back pain, or feeling out of shape and fatigued. If you’re nursing, you might be worried about achy, leaky breasts. You may be nervous about leaving your newborn to exercise. All of this is totally normal.
Research suggests the optimal time to return to running is between three to six months postpartum. Regardless of your pre-baby fitness level, your postpartum body is different. You may need more time, attention, and cross-training (doing other kinds of exercise) before you resume running.
Signs It May Be Too Soon
There’s no shortage of societal pressure to “bounce back” and “lose the baby weight.” However, it’s often best to ease back into exercise. Exercising too intensely before you’re ready can increase your risk for injury and cause stress and anxiety. How do you know if it’s too soon to take up running again after having a baby? Here are a few signs:
Pelvic heaviness or pain
Urinary or fecal leakage
Worsening diastasis recti
Persistent fatigue or feeling tired all the time
Intrusive thoughts and/or obsessive thoughts around exercise
Anxiety or self-image issues around needing to lose pregnancy weight
A Running Readiness Test
If you can perform the entire series below for the specified amount of time and number of repetitions without experiencing the symptoms mentioned above, you probably have a yellow light for running. In other words, you can likely begin to ease back into a running routine.
Walking: 30 minutes
Single leg balance: 10 seconds each leg
Single leg squat: 10 reps each leg (without holding onto something)
Jog in place: 1 minute
Single leg hop in place: 10 reps each leg
Single leg heel raises: 20 reps each leg
Forward bound (jump forward, land on one leg): 10 reps each leg
If, however, your doctor has not cleared you to return to running, it requires a great deal of effort to do these exercises, or your symptoms get worse with these exercises, it’s probably best to wait a while longer. (For information about modifications and more, ask for our general Return to Running resource.)
Managing Postpartum Symptoms
Your Hinge Health physical therapist can help tailor an exercise plan to fit your needs, prevent injury, and address postpartum symptoms. Rebuilding strength in all areas of your body is an important part of your return to running plan. Your physical therapist can help with cross-training and strength training recommendations that reduce aches and pain and prevent injuries. Exercises that target your pelvic floor and related muscles can help postpartum symptoms like incontinence and pelvic pain.
Benefits of Walking
Walking is an excellent form of exercise (especially postpartum) and is a great way to gradually reintroduce running to your routine. Research shows that walking can help you:
Maintain a healthy weight and reduce body fat
Boost energy levels
Improve your mental health (reduce anxiety and depression)
Improve cardiovascular fitness and prevent or manage heart disease
Strengthen your bones and improve muscle endurance
Increase your balance and coordination
If you can walk outside, even better: Nature provides many physical and mental benefits.
It’s okay if you aren’t ready to resume running at six weeks postpartum. Research shows that many people aren’t ready by then.
Postpartum is a great time to re-evaluate your exercise habits and learn how to use exercise as nourishment and not punishment.
Building total body strength and performing pelvic floor exercises are a critical part of returning to running.
Gabelsberg, J. (n.d.). Postpartum Rehabilitation . Herman & Wallace Pelvic Rehabilitation Institute.
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2021, May 19). Walk your way to fitness. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/walking/art-20046261
Postpartum exercise: When it’s safe to start running and lifting after pregnancy | Your Pregnancy Matters | UT Southwestern Medical Center. (n.d.). https://utswmed.org/medblog/workouts-after-pregnancy/#:~:text=Postpartum%20exercise%3A%20When%20it