What does a well-rounded Postnatal Program look like?
Most people tend to oversimplify post-natal training, often suggesting that all you need to do is Pilates, Yoga, or walking. There are 4 essential components to a well-rounded program, and then a couple of others that while they would have extra health benefits, they are not essential.
The image below summarizes these components. The block at the bottom of the pyramid is the most important, and each block is less and less important - you should prioritize them less.
BREATHING AND ALIGNMENT (or posture)
We firstly need to have a solid foundation of breathing mechanics and posture (and for most, this doesn’t take long to learn). The first function of your core is breath, and it's the first (and least invasive!) way we can access the pelvic floor and core muscles.
There is little point undertaking any rehabilitation program or exercise program without first addressing these two points. If we do all the right exercises but with terrible breathing mechanics and awful posture, we may never set up the conditions for proper function.
If you have any major issues, such as pelvic floor dysfunction or diastasis recti, this is where you need to address it. This comes before undertaking an exercise regime.
Go to see a pelvic floor specialist if you have ANY pelvic floor dysfunction. This should not be dealt with by any other professional.
Diastasis recti can be treated by a trained fitness professional, but may include pelvic floor intervention by a pelvic floor physio.
CORRECT MOVEMENT AND MOBILITY
Once we have breathing and alignment sorted, we focus on correct technique – both in every day movements and in the gym. This can often be done in conjunction with rehabilitation.
Correct movement can be divided into 3 sub-groups
Just walking and moving, but doing so with correct alignment
Addressing any mobility issues. This is absolutely imperative, and is often overlooked on many fitness programs. Can you get into a deep squat? Can you touch your toes? Can you get your arms overhead? If you cannot move any of your joints through their full and natural ranges of motion, you need to address this NOW
Technique. We want to learn how to squat, deadlift, press and pull - all with light or no weight. We need to learn these functional movement patterns and address any weaknesses that arise.
Once we have mastered these movement patterns, we can start to challenge the body by adding weight. We do this progressively, following the principle of progressive overload. This basically means that your body will adapt to the stimulus you give it, and in order to continue strengthening, you must continue to challenge it. In terms of building strength, this means adding load, or weight. Just remember, that you will have adapted to the previous load, and so gotten stronger, so the new load doesn’t feel “heavier” to you.
Building strength must be the focus for some time. When you are stronger, everything is easier. Picking up your child, walking to the shop, getting out of a chair. It also prevents injury. Just diving into intense exercise without building strength and learning proper technique is a recipe for disaster.
CONDITIONING - aka. HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training)
Only once you have addressed dysfunction, improved movement patterns and increased strength, you build intensity.Once you are feeling stronger, you should introduce conditioning, or HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). This has huge benefits to your health and fitness – you will see your cardiovascular fitness improve drastically.
Once you are doing strength training twice a week and conditioning twice a week, and you are used to the training volume and feeling good and wanting more, this is the time to add in cardio – running (as long as the pelvic floor is strong), a Zumba class, swimming, cycling – anything you want.
Low intensity for 30-60 mins (or more if you want!) Just remember that this stage is optional – it’s only if you love it and have time. Most people do this before conditioning, and it’s not that that’s bad – it just takes more time and yields less results. Critically, though, many women do this before strength training. Running, jumping and pounding away at the joints when we haven't built up strength in the joints and pelvic floor can be an injury waiting to happen.
If you love running – then we need to get you back to running as quickly as possible. But most people don’t, they just do it because they think it’s the best way to burn fat and get fit! If you’re really interested in getting results – working on S&C (Strength and Conditioning) first is far more effective.
Progression is the key to any valuable exercise program. Your body adapts to any stimulus you give it, so you have to continue to make your workouts more challenging - gradually and safely. You don't continue to get results using the same weight or intensity. Most people understand this of running: you don't train for a marathon by running a 5K 3 times a week. You have to increase the distance by a small amount every week (usually 10% of what you are already doing) and gradually you build up your endurance.
This is also true of strength training. You might start with just a kilo, and week by week you will be able to add just a little more weight to your sets.
Most women start with cardio to "burn fat", but this is short-sighted and often ineffective. Besides the fact that a well-designed strength program can help you burn more fat as going for a run, it also builds and shapes and strengthens the body, preventing injury and making everything else easier!
It's also empowering and motivating to see and feel your strength increase week after week. I love watching my trainees increase their squat, work towards proper pushups and get their first pullup!
I encourage you not to skip the basics - establish a solid base first, be patient, learn about your body, learn about and improve the way you move and gradually increase the intensity and don't run yourself into the ground with every workout - this is how you can build a base for years of function and fitness.
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