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Lifting Weights Postpartum: When is it safe? What rules should I follow?

10 tips to ensure a safe and effective return to lifting weights postpartum.


If you lifted weights before getting pregnant, and/or during your pregnancy, you might be keen to get back to it postpartum. In this article I am going to talk to you about how to do that SAFELY and effectively (no less important).


I’ve trained many women who are keen to get back into lifting some decent weight after having a baby. They just want to get back to their regular workouts and start throwing a barbell around.


While I am 10000% happy to get you back doing exactly that, it’s really important that you start your journey right, leave your ego at the door and look after your body.


If you want to be taken step-by-step through 10-days of postpartum-specific exercises that you can start EARLY (like around the 6-week mark), and that will help you build good habits for the road ahead, jump on my 10-day challenge:


It might be easier than what you think you SHOULD do, but the first stage of this process is about RECOVERY and REHAB - until you have done that, you aren’t ready for more intense exercise.


Lifting Weights Postpartum: What NOT to do.


Do NOT jump right back into your regular workouts at 6 weeks postpartum, after your doctor has told you it’s safe to do so. Your pelvic floor probably isn’t ready for this (nor is the rest of your body)


This is what most women do, though: they head back to the gym, or CrossFit, after their 6-week check-up, put a barbell on their back, try to squat the weight that they squatted before pregnancy, see if they can still do pull-ups and test their deadlift 5RM on the first workout.


They then proceed to beat themselves up about how ‘weak’ and ‘unfit’ they feel, totally flabbergasted that they can’t do what they did before


They jump into a WOD or a HIIT class and are surprised AND devastated by their lack of fitness. This causes them to either push past pain and physical sensations that they probably should be listening to, OR to give up and declare “having a baby has ruined my body and I’ll never get my fitness back


Besides the fact that you are putting yourself at risk of Pelvic Organ Prolapse (POP) and physical injury, you are also causing yourself unnecessary mental suffering by putting these ridiculous standards on yourself.


If you have already done this and that’s what’s caused you to search this blog post, let’s think about this for a minute: what do you expect?

Did you REALLY think that you could go through 9 months of pregnancy, with all the physiological and anatomical changes that take place during that time, then push a small human through your vagina (or have it cut out of you) and do no exercise for at least 6 weeks and think that your fitness/strength would not be affected at all? Come on, you know more about exercise science than that!


(not to mention all the ‘looking after a human baby and getting used to a whole new life and identity’ stuff that you have been dealing with lately)


Mindset shift when returning to the gym after birth:


Remember that you WILL MOST LIKELY have lost muscle mass and strength AND cardiovascular fitness during pregnancy and the postpartum period. THIS IS NORMAL. You are now re-entering your activity with a lower level of strength and fitness. You need to MEET YOURSELF WHERE YOU ARE AT, identifying and matching your training intensity to your CURRENT level of fitness postpartum, and then BUILD IT BACK UP (just as important).


So here are my top TEN tips for returning to lifting weights SAFELY after having a baby.


Postpartum Exercise: What TO DO (the TL;DR version)

  1. Treat postpartum exercises like you would recovering from an injury: start slow, aim to heal FIRST, then progressively overload.

  2. Follow programming that is designed to address postpartum issues. It is NOT a well designed programme if the goal is to work out that way forever - it should bridge you to whatever you want to do.

  3. Safeguard the pelvic floor by regulating IAP and starting with appropriate load.

  4. Our main concern with regards to lifting weights postpartum is the integrity of your pelvic floor, this is likely what will limit your starting point and progress

  5. Don’t be afraid - there is a sweet spot between going too hard and not going hard enough.

  6. See a pelvic floor physio if you consider exercise throughout the lifespan to be a priority for you.

Read on to dive in deeper to each of these topics...



Tip #1: Treat Postpartum Exercise like you’re Recovering from an Injury


It’s really important to approach ‘The Return to Fitness’ postpartum as though you were recovering from an injury - this is true of any form of exercise, but perhaps more so with weight training due to the demand that it *can* put on our pelvic floors.


It is also true that resistance training is incredibly important for women throughout the lifespan and will likely support your health for many years to come, so you are absolutely right to want to get back to it (and well ahead of the game that most others) - let’s just approach it with a bit of common sense so that you can enjoy this activity until you’re 90!


If you tore your ACL, you wouldn’t rest it for 6 weeks, then try to squat the same weight you squatted *before* the injury, or start bouncing around on it in the first workout. You would start with exercises that are lower demand on the ligaments in your knee and then build your way up.


We’re going to talk about how to do that with postpartum considerations in this blog post.



What’s the Big Hoo-ha?

Tip #2: Understand what’s going on with your Vagina/C-Section Recovery after giving birth.


It can be really hard for women (like myself) whose identities involve being strong and fit - pregnancy takes a lot of that away from you, and the postpartum period it can be difficult to see your body in such a bad way.

  • After even the most unicorn of vaginal births, you need to remember that your pelvic floor has been stretched out and it will take several months for it to return to its previous tone (it may never do quite that, and you might need some help to get there)

  • If you had tears, or an episiotomy, that scar tissue will need to heal. Tissue healing can take up to 12 months, and it’s important that you are helping the body recover and rehabilitate.

  • On top of that, your uterus at the end of pregnancy weighs over 1kg - it will take some time for it to shrink. The ligaments holding said heavy uterus up are weak from the pregnancy and birth

… all of which puts us at risk of pelvic organ prolapse in the postpartum period.


Post c-section you might not be at the same risk of prolapse BUT:

  1. Your pelvic floor may nonetheless be weakened from pregnancy and birth

  2. You are now healing from MAJOR abdominal surgery and the aforementioned ‘tissue healing takes 12 months’ also applies here

  3. Your uterus is actually removed from your body during the surgery, which can really stretch the ligaments holding it up.

Regardless of what kind of birth you had, your tummy muscles will also be weak postpartum and so won’t be providing your organs with the same support. We’ll talk more about core rehabilitation later on.



Postpartum Weightlifting Tip #3: Start EARLY, Start GENTLY


One of my slogans is “start early, start gently”. Officially, you will get the go-ahead to exercise from your doctor at 6 weeks - while your doctor will tell you that “you can do anything you want” you should definitely start more gently (than whatever you used to do), with a view of where you want to go.


What this means in practice is this: don’t put a barbell on your back after giving birth, until you’ve done some air squats.


This was my first strength workout back: 4 weeks after c-section.


Just for reference, before pregnancy I was squatting my bodyweight, had 12 pull-ups and could do more than 20 pushups


This first ‘workout’ back, I did a floor press with 4kgs, a band pull-apart, an 8kg romanian deadlift and 2 sets of 10 air squats (not in video) - this was at 4 weeks postpartum after I had already done quite a lot of VERY GENTLE mobility work right from the first few days after my c-section - starting with shoulder and neck circles, standing cat-cows and building up the range of movement from there (but this is for another blog post)


This might be a good place to start after the first couple of weeks:


It doesn’t matter where you were at before, you need to start right from the beginning. In a way, if this stuff is “too easy” for you, it really means you started too late! I didn’t stay at these weights for long, in fact, I increased the weights every session, and if you know what you’re doing you might progress very quickly - progression is VERY important - we’ll talk about that more in tip number 9.



Postpartum Workout Tip #4 - Start with Mobility


Before you start performing strength exercises, you’ll want to start with MOBILITY work early on - things like Shoulder Pass Throughs can be AMAZING for getting rid of tightness associated with breastfeeding and holding a newborn (all the fucking time).



Try the first mobility workout of my 10-day Postpartum Challenge - it’s a 10-minute routine designed to help you get rid of aches and pains and gently start moving your body.



You can sign up for the full 10-day challenge here or by putting your details into the box below - in 10 minutes a day over 10 days, I’ll take you through Core, Mobility and Strength workouts to get you started on your postpartum journey.



Postpartum Weightlifting Tip #5: Pick Exercises that are LOW Demand on the Pelvic Floor (at first)


When you do start ‘strength’ exercises, you want to START with glute activation exercises that are LOW demand on your pelvic floor.


Glute bridges are a great place to start:


They require a lot of work from your glutes, but are quite low-demand exercise on your pelvic floor since the weight of the organs is quite literally taken off it. Gravity is making it harder for your GLUTES here, and not for your pelvic floor. You can do this with a glute band or even a dumbell.


A clamshell is another great starting point for the same reasons:


As opposed to exercises like squats, where not only is your pelvic floor having to deal with the weight of your organs, but the bottom position of the squat also stretches your pelvic floor out.



My 10-day Challenge is designed to get you acquainted with these low-demand exercises, and build you up to more challenging ones:

Strength Training After Birth Tip #6: Start with little or no weight on important exercises (Squat, Deadlift, Push, Pull)


You still want your first sessions to be BALANCED, so you’ll want to include at least ONE of each of these:

  • A PULL or a ROW

  • A PUSH - either horizontal (chest) or vertical (shoulders), or both

  • A lower body/leg exercise - in the beginning a hip-dominant exercise like a deadlift, but later on you’ll include quad-dominant exercises like squats

Like I said in the last “tip” - you’ll want to start with variations that are low-demand on the pelvic floor, like:


Push - floor press. You may want to build up to pushups or a bench press, but this is a great way of starting to use your chest and triceps that is low demand on the pelvic floor.



Hip-hinge - RDL - you can start with no weight at all, or just a little weight, it really doesn’t matter where you begin, the point here is to do the exercise and use the muscles in this way, right from the beginning



You might want to start with a workout like this (day 2 of my 10-day Postpartum Challenge):


I really encourage you to sign up for my 10-day challenge and complete the core, mobility and strength workouts in order over 10 days. You’ll likely be ready for SO MUCH more at the end of these 10 days.


Postpartum Weightlifting Tip #7: “Blow Before You Go”


This phrase was coined by the famous physiotherapist (at least, as famous as a Women’s Health Physio can be), Julie Wiebe.


This means to EXHALE on the EFFORT or the most difficult part of the movement.


This can be difficult for those of us that are trained to breath-hold or “brace” through the lift. It is a very important skill to practice, though as you return to exercise and lifting weights postpartum in order to regulate IAP, trigger the contraction of the pelvic floor and prevent unnecessary pressure on the pelvic floor and pelvic organs.


Here’s a video I made on how to breathe during exercise:


(By the way, I am NOT saying that breath holding is dangerous or that you will never be able to do it again, it’s just a protective strategy while your pelvic floor is still healing)



Returning To Weight Training, Tip #8: Train Your Core Too!


Many of us like to stick to our “functional” movements like squats, deadlifts, pullups… I certainly do! I USED to be one of those trainers that said “that’s all the core training you need!”


But MOST women do need some help to increase the strength of their abdominal muscles - both for “function” and strength in your sport or activity, and often for aesthetic purposes (“flattening the mom-pooch”).


This is done HORRIBLY throughout the fitness industry.


Try this 10-minute “core” “workout” - it might feel EXCEPTIONALLY easy - but this is appropriate for most women in the first 2-6 weeks after giving birth.



Again, if you want to receive all 10 of my postpartum workouts over 10 days, sign up here.




Working Out Postpartum Tip 9 - PROGRESS!! (and don’t be scared!)


You can’t keep doing “postpartum” workouts forever! The goal of a well-designed “postpartum” programme (like my online programme) is

  • to address the musculoskeletal issues arising from pregnancy and birth (like pelvic floor dysfunction and diastasis recti),

  • to address aches and pains and to regain lost muscle mass and strength

  • to get you functioning again and coping physically in your daily life.

It should also bridge the gap back to whatever activity you enjoy, whether that’s running, doing jiu jitsu or lifting weights.


You do actually have to apply PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD to your training programme, even after giving birth.

So, to use a previous example, you might START with bodyweight squats that aren’t that deep at 6 weeks postpartum, but then you’ll progress to full range of motion squats, then goblet squats:



And then you’d progress to a barbell back squat.


OR, if you don’t have access to a gym, you might progress to advanced bodyweight exercises like this cossack squat:



What you want to watch out for as you increase the weights, is what’s going on inside your abdominal canister. Are you able to manage pressure? Do you feel a bulging or heaviness in your pelvic floor?


If you’ve been training for a long time, you might be able to do this intuitively. If you aren’t sure, or are scared of doing damage, it can be difficult to know when to push yourself a little farther and when to increase the weights. If you need personal attention to do this, I offer online training where I help you navigate this process.


(If you can’t fork out for personal training at this point, I also have an Intermediate Programme online that offers an at-home 6-month strength training programme for women with some lifting experience. I help you build your strength back up with bodyweight movements and just a few dumbbells.)


Sometimes, when you have a lot of lifting experience, the difficult thing to do during pregnancy and postpartum is knowing when to hold back. It takes a lot of patience and us girls that love to lift are often keen to push hard like we love to do. It can be really useful to work with a coach during this time.



Postpartum Lifting Tip #10 - See a Pelvic Floor Physio


There are things that a trainer (like me) just cannot know from training you, whether in person or online.


Pelvic floor issues, like incontinence and Pelvic Organ Prolapse (POP) are SO COMMON - and they seriously hold women back from participation in sport, especially in women who have had children.


This is a really important body part. If you’ve had a vaginal birth, your vagina has really taken a beating. It’s a really integral part of playing sports - you won’t even notice it until there’s a problem.


So if being fit and active is important to you, it’s really important to be seen by a Women’s Health Physio and get personalized guidance on things like running and lifting weights postpartum


If you aren’t convinced, check out this video on what happens to your vagina during birth:



Postpartum Weightlifting, main takeaways:

  1. Treat postpartum exercises like you would recovering from an injury: start slow, aim to heal FIRST, then progressively overload.

  2. Follow programming that is designed to address postpartum issues. It is NOT a well designed programme if the goal is to work out that way forever - it should bridge you to whatever you want to do.

  3. Safeguard the pelvic floor by regulating IAP and starting with appropriate load.

  4. Our main concern with regards to lifting weights postpartum is the integrity of your pelvic floor, this is likely what will limit your starting point and progress

  5. Don’t be afraid - there is a sweet spot between going too hard and not going hard enough.

  6. See a pelvic floor physio if you consider exercise throughout the lifespan to be a priority for you.







About Jen…

Jen Curtis is a pregnancy and postpartum fitness specialist who is passionate about helping women transform their bodies in a sustainable way.


The creator of The Complete Postpartum Programme, she is well-known for her no-BS approach, her dedication to facts, science and evidence and for debunking myths around nutrition and exercise.


I’ve got some incredible content on the gram for you

©2019 BY JENNIFER CURTIS

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