You just delivered your baby a few months ago, and you are SO EAGER to get back into your running shoes!
Plus – I am so proud of you – you checked all the boxes:
- You waited at least 12 weeks post delivery: as you took my prenatal class and heard it was the minimal amount of time you should hold off on high impact exercises after baby is born. Also, you were too afraid of developing a prolapse from returning to running too early – not worth the risk, you concluded!
- You were assessed by a Pelvic Health Physiotherapist: and got their clearance – your pelvic floor and core are in great shape – good work girl!
- You have no pelvic symptoms in your daily activities: including long walks (1h or more). Those pelvic symptoms include urine leakage, vaginal heaviness (or feeling that something is coming out of your lady bits), pelvic pain or bowel control issues. Oh you may have had those symptoms in the early days after baby was born, but this time is well over now, and you are quite happy about it!
- You performed the return to running pre-requisite tests: and felt great, no pelvic symptoms during any of the tests. Yay!!!
Can I go back to my previous running program?
First, no matter how much running you did before delivering your baby, you will need to take things slow. It does not matter if you were 5 months pregnant when you ran your last half marathon…! Sorry!! In the postpartum running world, you will never regret taking your time so you can protect your pelvic health and continue to support your body in its healing. Because, yes, your fourth trimester may be over, but your body is still healing from your pregnancy and birth, and will still be for up to a year!
Also, being a new mom…
- You energy level is different than before – your little one may be keeping you up at night, and you are far from those 8-9h of sleep you used to get!
- Your breast is heavier: if you are breastfeeding or pumping, the additional weight of your breast adds pressure on your pelvis
- Your hormones are still out of whack: if you are breastfeeding or pumping, the relaxin (the hormone that makes everything looser in your body during pregnancy) is still running in your blood stream and affects the strength of your joints, ligaments and muscles, thus affecting stability. However, if your period has resumed, it is normally a sign that your hormones are shortly going to be restored.
With all these changes, it is understandable that you will need to take it slow, and start with a program that will allow your body to progressively adapt to this new load.
Setting yourself for success
In order to put all the chances on your side to have a successful return to running, a few things to consider:
- Run on days where you feel rested
- If you are breastfeeding, make sure to empty your breast before going for a run, so you reduce the weight on your pelvis
- Wear a supportive bra
- In the first few weeks of your running program, make sure you don’t “overdo it” on the days you are planning to run. For example, avoid planning a run when you know you will be on your feet a lot that day or doing lots of errands.
Now let’s dive into the details of your running program! The following postpartum interval program was designed by physiotherapists and can be found on the running clinic website. I translated it from French, for your convenience 🙂
Why alternating running and walking?
I know those first few runs will look very short at first and may leave you on your appetite, but the goal here is to provide your body with an opportunity to slowly adapt to the demand without overloading the system. Progressively, your ligaments and muscles will build up strength and adapt to the load, and it will decrease the chances of experiencing pelvic symptoms like urine incontinence, urinary urgency, pelvic prolapse and pelvic pain, to name a few.
I had clients who started running continuously (without walking breaks), and after a few runs started experiencing pain in their lower back and pelvis. We had to fix their alignment before they could return again. The second time around, they followed the program and had much more success, their symptoms did not return. The body never lies! It will tell you when you are trying to go too fast. Trying to cut corners sometimes sets you back in your fitness goals, so why not doing things right from the start 🙂
Flat versus hills?
I always recommend starting on flat courses (you can walk the hills if your environment does not allow you to run strictly on flat), and choose a soft terrain (ex: trails) over road to decrease the impact. Progressively include hills, starting with running up hills and walking down hills. Downhill running is definitely something you should try later on in your program (in the last weeks), since it puts more stress on your pelvis.
Be smart and monitor your pelvic health!
During your run and in the next 24h, pay attention to your body symptoms. If you experience any urinary leakage, pelvic heaviness (sensation that something is hanging down in your vagina), pelvic or hip pain, or urinary urgency, you may want to check in with your Pelvic Health Physiotherapist so they can help you figure out what is going on.
Running technique pointers
Now, did you know that the way you run affects tremendously the load applied on your pelvis? And since your pelvis is trying to recover from your pregnancy and birth, running with proper technique could make a huge difference on your success and symptoms.
A few pointers:
- Soft landing: try and pay attention to your landing and make it as soft as you can – a hard landing means you put more impact on your body and pelvis
- Lean slightly forward: did you know that running with your body upright is not optimal for your pelvic health, as it increases the impact on your pelvic floor? Try to lean forward instead – normally about 20 degrees is sufficient to significantly decrease the load on your bladder and pelvis. For that reason, running with a baby stroller is not optimal, as it forces you to keep your body upright.
- Breath in your abdomen: a shallow breath (or chest breathing) contributes to increase the intra-abdominal pressure, thus adding pressure on your pelvic organs. You want to send your breath down into your belly during your runs 🙂
- Short strides: the longer your strides are, the more likely you will land directly on your heels which puts more impact on your body. It is better to accelerate your cadence and shorten your strides.
- Arm swing: keep your arms relaxed so they can help propel yourself forward – normally your hands should swing down beside your hip bones. Avoid running with your arms “punching the sky”!
- Don’t grip your abs: a lot of women were told they should ‘engage their core’ when running, so they end up running with their tummy super tensed which puts so much pressure on their pelvis and bladder, and also reduces their trunk’s ability to rotate! This is a whole topic on its own – but ladies, please, let your belly be, let your belly breath!
The most insightful thing you can do is to ask someone to take a video of your running so you can self-assess those elements – get a front view and a side view. This is exactly what I do with my postpartum clients who are ready to go back to running – it is helpful to watch the video in slow motion to see where the foot lands (heel versus forefoot), the angle of your trunk (upright versus backward or forward), your stride length, how you use your arms, etc. Of course, don’t overwhelm yourself if you are not sure what to look at, and consult with a Pelvic Health PT who has some training in postpartum running assessments!
There you go! You’re GTG!! So excited for you!
How did your return to running go after baby? Share your story by dropping a comment below 😉