You’ve had your baby, you’ve been settling into your new routine and way of life, and now you’re ready to start moving your body more, carving out a little bit more of me-time for yourself, and returning to the fitness that you loved pre-pregnancy. Kudos to you, Mama, because you deserve it, but let’s give you some guidelines to work off of since you’ll have to be mindful about how you return to exercise post-C-section.
While there are definitely some very effective exercises you can do after your C-section, it’s also important to know which exercises aren’t recommended those first few weeks and months after your C-section.
First and foremost, rehab after a C-section is SO important. I just can’t stress this enough!! Regardless of the fact that C-sections are becoming a more and more common way to birth your baby, we still have to approach it as a major procedure! Your C-section scar isn’t merely one that sits on the surface of your abdomen. Remember, your scar runs deep into the belly, which means a lot of time, patience, and rehab is needed to get your core back after a C-section. For more on rehabbing and returning to exercise, read Returning To Exercise After a C-section
Keep in mind also that your core and pelvic floor have undergone pressure changes and posture changes throughout pregnancy. It makes sense that your body needs adequate time to recover and a formal restorative program to follow to ensure the best recovery possible!
So, at least until you have put in the time to go through a program that will restore function and balance to your core and pelvic floor, let’s now talk about the exercises that I suggest you stay away from (i.e. healed abdominal separation, no leaking, no back, hip or pelvic pain, and no prolapse symptoms or your prolapse is well managed).
Exercises to Avoid After C-Section
Traditional or Advanced Abdominal Exercises:
In this category, I include exercises that place a lot of pressure on the abdominal wall and pelvic floor. Another way to put it are those exercises that feel like you’re working the abs really hard, you feel a lot of pulling on straining, on the abdominals, you cannot breathe through these exercises, or you can see your belly bulging, coning, or doming along its midline. Now this isn’t to say that you shouldn’t ever do these exercises, just not right now while you are healing your core and pelvic floor.
Exercises where the belly hangs or droops towards the floor:
In these exercises, where the belly may be hanging towards the floor, you may not be able to feel adequate “tension” or you may feel like you are going to “fall out of the front” of your belly. If you aren’t able to properly hold a front plank and feel it in the abs, but you feel yourself working a LOT through the shoulders, upper back, or the lower back, then this a strong sign that you aren’t quite ready for the front plank and its variations. Also, if you aren’t able to properly brace through the core during a deadlift, most likely you will feel it in your lower back.
- EXERCISES TO AVOID:
- Front planks and their Variations
- Renegade rows
- Bird-dogs, etc.
Exercises that cause the belly to bulge at any point along its midline or that make the lower pelvic region feel like it is bulging:
These exercises train the belly to bulge outwards, and could also be placing a lot of stress downward on the pelvic ﬂoor and pelvic organs. You might feel pressure on your bladder like you can’t hold your bladder.
- EXERCISES TO AVOID:
- Crunches, Reverse Crunches, Sit-ups,
- Double Leg Lowers
- Jackknife-type exercises
- Knee tucks, Hanging Knee Raises, Knees-to-Elbow, or Toes-to-Bar
- Pull-ups, Chin-ups.
Plyometric exercises are very ballistic and high-impact in nature, and they require a ton of core stability to be performed properly. If your core isn’t quite ready to generate the stability needed for these exercises, then these exercises could cause you trouble somewhere along the line. These injuries manifest in the form of hip, lower back, knee, and neck pain. Plyometric type exercises include:
- EXERCISES TO AVOID:
- Running, sprinting, jogging
- Jumping, box jump, jumping rope
- Burpees, thrusters (or a burpee with no push-up), and other similar conditioning exercises.
Intense Exercise or Fitness Classes:
Your postpartum recovery requires adequate time and taking a few steps back to teach your core and pelvic floor how to function again. These muscles were so heavily challenged during pregnancy, labor, and delivery that they need some gentle guidance on how to optimally support your body again. If you jump right back into intense exercise or activity such as heavy weight training, intense exercise classes/programs (i.e. CrossFit, many Beachbody programs, boot camp classes, mom and baby boot camp classes, even some stroller fitness classes, etc.), the abdominal and plyometric exercises we just talked about, and intense aerobic workouts, you are again putting yourself at risk for injury.
When you decide to return to exercise postpartum, you need to start working out in a way that allows you to rebuild your strength, stability, and endurance slowly and steadily. Don’t start off with a BAM. Resist the temptation of telling yourself where you think you “should be” or where you were before you became pregnant.
Remember: We want to be preparing ourselves to exercise for the long haul! Invest the time necessary to properly recover. It’s not about the first few weeks. It’s about functionality and fitness for the rest of your life. An incomplete recovery and a return to intense training makes you much more susceptible to injury.
- Heavily-Weighted Exercises
- Olympic Lifting
- Some kettlebell exercises (e.g. kb swings/cleans/snatches/windmills/Turkish get-ups/Figure 8’s)
- Kipping Exercises
- Twisting and Rotational Exercises
- Heavy Overhead Presses (Stick to lateral and front raise type exercises for first three months)
- Pilates movements like: forward flexion of the spine (i.e. roll-ups, single/double leg stretches), upper body rotation with reaching (i.e. saw), extreme back extension/arching (i.e. swan dive), upper body flexion with rotation (i.e. criss cross).
- Yoga poses that require you to twist open or stretch within a twist like Prayer Twist,Chair Twist, Half Moon, or Triangle pose.
- Yoga poses in which you are stretching out the front of the body like Upward Facing Dog, Cow, Bow, Camel, or Wheel Pose and any other backbends.
- Yoga poses in a plank position or any front-loaded (belly hanging towards the floor) poses like Chaturanga Dandasana should be avoided until you are able to hold sufficient tension in the inner core muscles.
- Avoid any types of belly breathing techniques in which you are pulling air in to expand the belly out in front. This creates too much intra-abdominal pressure.
Exercises that cause pain
This applies to your whole body, but especially your core, pelvic region, and areas that were sutured during childbirth. When you first get started, you may feel some slight tenderness as a reminder that you recently worked out. Having a bit of muscle soreness is good. However, if you are feeling any aching or pain, especially in your core and pelvic region, then you need to reevaluate your approach and make some modifications for the next time.
Lastly…anything that just doesn’t feel quite right
It is imperative that you listen to and trust your body. If something doesn’t feel quite right during exercise, then it’s probably not right for you at this time. Keep in mind that exercise will feel a bit awkward when you are first learning how to do it. However, if it is causing you pain, if you feel pressure against your abdominal wall or in you pelvic region, if you’re leaking during or after an exercise session, or if you can’t breathe well during exercise—YOU NEED TO STOP. Remember, we are going for function first and foremost. Intense exercise will come later.
*Remember: These exercises can be added back into your program once your core and pelvic floor are able to manage the intensity and demand of these activities.
For the time being, focus on more core and pelvic floor friendly exercises
As you get back into working out, you’ll want to be more particular with your exercise selections and weight selections for exercises. You’ll also want to give your body plenty of time to adapt to more movement and a good deal of recovery time between your workouts:
- Some better-suited activities for the postpartum period include:
- Bodyweight exercises
- Some suspension training exercises
- Resistance training with light to moderate weight or resistance bands
- Elliptical training
- Rowing with the damper set at a lower setting.
Remember to incorporate your Core Connection Breathing into your workouts as well:
- Ready: Get into proper alignment, take an inhale breath and breathe down into the ribcage and lower back, let pelvic floor expand.
- Set: Exhale and simultaneously pull the pelvic floor up and contract your TVA.
- Go: While maintaining the contraction of your pelvic floor and TVA, perform your task.
SO, NOW WHAT?!?!?!
Well we’ve obviously discussed several exercises to avoid after your C-section (at least until you are fully healed) but if you’re curious about what you CAN do right now:
- First and foremost, I would download this FREE soft tissue guide. Learn how to manage your incision so that it heals well and doesn’t interfere with your core function!!!
- Then, I would read Returning To Exercise After a C-section…