How to Restore Strength for Sport Post-Pregnancy

Sophia McDermott Drysdale

Coach

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Bodybuilding, Nutrition, Women's Fitness

I have been an athlete my whole life. That is how I define myself. So when I became pregnant, the transformation of my body was difficult to deal with, though incredible to observe. Just like every other expectant mom, I experienced structural changes and discomfort in my own body. It’s crucial to understand these changes to the body so you can rehabilitate the muscles that matter. This is especially true for athletes who want to get back to sports quickly. Compounding any existing muscle imbalances and instabilities with those sustained during pregnancy will often lead to increased weakness and lower back, hip and pelvic pain.

 

We need gentle movements to restore basic functional strength.

We'll cover basic restoration for day-to-day movements alongside strength rehab for athletic moms.

 

 

Muscular Shifts During Pregnancy

During pregnancy, the shift in weight distribution and centre of gravity causes pressure to mount on the mother's lower back, hips, and pelvis. This tightens the hip flexors and weakens the gluteals and hamstrings considerably. The imbalance can cause lower back pressure and a lot of pain. The abdominal wall may also separate, creating what is called diastasis recti, and the hormone relaxin is released which loosens all the ligaments in the pelvis. To top it all off, the ligaments of the pelvis, adductors and glutes are all weakened further during the birthing process. It’s a hell of a lot to deal with, and the overall result can be painful – many women have trouble climbing stairs and walking at a brisk pace.

 

But all is far from lost. I am back to doing the sports I love at a high competitive level, and I want you to get back to what you enjoy, at the level that you desire. The journey back to your former athleticism starts here.

 

The Road to Recovery

As a new mom, you will have some restrictions. Sit-ups are out, due to diastasis recti. So are single leg movements such as step ups, as the separation of joints in the pelvis make these movements painful, if not impossible. We’re going to begin with some basic movements which work around these restrictions whilst moving your closer to your athletic goals. I’ve put together videos and simple guidelines for all of the exercises.

 

You’ll gently work the transverse abs, providing a strong corset that will pull in the separated rectus abdominis. You’ll perform gluteal work to balances the pelvis again, which will relieve pressure from the lower back. And you’ll do hip flexor work to engage the weakened adductors.

 

Continue to Page 2 for Full Exercise Videos and Descriptions

8 Exercises to Make an Athletic Comeback Post-Partum: 1. Expand and Contract

 

Muscle group(s): Transverse abdominis

 

This is the most basic of the transverse abdominis exercises and can be done by anyone and everyone. These are designed to tighten and strengthen the transverse abs without straining the lower back or the weakened rectus abdominis.

 

  • Aim to do at least 10 repetitions and hold each position for at least 3 seconds.
  • Remember to breathe - there is a lot of pressure on the diaphragm when the transverse abs are activated. 
  • Perform 3 times through.

 

8 Exercises to Make an Athletic Comeback Post-Partum: 2. Angry Cat, Happy Cat

 

Muscle group(s): Transverse abdominis, rectus abdominis

 

These movements help to pull in the abdominal muscles without too much stress. 

 

  • Aim to do a minimum of 10 repetitions and hold each position for at least 3 seconds.
  • Perform 3 times through.

 

8 Exercises to Make an Athletic Comeback Post-Partum: 3. Knee to Elbow Crunches

 

Muscle group(s): Core, transverse abdominis

 

This exercise uses the transverse abs and core to brace and balance the body. The glutes, hamstrings, upper back, and rear delt muscles also come into play, to help keep a strong posture when carrying and breastfeeding a baby.

 

  • Aim to do a minimum of 10 crunches each side holding each position for a minimum of 2-3 seconds.
  • Perform 3 times through.

 

8 Exercises to Make an Athletic Comeback Post-Partum: 4. Supine Single Leg Extensions

 

Muscle group(s): Transverse abdominis

 

This is a more challenging exercise. The aim is to continuously press the middle of the back into the floor while extending the leg down to the floor. To create even more of a challenge, this exercise can be performed with a straight leg.

 

  • Aim to do a minimum of 10 each leg, lowering the leg down to the floor slowly to the count of 3 or 4 seconds.
  • Remember to breathe.
  • Perform 3 times through.

 

8 Exercises to Make an Athletic Comeback Post-Partum: 5. Supine Hip Extensions

 

Muscle group(s): Gluteals, adductors

 

In this exercise, it’s important not to arch your back. This ensures the glutes are being activated and not the erector spinae muscles. Squeezing a tennis ball between the knees is a great tool to further engage the adductors.

 

  • Aim to do a minimum of 10 repetitions, holding hips up for at least 2-3 seconds.
  • Perform 3 times through.

 

8 Exercises to Make an Athletic Comeback Post-Partum: 6. Prone Single Leg Hip Extension

 

Muscle group(s): Gluteals

 

This exercise is simple, but with weakened glutes it can be difficult. The knee only needs to be raised off the floor a little, but it is important to keep both hip bones pressed into the floor.

 

  • Aim to do a minimum of 20 repetitions each side.
  • While keeping tension in the glutes, do small pulses as demonstrated in the video.
  • Perform once through.

 

8 Exercises to Make an Athletic Comeback Post-Partum: 7. Supine Knees Side to Side

 

Muscle group(s): Core, transverse abdominis

 

This exercise challenges the adductors via the tennis ball between the legs, and brings obliques along for the ride with an added twisting motion. This movement is also good for stretching the erector spinae and the thoracolumbar fascia, which become tight due to the forward tilt of the pelvis during pregnancy.

 

  • Do a minimum of 10 repetitions each side, lowering legs to each side to the count of 3.
  • Perform once through.

 

8 Exercises to Make an Athletic Comeback Post-Partum: 8. Plank Hold with Single Leg Hip Extensions

 

Muscle group(s): Transverse abdominis, glutes

 

This exercise is the most challenging of the transverse abdominis exercises given here. It is important to keep the abdominals braced and the butt down when performing the hip extension. By keeping the leg bent and raising the knee, this engages the glutes while keeping the transverse abdominis activated the entire time.

 

  • Do a minimum of 10 each side, extending the hip for 2 or 3 seconds.
  • Perform 3 times through.

 

8 Exercises to Make an Athletic Comeback Post-Partum: Gentle Consistency Is Key

The key is to start slowly and build up. Each day, build on the intensity by performing one or two more repetitions each set, holding each position for a little longer, or upgrading to more physically demanding exercises.

 

Regular performance of this combination of exercises will help you to restore proper functional strength and mobility after pregnancy. You will ensure a solid foundation to go back to your sport and kick butt, with a balanced body and a beautiful little spectator by your side.

 

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Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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