The contents of our support articles, such as text, videos, images, are for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Check with a women’s health/ pelvic physiotherapist or doctor in addition to using our support articles and before making any medical decisions.
The current evidence-based recommendation is that returning to running is not advisable prior to 3 months postnatal or beyond this if any symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction are identified prior to, or after attempting, return to running.
Welcome to your postnatal guide! We're so excited to help you with the recovery process following having a baby, with the ultimate goal of returning to running (or starting running!). All of the information in this guide has been provided by the coaching team at Runna, including Ailish who is a physiotherapist, running enthusiast, and Mum of two toddlers (and another one on the way!). Being a new mum poses lots of challenges so finding the time and energy might not be top of your list at first, so pick up the guide as and when you are ready. If instead you're currently expecting and not sure how to adapt your training, click here to access our prenatal guide.
Ailish is a senior MSK physiotherapist, and mother of two (with another on the way!), she has over 15 years experience and a special interest in all things running related. Having been through the experience twice now, she understands both the struggle and joy of getting back to what you love doing post-natal. Ailish is here to help guide you through that journey too.
Ailish completed her BSc (Hons) Physiotherapy at University College Dublin in 2006. She has since worked in Ireland and Australia and has been based back in the UK since 2012. Running has always been a big part of AIlish’s life and she knew it was important to not let that go after having kids.
Where to start
The main aim here is relative rest. Your body has achieved a huge thing so you need to give the body time to recover and heal at its own rate. When you are ready, you can start adding more walking to your routine, but if you aren't feeling ready then take more time to rest and recover.
Pelvic floor exercises
Now is also a great time to get to grips with some pelvic floor muscle exercises. If you have never done a pelvic floor exercise before, don’t panic. Here is some guidance.
In a sitting position, engage the pelvic floor muscles by imagining you’re either bursting to wee or pass wind and you really want to hold it in. Initially, holding this contraction for 1 second might be all you’re able for and that’s fine. You can build on this.
Over the next few weeks/months, the aim is to be able to do 10 fast, strong pelvic floor contractions in a row, in both sitting and standing, and also 10 sub maximal contractions aiming to hold for 10 seconds with a 4 second break in between.
There is no hard and fast rule on how to progress. Start at your own rate and when you are ready to progress, look to hold for 1-2 seconds longer. Continue to add a couple of seconds to each hold up to 10s. Look to complete 10 contractions at one time.
When you get up to the 10s holds, remember to let go after and relax!
We would recommend you set a reminder on your phone, or put a post it on your kettle and when you see it, you’ll be reminded to do your pelvic floor exercises. The goal is to complete these twice a day.
If you’re still feeling quite uncomfortable post birth, even just carrying out gentle pelvic contractions every so often is worth it and can help with swelling and healing. The contractions may also engage the deep tummy muscle, so if this is uncomfortable for anyone post C-section, go easy on yourself. Be guided by any symptoms and do not push through pain or discomfort.
Hopefully by now, you’re starting to feel more comfortable and are able to move around at home more easily. We would recommend you do some basic mat exercises to start the early stages of building a base in your return to running journey.
Here’s a video of a couple of movements you can do along with Ailish (Workout 1). There is a combination of both mobility and muscle activation exercises here. Although you might not realise it, your mid-back takes a big hit when there’s a newborn in the house. Whether you are breast or bottle feeding, a lot of your day can be spent hunched over on the sofa feeding the baby (plus the endless cuddles!), but this means our back can get really stiff which can lead to a whole host of issues. These exercises should help combat that. Oh, and enjoy lying flat on your back again!
Hopefully you’ve enjoyed the exercises so far and are feeling ready to progress (Workout 2). We’re going to start some leg strengthening work to continue the base building towards running . On top of this, if you have access to a stationary bike or cross trainer you can start some non-impact cardio at this stage. How long you spend doing this is up to you and will be based on how much exercise you kept up during pregnancy and how you’re feeling on any particular day. If you don’t have access to any cardio equipment, just keep going with the walking. You can progress this by increasing your pace or length of time you walk.
Just remember, there is no pressure to impress, it’s better to stay in a ‘comfortable zone’ at this stage post birth and progress at your own rate. Every journey will be different!
It might be around now that you have a 6-8 week postnatal check with your healthcare practitioner (eg. obstetrician, GP, midwife). If you’ve had any queries or concerns with how you’re feeling with increasing your movement again, now is the time to raise them. There will be a lot of appointments for the baby post birth, but remember, this one is for you so ask away.
A few key symptoms to watch for when increasing our movements postnatally are:
Any urinary and/or faecal incontinence
Pressure/bulge/dragging in the vagina prior to or during exercise.
Ongoing or onset of vaginal bleeding, not related to menstrual cycle, during or after attempted low impact or high impact exercise
Any musculoskeletal pain e.g. pelvic pain prior to or during commencement of movement
If you are feeling good after workouts 1 and 2, time to progress those moves (workout 3).
Exercise wise, you can continue to increase your time spent walking and doing non-impact based cardio, but we also advise focusing on progressing your strength work.
Hopefully all is still going well and your body is responding well to the new exercises. Once again, you can continue to increase on your non-impact cardio. This can be as little as increasing by 1-2 minutes per session. We’re getting used to our bodies moving again and it’s important to listen to them. It is better to build at a slower rate and ensure you are recovering well between sessions.
If swimming is something that excites you, and you’ve been given the go ahead by your healthcare practitioner, you can now start back at this. Don't compare yourself to your pre-pregnancy swim fitness, it will take time. Enjoy being back in the water initially, embrace the process and take your time.
Cycling enthusiasts, if you have managed to get on a bike thus far, you could now start thinking about group spin classes. Plan ahead and when you know there’s going to be someone around to look after the baby, duck out and get that bit of me time in. Partners/grandparents/friends have been known to loiter around outside spin classes with a pram to make sure Mum gets her sweat on if she wants to!
Strength wise: over the next four weeks we are going to spend time working towards completing a check list of exercises. We have two workout videos for you to complete. Starting off with Workout video 4 for two weeks before progressing onto Workout video 5 for two weeks. We will also continue to keep in the back of our minds those symptoms I mentioned in the list above. If we start to feel any of these, reach out to your healthcare provider for advice.
Building back into running
There is a checklist of key exercises we should be able to do before we begin running again. The last thing you want is to develop any injuries once you start back. Follow along to Workout 6 below to see if you are ready to go.
Congratulations on working through your first 12 weeks! Once you have been through these steps, you should be ready to move onto your running plan. Download the Runna App, if you haven't already, and sign up and build your Postnatal Runna plan today! If you have any questions or need support at any time, we're here for you to contact via the Support Tab of the app.