Postpartum Fitness: Stretching with Your Stroller

In continuing our discussion on fitness in the new year, we present a step-by-step piece on how to stretch your body while out and about with your baby. Christine Krauth, a pre- and postnatal Pilates instructor, shows us how to achieve an all-over body stretch using simple movements.

 

By Christine Krauth

I recently taught a “Pilates and Running” workshop to some members of Moms Run This Town: a very cool group of gals who run. A lot. With strollers. I am also a stroller runner and I think that if you run with a stroller you are a) a rock star and b) should be given extra mileage credit: like, 3 miles with a stroller is the equivalent of 4.3 miles without.

So, with that figured out let’s learn some cool stretches you can do WITH your stroller at anytime: before, during, or after your run or walk.

Lower Back and Shoulders Stretch

This first one is great for a tight lower back (lumbar spine) and tense shoulders ( ’cause you know as you are pushing that thing up a hill you are using your shoulders, girl):

  1. Stand with your arms long out on the stroller handle bar, your feet in a parallel position, hip width apart and in line with your knees.
  2. Gently lower your chin and engage your abdominal muscles (think belly button to spine!), keep your shoulders down and round over your hips extending your torso out from your hips. Try and keep your hips over your ankles.
  3. Get a nice lengthening in your spine by sinking your weight into the stroller bar and reaching your arms as long as you can.
  4. Round your spine (imagine you are a Halloween cat!) and roll up one vertebrae at a time back to your starting position.
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Hips and Lower Back Stretch

The second part of the Stroller Stretches is specifically for your hips but also feels good if you feel tight in your lower back. Honestly, it feels good regardless! If you feel a little pain in your hips while you run or walk, take a moment and try this stretch:

  1. Stand with your feet hip width apart, hands on the stroller, feet parallel.
  2. Lift your right leg off the ground and cross it over your left leg (like a man would sit in a chair). Make sure your right leg crosses above the knee on top of your left quad.
  3. Bend your left leg watching the alignment of your knee and foot. Do not let your knee pass your ankle!
  4. You will feel a stretch in your gluteals and hip on the right side. Try and keep your right leg as open as possible. Count to 10 as you breath deep (slowly. sometimes it’s hard to count slow if you are in the middle of a run).
  5. Repeat on the left side.
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Calf and Hip Flexor Stretch

The third installment is a calf and hip flexor stretch. Your calf muscles induce foot flexion AND help stabilize your ankles. Your hip flexors are a group of muscles whose primary action is to lift the upper part of the leg to the body. If you are walking or running, you use your hip flexors and your calves.

  1. Stand with your feet parallel, hip width apart.
  2. Lunge your right leg forward. Remember: your knee should be directly on top of your right foot and your foot should still be parallel.
  3. You will feel a stretch in the hip flexors on your left leg at this point. If you want more of a stretch, try pulling your left hip forward a little. Be subtle; it won’t take much.
  4. Lift your left heel and press into the ball of your foot.
  5. Lower your left heel slowly, pressing the heel into the ground. This is your calf stretch.
  6. Switch sides by bringing your right leg back and lunging out with your left leg.
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Christine teaches Classical, Prenatal and Post Natal Pilates at ProHealth, a Physical Therapy and Pilates Studio. Christine practiced Pilates throughout the pregnancy and after the birth of her first child in 2009. She found that Pilates helped her body tremendously to adapt, support and facilitate the work of carrying and birthing her child. This revelation motivated Christine to empower other women through Pilates during their pregnancies.

Postpartum Diary: Meagan & Adelyn @ 3 Months

I am now three-months post-partum. In some ways it is sad to think that three months ago, I felt baby kicks and flips from inside the womb for the last time. I have always enjoyed being pregnant and I admit that I do miss it, not enough to have another baby, but it is sad to think that I won’t experience it again. At the same time, three months ago I was waddling my way up the stairs, out-of-breath when I reached the top and longing for the days when I could once again lace up my running shoes and hit the pavement. And so, as my son practiced soccer in the rain the other night, I had a choice to make. I could sit in the warm, dry comfort of the van and read my book. Or, I could grab my running shoes and go for a run. I chose to run.

 

I have also been enjoying sleeping on my stomach once again. At the end of my pregnancy, I was having a hard time finding a comfortable position to sleep. Now I can stretch out however I wish. Of course the amount of time I get to stay in that position depends on Adelyn. Thankfully she is still sleeping well at night. My husband and I are so grateful that our worst sleeper was our first one, when we were six years younger and didn’t have two others to care for after long, rough nights. We have realized that six years makes a big difference when you are a parent. We feel so much older and more tired now.

 

I know that Adelyn was born just three months ago, but I am struggling with the my post-baby body. Thankfully the weight has been coming off. I gained 40 pounds with my pregnancy and now have lost over 25 pounds. I know that’s good and I should be happy with that, but I cannot wait to have all the weight gone. I have been hiding out in sweats and yoga pants. I dread having to make myself presentable for the public. I have a closet full of clothes and only a handful fit. I am too frugal to go out and purchase a lot of clothes when I hopefully won’t be wearing them for too long. I know they say it takes nine months to put on the weight and you should give yourself nine months to take it off, but with swimsuit season rapidly approaching, I am anxious to get back my pre-baby body. Ironically, I wasn’t all that pleased with my pre-baby body, but I would take it without hesitation right now. After all, I don’t really want to sport workout clothes to the beach.

Easing Back Into a Fitness Routine After Birth

By Debra Flashenberg, CD(DONA), LCCE, E-RYT 500 and Director of the Prenatal Yoga Center

I remember chatting with a friend about a month before I was due with my son about my post-baby gym routine. At that time, I was an avid morning gym goer — 6:30 am spin classes — things one can do before baby! I was under the great delusion that I would miss a couple of weeks and then be right back into my fitness regimen.

Reality struck me rather quickly after giving birth that it would take more time to ease back into physical shape than I had estimated. My pelvic floor needed work, I was hopelessly looking for any sign that I still had core muscles and I was downright tired and delirious from sleep deprivation. Many of the mothers I talked with experienced a similar awakening. We all had been somewhat surprised by the postpartum body compared to that of pregnancy. (Full disclosure: these women had been steady prenatal yoga students and were in very good shape during pregnancy.) The shared experience was atrophied muscles, bad posture, achy body and general fatigue. Given that was the physical state postpartum, it would take a mindful approach to returning to a fitness routine.

The first thing to take into consideration when easing back into a fitness routine is to be realistic and patient. It took around 40 weeks to form the pregnant body and it could take nearly as long to fully return to your pre-pregnancy physical self. Birth is a transforming event. I remember very clearly my midwife announcing to me, “the landscape of your pelvis will never be the same.” No matter if your labor is quick, long or surgical, the body undergoes a huge transformation to expel a baby.

Starting Back Slowly
As a general rule, I recommend that women do not return to postnatal or mommy and me yoga until their bleeding has stopped. If a woman gave birth via cesarean section, she needs to wait 6 weeks before rejoining class. If you push yourself too hard in the beginning, then you can actually be setting yourself back from real recovery. That of course does not mean you need to be held hostage in your house for 6 weeks. A walk can be considered a good start to your road back!

Watch for Your Bleeding to Stop
Once you do embark on some heavier activities, pay attention to signs from your body. Some women find that their bleeding that had tapered down starts to get heavier again, which is a sign that the body needs more time to heal.

How Is Your Pelvic Floor?
Also, if the pelvic floor is weak, putting intra-abdominal pressure (like crunches, pilates or general ab work) can put too much pressure on the pelvic floor and inhibit healing or even lead to a chance of organ prolapse. One of the first forms of exercise you can start to incorporate daily can be a kegel routine, restrengthening or even re-familiarizing yourself with your pelvic floor muscles.

Repairing Diastasis
It is very common that women experience a separation of the abdominal muscles, specifically the rectus abdominals — aka the six-pack muscles. Your care provider can check this for you when you return for your six week check up. If it is severe enough, you may need to work with a physical therapist to help draw the muscles back together. So, when easing back to an abdominal workout, be mindful not to overdo it. In postnatal and mommy and me yoga, we focus more on plank pose and variations of plank instead of old fashion crunches. It is also advised not to do extremely deep twisting poses which can also inhibit the muscles from repair.

Wiggly, Wobbly Joints
Relaxin, the hormone that is responsible for softening the ligaments and joints during pregnancy and childbirth, can stay in the body for up to six months postpartum. This can lead to wobbly, unstable joints and a loose pelvis. Again, just be mindful that the activity your choose is not too jerky in movement.

Find All Sorts of Exercise!
You do not need to attend a scheduled class to start to return to a general fitness routine. As I mentioned earlier, walking is a great place to start: don’t discount walking as a gentle cardiovascular exercise! At one point, I was told to avoid higher impact cardio since I was healing from some pretty severe pelvic floor issues and was instructed to try swimming. Fortunately, I have been an avid swimmer for years, so it felt like a nice welcome back to exercise and rediscovering my body. The nice thing about swimming is that it is gentle on the joints and pelvic floor, and is great for strengthening the core and back muscles.

Hydrate
Once you do start to ease back into your routine, please remember to hydrate well, especially if you are breastfeeding. If you are out for a stroll with your baby, put your water bottle in the cup holder as a reminder to drink often.

Rest
At the end of every postnatal or mommy and me yoga class we incorporate a few restorative yoga poses and then savasana (corpse pose). Even though many new moms hear the old saying, sleep when your baby sleeps, very few (I believe) adhere to these wise words. So, including a few moments to simply relax post-workout can really help replenish you. If you are feeling rested and restored, you will have so much more to offer to those that need you.

I hope that these ideas of how to ease back into a fitness routine post-baby have been helpful. Enjoy your baby and your new life!

What helped you ease back into fitness post-baby?