I used to love running, I felt athletic, fast and free and got a total high from training and events. It feels like that was a lifetime ago but, it was only 5-10 years ago. Since then though my body has been through a lot, I was pregnant, post-natal or breastfeeding for over 3 years and totally lost my running mojo. I’d go for a bit of a pootle and just feel rubbish, slow and heavy and sometimes I’d leak – so I just gave up.
How I felt is not unusual, I have daily conversations with plenty of women keen to get back to running who just don’t know where to start or who have started and stopped because it feels wrong. Up until recently, there was very little guidance for post-natal women, but this year the first set of guidelines have been published and they’re really good.
A key point to note about them is that they’re aimed at health professionals. A user-friendly guide is in the pipeline I believe so you’re welcome to read the 40-page report if you want to go deep, but I have also summarised it all below.
What I most enjoyed was how ‘messy’ it was – by which I mean it was not a post-natal couch to 5k programme or a tick box exercise. It is holistic and covers all the issues that need to be taken into account to get a woman back running again. Which is why it’s messy, every woman is different – we have different physical capabilities, different birth experiences, different mental capacity, different needs and all of these variables have to be thrown into the mixing pot to find out the best solution for each woman.
Individualised care ensures that physical and mental overload is avoided so that the risk of injury is minimised and our running experience optimised. A tricky balance which these guidelines have totally nailed.
Here’s my potted version for you – there are 6 areas you need to think about before you start to run after having a baby.
When did you have your baby?
Regardless of how your baby was delivered returning to running is not advised sooner than 3 months post-natal – there is plenty of work that can be done before this stage including low impact and pelvic floor work. The body needs time to heal, recover and adjust which is why this time frame has been set. There are going to be those that are capable of running sooner but the general rule is not to and if you really can’t wait then make sure you are working with a fabulous women’s health physio who can support you and your pelvic floor!
How’s your pelvic floor?
The only way to really know the answer to this is to have a women’s health physio assessment – you can get one of these privately and your GP may also refer you. The guide strongly states that every woman should be offered the support of a specialised physio to assess the state of the abdominal wall and pelvic floor. It would be utterly fabulous if this were a reality and the more of us that ask for it the more it will happen. Before you embark on any high impact exercise have an internal examination.
How much do you weigh?
Running has been reported to put between 1.6 – 2.5 times your body weight through your body – so obviously the heavier you are the more impact your joints and pelvic floor has to absorb and react against. This is why it is advised to have a BMI of less than 30 before starting to run. The report also acknowledges that running is a great way to help people to lose weight – so this is where the personalised approach comes in, mixing in some shorter running intervals with a high intensity but low impact body weight circuit.
What is your general strength and fitness like?
Running is really hard it’s not like cycling, swimming or circuits which you can do slower – even running slowly is high impact and intense. So before embarking on a running programme the guide outlines some movements that you should be able to do really well without experiencing any feelings of heaviness or dragging in your pelvis.
- Walking 30 minutes
- Single leg balance 10 seconds
- Single leg squat 10 repetitions each side
- Jog on the spot 1 minute
- Forward bounds 10 repetitions
- Hop in place 10 repetitions each leg
- Single leg ‘running woman x 10 each side
This is so useful to have as it just brings into focus how important the single leg work is, I would guess that many women would openly talk about how poor their balance was post-natally or how unspringy they felt but still run. By being able to do all of the above means that you’re protecting your body against injury or dysfunction.
How do you feel?
Running and exercise in general is a brilliant way to cope mentally with the intensity of motherhood. However, exercise doesn’t always come with a buzz and what suited you previously may no longer tick the boxes so it’s worth having a complete reassessment of what you need now. I know that I went to the complete alternative end of the exercise spectrum post-natally and did a lot of yoga, walking and swimming. I did initially go for the cross-fit, training hard option but it just felt awful and I really didn’t enjoy it. Whereas I enjoyed everything about the restorative types of exercise.
What I’m saying is that you don’t have to be able to run….it is not a badge of honour or a fundamental human requirement at all, there are plenty of other options out there which may serve you better right now.
I’m heaping all of these into one section and if you’d like to find out more then go to the report, but here are few other things worth considering:
- Are you breastfeeding? If so you can still run but there are some simple things that you can do to make sure that you can run well and breastfeed beautifully.
- Did you have a c-section? It tends to take longer to recover from a c-section and you will have scar tissue which will impact the way your body connects. Look into this and ideally find someone who can teach you how to release your scar
- Are you running with a buggy? Do some research on this and find out the best buggy for you to use
- How are you sleeping? Tap into your energy levels before embarking on a running programme.
- Have you got a good bra? Your breasts will change significantly post-natally and having a good bra so that you can exercise well is a must. There is also more post-natal clothing coming onto the market to help those with diastasis healing and prolapse support. These are fabulous but not a fix and worth considering with the input of a women’s health physio.
The above is your guide to how to know if you’re running ready? And if after reading that you think you are ready then the recommendation is to start with a graded return to run programme which is otherwise known as a couch to 5k type thing.
If you’ve made it this far then I’m sure, you’ll have worked out that there is plenty of work to do to get into shape before you get out and about. The important thing for me is for every woman to believe that she can run if she wants to. Running is such an accessible form of exercise and works well for mums because it is so time-efficient and free. However, there is likely to be some work to do to get you in the right place so that you can run and progress without impacting your body’s healing and recovery process.
My recommendation would be to create your own dream team of people that can help you get to the place you want to be -the fewer people in that team the better but sometimes you will need input from a few great individuals. Don’t waste your time or money on people that are really not helping you, you take control and hunt out the ones that get you, your body and what you’re looking for.
If I can be a part of that journey then please do ask me in to help, I love nothing better than to help women come back to them, to a place where they feel great again.