"When can I Return to Running after Pregnancy?"
Updated: May 28, 2020
“When can I return to running after pregnancy?” is a common question I get asked a lot by my clients who are itching to get back to it and wondering when the right time is.
A quick internet search reveals why everyone is so confused.
The answers out there seem to range from after your 6 weeks doctors check to “when you feel you're ready”.
6 weeks after giving birth is way too soon to be running in my opinion.
You might feel okay, but at 6 weeks postnatal you're still very much in the healing phase (now recognized as the 4th trimester).
“When you feel you are ready” presumes that you know what you should be looking for in your body.
Which signs you need to be aware of, so you can run without adding extra stress on your pelvic floor.
(No-one wants aches and pains showing up, leaking or getting injured.)
I get it- I really do.
You want a solid answer.
A “not before 4 months postpartum” kind of rule.
Unfortunately running (or any high impact activity like jumping or skipping) are complex movements with lots of moving parts and the reality is: it Depends.
It’s a sucky answer, but the honest one.
There isn’t one blanket rule for everyone.
Everyone is different and every body has different needs.
A c-section mom will have a different path to recovery to a mom who had a vaginal delivery.
Questions to ask before you start running
The smart thing to do is ask lots of questions to check in with where your body is now and what you might need to do to run without injury.
There are a lots of things to consider:
Do you have a diastasis?
Do you have signs or symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse?
Do you leak (ever, at any time)?
Are you breastfeeding?
How was your labour and delivery?
How are your core and pelvic floor healing?
Do you have any hip or lower back pain?
How is your sleep and recovery?
Are you strong enough to run?
This last one is a big question.
Most people think of running as something you do to get fit, but you actually have to be really strong and stable to run without getting injured.
You need to get strong so you can run, not the other way around.
Let’s look at what running actually is.
Running at its most basic level, is jumping up and down on one leg.
Sure, you switch legs each time, but at the moment of impact, you land with your whole body weight, plus the impact forces, on one leg.
It is a high impact exercise, dynamic, exercise which puts a lot of strain on your body.
All those forces in your leg travel through one side of your body, up into your pelvic floor and are transferred into your upper body.
This means that you need good foot and ankle control to support your body as it lands.
Your hips need to be able to stabilize your body to avoid your knees rolling inwards, creating knee pain.
Your butt muscles (or glutes) need to be strong enough to push you forwards as you run, without putting extra strain on the pelvic floor.
(If your glutes are weak, your pelvic floor is the one to pick up the slack, and an over worked pelvic floor can lead to tightness which causes hip pain, lower back pain, and leaking.)
Your abdominal muscles (or your core) need to be strong to help stabilize your hips from the top, especially the transverse abdominals which are often weaken after pregnancy.
( Weak transverse abs cause a loss of hip stability and extra stress on your pelvic floor.)
If your hip dips down every time you land on one leg as you run, then your knees and lower back and pelvic floor are going to take a beating.
To sum it up you need:
· foot and arch strength
· strong glutes and core muscles
· the strength to keep your pelvis stable (side to side stability)
· Great alignment and running technique to avoid unfairly loading your pelvic floor.
How do you know if you are strong enough?
We can test you!
One simple but tough test I like to start with, is 1 leg calf raises.
Can you, without holding on to anything, keep your balance as you lift up onto your toes and lower back down again, 30 times? (I said need to be strong to run).
Make sure you test both legs- we are often stronger on one side.
If you can do this, without wobbling around, then you there are more tests you can do to assess your readiness to run.
If you are struggling with your balance, then start here.
Work on your foot arch strength, glute and core strength and hip stability.
You need to be patient when rebuilding your strength to return to running after having a baby.
When I coach mums, who don’t want to wait, but aren’t strong enough YET, I like to find a temporary replacement activity for them.
Asking “Why are you so keen to return to running?” and “What does it do for you?" can be helpful here.
Is it the cardio “high”?
Is it when you get your “me” time?
Is it for weight loss?
How can we get the same effect in another way for now?
(For example, for cardio lovers, I will often use an indoor rowing machine or spinning bike to get the heart rate without the added impact on your pelvic floor.)
Strength and stability are two key factors in returning to running after pregnancy, and that will happen at a different time for everyone.
6 weeks is too soon to have rebuilt your strength and stability enough postnatally (those hormones are still all over the place at this stage).
Some mums might be ready to start a Return to Running programme after 4 months, and others might not be ready to begin until 18 months or even longer.
This truly about strength rather than a length of time.