I’ll never forget the joy (and relief) I felt when I saw the finish line.
After 6+ months of training, thousands of inner voice pep-talks, “You’ve got this, keep going. You’ve got this, keep going…”, and 13 hilly miles, I was there.
I’d done it.
Crossing that finish line I locked eyes with my mom. She smiled. As a runner herself, she knew what I was feeling.
After all those miles I finally understood what the veteran runners were feeling when they talked about the “runner’s high”.
I had it.
It felt so good.
After having my daughter I craved that feeling again. I wanted to have a workout that made me feel alive. I was desperate to feel like my old self again. I just wanted to get back to the stuff I loved – feeling strong.
So I get it. I get why you want to get back into running. You love it. You love the challenge. You love the energy.
That’s why I want to help you get back into it – safely.
Whether you had your baby 6 weeks ago or 6+ years ago and you want to get back into running, here are 7 steps to help make that happen.
1. Rest & Recover First
The first thing you’ll want to do is rest and let your body recover.
I know, I know. You’re thinking rest? What’s rest?! Ha!
If you’re newly postpartum you might feel like you’re barely surviving and in need of a nap. Constantly
Which is one (big) reason why we want to give your body some space and time to heal on its own before you tie up your runners.
Your OB or doc may have given you the greenlight to exercise at 6-ish weeks postpartum, but that doesn’t mean your body is actually ready for such a high impact, high intensity challenge like running that soon.
I don’t recommend my clients even think about returning to running until they’re at least 5 months postpartum.
(That may seem like a long time to wait, but hang in there. More on why this is important in a sec. – and how you don’t have to just sit around waiting for the 5+ month timer to go off).
And, if you’re breastfeeding, it may be worth considering holding off until your little one weans. You still have a hormone cocktail going on in your body that can make you more prone to injury. And, honestly, your boobs may feel uncomfortably huge and leaky if you try running.
This isn’t to say that you can’t run while you’re breastfeeding, these are simply some things to consider, and a personal preference that some moms make depending on how they (and their body) feel.
This may not be what you want to hear. You may be getting all fidgety in anticipation of running again and me telling you that you should wait is not the best news.
I hear you.
The thing is, this is temporary.
This moment in time is so short in the grand scheme of things.
And how you choose to treat your body (and self) right now can impact you for the rest of your life.
There’s no rush. Take your time. Recover. Rest (as best you can). Enjoy your tiny human.
With the right strategies you can run soon enough. I promise.
Just give yourself the time and tools to help your body heal before you challenge it again.
(More on what those tools should be down below).
2. Go See a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist or Physical Therapist
It still amazes me that seeing a pelvic floor physiotherapist isn’t standard of care post-birth.
In my perfect world, every mom would be prescribed (government-funded) pelvic floor physio after giving birth.
All the clients I work with are referred to a physio because I know how imperative it is that we have a clear assessment of what’s going on with their core and pelvic floor – especially since you may not have any symptoms, but you could be dealing with some sort of pelvic floor dysfunction.
Or you could have symptoms and just figure that it’s a normal part of being a mom. (Chances are it isn’t!)
So before you dive into your Nikes please do yourself a favor and book an appointment with a pro.
They’ll do an assessment and be able to give you the go ahead to start running again.
3. Get Aligned & Breathe Like a Pro
Alignment and effective breathing are like the third string quarterbacks of postpartum health.
Not a whole lotta people talk about them.
Most people don’t really focus on them because they don’t know they’re actually crucial parts of the equation.
But when those first 2 quarterbacks get injured, that third stringer is suddenly the most important dude in the room.
Like those third string quarterbacks, your alignment and breath are key pieces of the puzzle that practically nobody realizes they need until they really need them.
And they can help you get safely back into running and decrease your chances of having to deal with things like:
:: Diastasis recti or prolapse symptoms that get worse when you try running
:: Feeling like you’re gonna pee yourself
:: Getting injured and sidelined (again and again)
So yes. Well it ain’t sexy, it’s pivotal to your success so let’s chat about it – starting with what optimal alignment actually is.
Alignment is simply how your body bits are stacked on top of each other.
There are 2 key things I want you to focus on – these are cues you can use when you’re sitting, standing, walking, running, working out, living your daily life. Seriously.
Incorporate these cues into your every day life and your body will get stronger, you’ll feel more supported, your floor and core will have an easier time healing, and they’ll be able to do their jobs properly (like stopping you from laugh-peeing).
Cue #1: Stack Your Ribs Over Your Hips
In order for your core and pelvic floor to work properly, your ribs need to be stacked over your hips.
This means that you want to avoid sticking your chest out, or caving into your ribs.
Cue #2: Untuck Your Booty
Your glutes are important muscles that help support your core and floor.
But if your butt is tucked under, your glutes can’t engage as well as they could – which means they can’t support your core and floor as well as they could.
So untuck your butt, my friend!
(Bonus: It’ll also help give you a rounder, firmer booty).
Now that your ribs are stacked and your booty is untucked, let’s talk about breathing.
Many moms I work with are either chest breathers or belly breathers. What we want is for you to actually become a rib breather.
Yes, you’re going to get some movement in your chest and belly when you breathe. But we want to put more emphasis on breathing through your ribs.
Check out this video to see why rib-breathing is the bees knee’s (and how to do it).
4. Rebuild & Restore Your Core + Pelvic Floor
Imagine that you have a dozen oranges in a paper bag.
You’re carrying that bag everywhere with you. To the gym, the grocery store, out to dinner, over to your friend’s house for coffee.
After nine months do you think that paper bag is in the same shape it was when you first started out?
Probably not, right?
It’s probably a bit (or a lot) weaker.
But, after noticing the paper bag start to weaken, if you put some duct tape on the bottom of it before continuing to cart those oranges around it’s going to be much stronger, and better able to handle all that weight day after day, right?
This is what it’s like when you do postpartum core and pelvic floor restoration exercises.
When you do specific core and pelvic floor strengthening exercises you help your body recover well and get strong enough to handle your day-to-day movements and more challenging exercises – like running.
So before you hit the track, make sure you start with some core and floor strengthening exercises.
It doesn’t matter if you had your baby 6 weeks ago, 6 months, or 6+ years ago. It’s never too late to strengthen your core and pelvic floor.
5. Get Your Strength On
It’s not just about your core and pelvic floor, though.
Running requires a lot of strength, stability, control and flexibility.
That’s why you’ll want to do some postnatal-specific strength training regularly (2-3 times a week) for 3+ months before you opt for the more demanding workouts – like running.
Remember that bag of oranges?
The same idea applies to the rest of your body.
Your body changed a lot during pregnancy. A lot. And now it’s working on regaining strength and feeling awesome post-baby.
That’s why postpartum-specific strength training is essential before you hop back into running.
We want your body to feel strong and ready to tackle the impact and load you’re asking it to tackle.
6. Sleep, Eat & De-Stress (As Best You Can)
Running isn’t easy.
It’s high impact, requires a ton of energy and calories to propel your body forward, it asks a lot of your entire system.
But I get it. You love it. You want to run. And that’s totally cool. I’m all for you doing what you love.
I simply want to remind you that – as a mom – you already have a ton of demands on your body (especially if you’re breastfeeding).
So if you’re getting back into higher intensity workouts – like running – we want to make sure you’re sleeping well (-ish, at least), eating enough and getting your zen on when you can.
The last thing we want to do is add more stress to an already over-stressed body.
So if it’s been one of those weeks, cut yourself some slack, go for a walk instead and get to bed early. You can try again tomorrow.
#MomLife is hard enough. Don’t be harder on yourself by assuming you’re lazy or unmotivated for not going for a run when you’re super tired and the last thing you ate was half a (pre-chewed by a toddler) granola bar 8 hours ago.
You’re not lazy. You’re a mom with half a dozen things to do before 7am.
Take care of yourself as best you can – especially if you’re diving into higher impact, higher intensity workouts like running.
The kinder you are to your body now, the happier, healthier runner you’ll be in the end.
7. Follow a Plan
You don’t expect your baby to go from not moving to just up and running one day.
They start by flailing their limbs around, then they crawl, then walk, and finally run.
We want to treat your postpartum return to running in a similar way – steadily progressing instead of just signing up for a 5K and hoping for the best!
You may have run a ton before baby but remember that your body went through all those ginormous changes in a short amount of time.
Things just aren’t magically back to where they were pre-baby. Your strength, stability and mobility is different right now and we need to be mindful of that.
So we need to treat your body with kindness and give it the tools and strategies it needs to get back into running safely.
And that means we need a plan.
While every mama is different, here’s a basic program I recommend you experiment with to work your way back into race form.
P.S. This is for every mama – regardless if you ran marathons pre-baby or you’re just getting into running now.
We all need postpartum recovery strategies and no mama is 100% ready to just dive back into running full-steam without any prep work first.
So yes – regardless whether you ran pre-baby or not – this is for you.
You may be itching to just dive back in, but remember that bag of oranges. Keep it in mind when you want to push yourself right away. It’s smarter to build up our duct tape before we give ‘er.
Stage One: Walking
Yup. Step one is all about walking – with great form and awesome breathing technique.
Stack those ribs. Untuck that booty. Enjoy a stroll daily or as often as possible for as long as your time and energy allows.
Stage Two: Hill Walks
Hills are an awesome place to head when you’re working on getting back into running.
You get the burn and heart rate pumping effect you’re probably looking for, it can help you get your ribs in the right alignment over your pelvis when you lean forward to climb, and your glutes get fired up and in on the action (strong glutes = stronger core and pelvic floor. Yes!).
Go find a hill or set that treadmill on an incline and start walking!
You can rest as long as you want at the top or bottom of the hill between climbs.
If you’re on a treadmill, walk for as long as feels comfortable on that incline, come back to flat and rest (you can either keep walking slowly or step off to recover fully) then go for it again when you feel ready.
Stage Three: Hill Run Intervals
Once you’ve mastered the hill walks, it’s time to take it up a notch and try some hill running intervals.
For this level you want to sprint up a hill at a rate that feels fast (but not impossible) for you, walk down, and rest at the bottom for as long as you like.
I recommend you rest for at least twice as long as it took you to run up the hill – so if it took you 10 seconds to run up the hill, rest for 20+ seconds at the bottom before you go again.
If you’re on a treadmill, the same rules apply. Sprint up the “hill”, then step off the machine and recover for at least twice as long as your sprint time.
Stage Four: Flat Sprints
Alright, you’re a pro at the hill run intervals. It’s time to graduate to sprints on flat ground.
Find yourself a nice flat stretch of grass or pavement and run fast (whatever fast means for you) for 10-15 seconds then stop and rest. Recover fully. Catch your breath. Then go again.
As you get stronger you can bump your sprint time up steadily (moving from 10-15 seconds, to 15-30 seconds, to 30-45 seconds, and so on).
If you’re on a treadmill, go for your sprint then step off and recover at the side between sets.
Again, I recommend you rest for at least twice as long as your sprint time was (so if your sprint was 15 seconds, rest for 30+ seconds).
Stage Five: Go Steady
Look at you moving on up to the next level 😉
:: Feeling good and strong
:: Not getting any pain or symptoms (like pressure in your pelvis or vagina or the urge to pee)
:: Honestly feeling ready (huge emphasis on honestly)
Then it’s time for the next level.
You can start running at a pace that feels good for you for longer amounts of time – this is where we start working up to longer distances.
This doesn’t mean you go from flat sprints to running a 10K.
Work your way up gradually. Pay attention to how your body feels. And before you know it, you will get to that 10K (or more!)
You might be curious…
How many sets or intervals should you be doing at each stage?
However many feels good for you.
There’s no set plan here. We’re just experimenting and working with the time and energy that you have.
Start small and work your way up to more sets of the climbs and sprints as you feel stronger.
How long should you stay in each stage?
How do you feel?
How is your body responding?
What does your physiotherapist say?
How do you feel the next day (or two)?
Do you feel ready – not just mentally, physically as well (be honest 😉 ) – to dive into the next stage?
I can’t give you a specific answer because your body will need something different from every other mama’s body.
I know that’s not what you want to read so here’s my basic guideline: Spend at least – at least – 2 weeks in each stage and definitely up to 4-6 weeks in each stage if that’s what’s right for your body.
You can also spend less time in some stages and more time in others. It all depends.
Pay attention to the signs and symptoms your body is giving you.
Pay attention to your energy and mood.
Pay attention to what your physiotherapist or doctor is telling you.
Remember – This Isn’t Forever
You’re probably thinking, “Well that’s a ton of stuff. Do I really need to do all of this, Jen?!”
My answer? Absolutely.
If you want to heal well and help your core, floor and whole body recover from pregnancy and birth, absolutely.
If you’d rather get back into running safely, instead of rushing in and risking injuring yourself, absolutely.
If you’re planning on having more kids and you want to feel as good as possible during your next pregnancy, absolutely.
If you’re not interested in dealing with back pain, peeing yourself, or making your diastasis, prolapse, or other pelvic floor and core issues worse, absolutely.
The truth is that I can’t force you to do anything.
It’s your body. Your choice.
But I can encourage you with the simple truth that, if it were me, knowing what I know, these steps are without a doubt worth my time.
Yes. It’s not easy.
Yes. It’ll take more time and energy and effort doing it this way.
But at least this way you know you’re going to get the result you want – being able to get back into running without injuring yourself or worrying about how it’ll impact your body (now or in the future).
The bonus is that, by taking these steps, not only will you be able to get back into running, you’ll also feel awesomely strong and confident.
You want to feel like yourself again.
You want to be able to do the things you used to love to do without worrying about issues creeping up.
Here’s your chance.
Run with it.
(Pun intended 😉 ).
P.S. Did you like this post? Please share it with your mom friends. This message needs to get out there – yes, we can get back into the things we loved pre-baby – like running. We just need to take some essential steps to get there safely (instead of diving in head first and hoping or the best.) Thank you for spreading the word!
Hi Jenna, first off I love your blog! It’s been my go to read whilst breastfeeding 😀 I had a couple of questions – I am not a runner but I am a cyclist – what’s your opinion on getting back on the bike? I am not in a rush and keen to recover as best as I can by strengthening my core and taking my time but healed undercarriage aside is there any reason not too?
In terms of hill walking is better to baby wear or push a stroller in terms of body alignment?
Jenna Dalton says
Hey Natalie! Thank you for the love and for being a loyal reader – I love that you’re using baby boob time to learn how to help yourself recover and get back into it 🙂
Okay, so first things first, cycling is similar to running (and any other athletic-y thing) in that you want to rest & recover, rehab, then re-train so that you minimize your chances of getting injured and maximize your chances of feeling great on your bike. So if I were in your shoes I’d treat it just like running – start with the rest and recovery early postpartum, then dive into the rehab-y stuff, then go into re-training with the mindset that you’re a beginner. I know you’re not, you’re a pro. But remember that your body just went through a lot and it isn’t the same body that logged all those miles on the bike pre-baby. You can get back there, we just want to take it easy from the start to minimize your chances of having to go back to the rehab phase. Make sense?
So if you’re at the re-training phase, get on your bike. How does it feel? Start slow – a gentle ride around the block even. Pay attention to how you feel during, right after, hours after, the next day. Be mindful of any issues coming up or getting worse. Be mindful of your form and how sitting a certain way on the seat or having your hands a particular way on the handlebars impacts the rest of your body and how you feel.
But there’s no reason to not bike. We just want to be smart about getting you back on that bike in a way that supports your body right now. Cool?
And to answer question #2 – I like strollers for hill walking better simply because it actually often helps get moms in better alignment (we tend to naturally stack our ribs over hips and untuck our butt when we’re pushing a stroller uphill) versus babywearing which can make use want to slouch our shoulders and tuck our booties. So if stroller is an option, go for that!
Was that helpful? Any follow-up questions?
Thanks for this post. I found out about it because my pelvic floor physiotherapist recommended it. I’ve read it many times over the past year as I have needed to heed your advice to be patient! At first the running steps seemed a bit counterintuitive from my previous running experience (I would never have done hill training or sprints before the steady running) but I can now confirm that the approach has been a lot easier on my body (and a lot less boring than doing slower intervals!). Hopefully I will be able to do my first post-baby race soon, but for now my big goal is to be patient, follow my body’s lead, and to focus on the gradual improvements I’ve made rather than getting frustrated. Your blog has helped me focus on the fact that all of our journeys are different, which is a necessary mindset when I see lots of other friends running races much earlier post-partum than me!
Jenna Dalton says
This is the best!! Thank you so much for sharing, Mic. I know it’s frustrating and hard, but your patience will pay off tremendously and you WILL get there. I can tell you’re being smart and making progress while staying mindful. Keep going! And keep being proud of the progress you’ve already made so far ❤️
Thank you so much for this post, I’m a new mama and so needed this information and reassurance to ease back into running. So appreciate it!
Jenna Dalton says
You’re so welcome, Amy! Enjoy getting back into running 🙂
Heidi Tessmer says
Jenna, you are such an inspiration and I always learn something new from you. Thank you so much for all your insight and education!
Jenna Dalton says
What a lovely message! Thank you so much, Heidi ❤️ I’m so glad you always learn something new. That’s my goal – to help inspire and educate you.
I’ve started to get back into running with walk breaks postpartum but am noticing some minor pelvic pain while running but not after or with other activity. Is it advised not to start until there is no discomfort at all, or is some discomfort normal and will dissipate with time?
Jenna Dalton says
You definitely don’t want to keep running through pain or discomfort. Have you had the chance to see a pelvic floor physical therapist?
They would be able to do an assessment on you to see what may be going on.