Postpartum Exercise Routine

If you've recently given birth, you'll likely feel overwhelmed and exhausted for the majority of those first few weeks and months. But at the same time, you're likely itching to get back to exercising regularly, especially if you were active before and during your pregnancy. You may have goals to get your pre-pregnancy body back, or you may just want to be able to do something to feel like your old self again.

While it's common for doctors to clear women to exercise at six weeks postpartum whether they had a vaginal or cesarian delivery, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, it's usually safe to exercise as soon as a few days after delivery, if you feel ready. However, it's always a good idea to consult your doctor before getting started, especially if you had a c-section or other complications. If you're experiencing postpartum incontinence and are self-conscious about the idea of urinating during your workout, it may put your mind at ease if you wear good underwear and a pad in the beginning.

The following is a four-day postpartum exercise plan that was originally designed by Olympic gymnast Mihai Bagiu, who is certified as a personal fitness counselor by the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America. Baglu initially created the plan for his wife after she gave birth and he has given us permission to publish his workout plan here.

1

Day 1

You can do this routine with two-pound ankle weights or without.

  1. Leg Extensions (2 sets of 40)
    Lay on your back, bend your legs and extend them to vertical. You should feel this in your quad, front of the thigh, and around your knee.
  2. Leg Curl (2 sets of 40)
    Stand next to a wall on a phone book or similar object for a bit of height. Hold the wall, but don't lean, and bend a leg to your butt. Extend it all the way, with your foot flexed. You should feel this burn the hamstring/back of thigh and butt.
  3. Adductors (2 sets of 40)
    Lay on your back, legs extended vertically and together. Open legs to straddle and close as much as you can so that you feel it working your inner thigh muscles.
  4. Abductors (2 sets of 20)
    Lay on your side with both legs bent slightly. Lift your top leg slightly above horizontally and back down. Make sure the foot of the leg you are lifting is straight versus turned out or in. You should feel this on the outside of your thigh.
  5. Calves (2 sets of 40)
    Stand with your feet together (you can hold the wall if you like) and go to tiptoe (or as high as you can). Make sure when you raise your heels that your ankles stay in line, not collapsing in or out. You should feel this in your calves.
  6. Toe Taps (2 sets of 50)
    While standing, tap one foot at a time, lifting your toes. You should feel this in your shin.
  7. Lunges (2 sets of 20)
    While standing, step back with each leg, one at a time. Make sure you don't turn out the foot of the leg that is in front and make sure you touch the knee of the leg you step behind to the floor. Alternate each leg. You'll feel this in your thighs.
  8. Crunches (50)
    Lay on your back and bend your knees and arms on your stomach. Lift your head and shoulders enough to clear the floor. Try not to use your neck/head to help you lift.
2

Day 2

This is an easier session for the second day.

  1. Crunches (2 sets of 20)
    Lay on your back and bend your knees and arms on your stomach. Lift your head and shoulders enough to clear the floor. Try not to use your neck/head to help you lift.
  2. Crunches with leg lift (2 sets of 20)
    Get in the same position for crunches, but extend your legs so that your legs are a little more than slightly bent. As you crunch, lift one leg, alternating one leg per crunch. You'll feel this in your lower abdomen, as well as near your ribs.
  3. Reverse crunches (2 sets of 15)
    Lay on your back in the crunch position and lift your legs off the floor. Lift your knees toward your chest, lifting your butt off the floor. You'll feel it in your lower abdomen.
  4. Crunches with torso action (2 sets of 10)
    A) In crunch position, cross your right leg over your left with your leg turned out. Put your left hand behind your head. Now, crunch to turn and lift your torso so your left arm reaches to your right knee and back down. B) Keep your left arm behind your head. Cross your left leg over your right. Now lift your torso to the outside and crunch toward your left knee. A+B = 1 set; repeat on the opposite side.
3

Day 3

The third day is focused on your arms. You can use 3-pound weights or lift something else to do these.

  1. Bicep curls (2 sets of 40)
    Place your arms at your side, fully extended. Lift your hands so the elbow is fully bent (palms up on the hand and wrists straight). You'll feel this in your bicep and perhaps your wrists, whether you sit or stand.
  2. Tricep extensions (2 sets of 25)
    One arm at a time, lean on the couch so that your hips are at a 90-degree angle, your back is straight and your arm is at your side so that it's horizontal. Keeping your elbow to your side, bend it to vertical and back up (sort of a pumping action). You'll feel this on the back of your arm.
  3. Hammer curls (2 sets of 20)
    Stand with arms to the side, curl your arms while bent to a 90-degree angle, and keep wrists straight (palms in) with your elbows to your side. Do both arms at the same time. (You'll feel this again in your bicep.)
  4. Overhead tricep extension (2 sets of 20)
    Put your arms overhead with your hands together. Bend your elbows so your hands go behind your head and extend to vertical. You'll feel it behind your arms again.
  5. Lateral, front, rear deltoid lifts (1 set of 20 for each exercise)
    A) With your arms to the side, lift straight to horizontal to your side.
    B) Lift one arm at a time from your side to horizontal in front of you.
    C) Slightly bend your legs and bend over to have your arms down to start. Lift them to the side and horizontally. You'll feel this in your back and back of arms.
  6. Shoulder presses (1 set of 20)
    Bend your arms so your hands are by your shoulders and extending to vertical. You'll feel it on top of your shoulders.
4

Day 4

Chest and back exercises for the final day.

  1. Push-ups (2 sets of 10)
    Get in a push-up position, bend your knees and keep your arms a bit wider than shoulder-length apart and higher than your shoulders. (In other words, don't put them even with your shoulders.) Keep your back and hips straight and go down as far as you can without losing your form.
  2. Arm "Rows" (2 sets of 20; you can use a 10-pound weight)
    Lean over the couch in the same position as the tricep exercise from Day 2. Pump your arm from straight down to bent. You'll feel this in your bicep and shoulder.
  3. Incline Presses (2 sets of 20, with a 5-pound weight in each hand)
    With pillows up against the couch, create an incline and lean against it with legs in front of you. From your hands bent by your shoulders, press up to a vertical position and bring your hands together. You'll feel this in your shoulder.
  4. Bent-Over "Rows" (2 sets of 15, with a 5-pound weight in each hand)
    Sit on the couch and lean over your legs with your chest resting on your legs. With your hands on the floor, lift your arms out to your sides with a slightly bent elbow. You'll feel this in your back.
  5. "No-Name" (2 sets of 20, while holding a 5-pound weight)
    Lay on the floor with your arms over your head and both hands holding the weight. Lift your arms to vertical and back down.
  6. Crunches with leg lift (1 set of 30)
    Get in position for crunches, but extend your legs so that they are a little more than slightly bent. As you crunch, lift one leg, alternating one leg per crunch. You'll feel this in your lower abdomen as well as near your ribs.

A Word From Verywell

In addition to the above routine, it's also safe to begin incorporating walking and light cardio (such as jogging) once you get clearance to exercise from your doctor. It's important to bear in mind how much time you've taken off and ease back into a routine slowly rather than trying to jump back into long sessions.

Additionally, it's highly likely your pelvic floor muscles weakened during pregnancy and delivery. Re-strengthening those muscles is a key part of returning to exercise safely to avoid injury. Talk to your doctor and see if they can recommend a pelvic floor physical therapist to give you a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

In any case, be sure to consult with your healthcare provider before beginning any kind of postpartum exercise routine, and definitely stop and communicate any issues such as bleeding brought on by exercise. Remember to also drink water to thirst and be sure to consume plenty of healthy snacks, especially if you're nursing and thus needing to replenish additional calories.

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Article Sources

  1. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Frequently Asked Questions: Labor, Delivery, and Postpartum Care. Exercise After Pregnancy. July 2019.


  2. USA Gymnastics. Archived bios: Mihai Bagiu. July 24, 1996.