These 5 Tests Can Tell You Whether You’re Ready To Run After Giving Birth
But postnatal physical therapists now say that might be too soon to return to something high impact like running.
''A lot of women see their healthcare provider, have that six-week check and are told they are fine and can go back to running, and then they're either getting injured or they'll pick up injury later in life as a result,” says women's health physical therapist Emma Brockwell, co-author of Returning to Running Postnatal Guidelines. “I don't think there's any consideration for allowing them to rehab their bodies back to impact over a longer period of time.”
Because running puts three to four times your bodyweight through your system with every step, pounding the pavement again too soon can lead to musculoskeletal pain, urinary incontinence, and pelvic organ prolapse. Although six weeks used to be the standard waiting period, experts now advise only introducing runs gradually once you’ve passed a series of checks—which usually doesn’t happen until three to six months after delivery.
“Your body has changed dramatically. Lots of muscles have become weak, and like any other major life-changing injury, the body needs time to get back to a place where it's ready to take that impact,” says Brockwell.
Make sure you can pass these five checks before you hit the road.
1. Do you have any of these symptoms?
Although it’s best to see a pelvic floor specialist, women can screen themselves by checking for these symptoms:
- Urinary or fecal incontinence
- Urinary or fecal urgency that is difficult to defer
- Heaviness or a bulging feeling in the pelvic area
- Lower back or pelvic pain
- Decreased abdominal strength and function
If you’re experiencing any of these—or just general discomfort—then your body still needs more time to heal.
2. Is your body ready for impact?
Before launching back into running, it’s best to test your body with less impactful exercise. Can you do each of these without pain, heaviness, dragging, or incontinence?
- Walking for 30 minutes
- A single leg balance for 10 seconds
- Jogging in place for one minute
- Hopping in place
- Forward bounds
Assess whether you feel comfortable walking, swimming, or cycling to gauge your strengths and weaknesses. “Do some low-impact exercise for a good few weeks and regain some of your strength,” suggests Brockwell.
3. Are your key muscle groups strong enough?
Brockwell recommends starting a strength program from week one postpartum but keeping it super light in the beginning. This could be gentle Pilates and bodyweight-only exercises like squats and lunges. Weights can be added in gradually around three to six weeks. (But if lifting weights is painful at all, then hold off a little longer.)
“It's about constantly checking in and listening to your body to ensure that it's tiring, but not hurting, as you're doing these exercises,” says Brockwell.
In order to ensure key muscle groups are prepared for running, you should be able to do 20 reps each of these exercises:
- Single-leg calf raise
- Single-leg bridge
- Single-leg sit to stand
- Side-lying leg raises
Also crucial? Pelvic floor exercises.
“'Initially, it's just about 'little and often' whether you're lying on your side or sitting down and feeding baby. Over time, it is about trying to do the pelvic floor exercises in an upright standing position, which is more relevant to running. The ideal would be to make sure that you're able to do a 10-second hold, for 10 reps while standing,” says Brockwell.
4. Are you rested enough?
Rest and sleep are imperative to recovery—yet a baby can lead to months of sleepless nights. “Women need to ask themselves whether they are having enough rest to meet the demands of running. Also fueling well and hydrating well,” says Brockwell.
Are you constantly dragging and feel like you need caffeine to function? Then your body won’t be able to handle the physical stress of running. Sleep deprivation in athletes is associated with increased injury risk, lower general health, and increased stress. Sleep loss can also reduce muscle repair following exercise.
5. Do you have the right gear?
While you might spend a lot of time worrying about what your baby will wear every day, don’t forget about yourself. If possible, get a personally-fitted sports bra that offers support rather than compression to increase comfort. A growing range of maternal activewear brands like Sweat & Milk sell supportive leggings and nursing tops.
Feet can grow during pregnancy, so your older shoes may no longer fit correctly. Get advice on supportive footwear from a running shop.
“It's these little things that can make such a difference to your integration back into running and make it so much more comfortable,” says Brockwell.
And if you are considering running with a stroller, then use a purpose-made one with a five-point harness for the baby, a fixed front wheel, hand-operated brakes, rear wheel suspension, pneumatic tires, three wheels, and a wrist strap. BOB and Thule are both commonly recommended brands. (Though note that running with a stroller isn’t recommended until baby is between six and nine months old to protect their neck and spine.)
Your next steps
Even if you pass all these tests, you still need to take a gut check. “Even for women who haven't got symptoms, childbirth will still have been quite stressful to the body. So it's a case of [asking yourself], Have I gained enough strength to return back to running?” says Brockwell.
Once you do feel ready, begin with a progressive walk-to-run program: Start with brisk walking with intervals of one or two minutes of running at an easy pace. Gradually build up the amount of running you’re doing with longer and longer intervals as your body feels ready.
Continue to pay attention to how you feel, and pull back or stop running altogether if you experience heaviness, dragging, incontinence, or moderate to severe pain. Mild musculoskeletal pain (no more than a three out of 10 on the pain scale) which settles quickly after a run is okay.
And to make sure you’re getting enough rest to recover properly, boost your sleep quota by fitting in naps around your baby’s sleep schedule. And be sure to rehydrate properly (especially if you're breastfeeding).
Running can be a great mental health tool for new parents, but waiting until your body is ready will make sure it doesn’t backfire.
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