By: Sarah Schlichter, MPH, RDN
As a long-time runner, I'm familiar with the seasons of training. I’ve been through hard training seasons where I’ve felt great, as well as easier training seasons that have felt difficult. I’ve enjoyed time away from running and have been able to come back to it rather easily. I’ve trained for shorter and longer runs, but nothing could have prepared me for running after having a baby. Nothing changes you the way motherhood does.
I had my daughter in April 2018 and ran my first race (a half marathon) five months later. While five months may seem like ample “recovery” time to some, there is no blueprint for what life and exercise should look like after giving birth. While each person will have her own needs and unique circumstances, I can’t stress enough how important listening to your body is during the process of returning to exercise. Our bodies experience so much throughout pregnancy and delivery. It’s important to be patient and to support your body however possible. Sometimes that means rest, extra sleep, cuddles, or therapy. And other times, it means gentle movement.
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I started gradually adding in exercise in (aside from walking) around 10-12 weeks postpartum. Despite being cleared to exercise at 6 weeks postpartum, I knew I wasn’t even close to ready at that point.
Here are some of the tips that helped me mentally and physically ease back into exercise when I felt ready.
I started slower and lighter than I thought I should.
I remember my first “run” after welcoming my daughter. I felt robotic and like a visitor in my own body. It was a new body that I had to become comfortable with. To ease back into running, I started with 20 seconds of slow jogging, followed by 40 seconds of walking. I slowly built up to jogging for a minute straight, then a minute of walking. Within a few weeks, I had built up to a mile. The gradual increase was the perfect way to prevent discomfort and burnout.
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I focused on what I could do when I could do it.
Maybe I had six miles on the docket for training that day, but time and energy (or a mixture of both) only allowed for three. Short days were better than nothing! I had to change my mindset from not accomplishing my goal, to accomplishing something and getting out there. Maybe I could add miles onto my next run or plan to run on another day. Flexibility is key in motherhood.
At the same time, I knew making time for running was also very important to me. It helped me be a better mom for my daughter, so I did try to prioritize as much as I could.
I had to be realistic.
This was a key one for me that helped take some of the pressure off. While training for half marathons in the past, I might have had weeks where I was running between 40 and 50 miles. But as a new mom, that just wasn’t realistic (and honestly, didn’t sound too enticing, either). I learned to be honest with myself in how much time I really had to train, how long I could train for, and how soon I thought I was ready to sign up for a race. For me, that looked like somewhere around 15 miles a week (a far cry from 40) and running three days a week. One or two of those days was usually with the baby stroller because those runs wouldn’t have happened otherwise.
My longest run leading up to the half marathon was nine miles. In the past, I would have done a longer run, probably somewhere between 12-14 miles. But I faced reality and told myself that I could walk as much as I needed to during the race. I had run long distances before and my body would guide me. I learned to have trust in my body and in the unknown.
Be prepared at a moment's notice.
It wasn’t always feasible for me to plan the exact time I wanted to run, like I would have pre-baby. Instead, I had to become more spontaneous, and revolve it around baby’s schedule (doctor appointments, play times, nap times, feedings, etc.) I basically lived in my workout clothes when I wasn’t seeing clients. I had to be able to act quickly when I saw an opening, and that flexibility really helped me stay true to myself and my training goals.
Speaking of, I always had Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides ready to enjoy in a fruit smoothie after my run. It was an easy way to help support healthier joints!
I had to take the self-imposed pressure off.
You’ll always read about, see, or hear other new moms talking about how and when they returned to exercise. Or, what’s working for them that has you questioning why it’s not working for you. The comparison game is real and can be a source of mental anguish.
I had to learn to let go of all of that, including the self-imposed expectations and pressure that I was putting on myself for no reason at all. When I was able to do that and see exercise as a fun outlet rather than something I “had” to do to be a “good mom,” the whole experience changed. I actually looked forward to carving that time out and balancing exercise with my other full-time mom duties.
I think the best thing we can do as women is to embrace the new, life-changing transition of motherhood with all of its ups and downs. It’s not a time in life to focus on “getting our bodies back,” or getting right back into intense exercise.
It’s a time to rejoice in a new beginning, a new “normal,” but also finding the outlets that help you feel like your best self as a mom. For me, that was running, and I knew that when the time was right.