This is one of the most common questions that I hear from moms. Many of them have been told that they can start running again at a specific time such as 6 months or a year postpartum. As someone who loves to exercise, I can completely relate to the moms who feel lost as to what to do while they’re waiting for the “recovery period” to pass.
The problem with a timeline-based approach is that no woman, no pregnancy, and no delivery is the same. We need to provide individualized guidelines for returning to activity.
Unlike walking, running involves landing with one’s entire bodyweight on one leg at a time. This impact is asymmetrical, so our muscles need to be balanced left to right. The impact is also attenuated by a smaller area: one leg instead of two.
When we run, the forces that are put on our bodies are equivalent to about 6 times our body weight. The body has to quickly coordinate muscles to turn on and off in order to manage the impact of each step and then propel ourselves forward.
Add breath control, arm swing, and torso rotation and you suddenly realize that running is an activity that is more complex that most people appreciate.
Sprinters need all of this to happen very quickly: muscles turning on and off in a choreographed way, never missing a beat. Distance runners require repetition: their systems have to work just as reliably at 10km as they do at 10 metres.
All that being said, running is a fantastic way to exercise. It’s inexpensive, involves the whole body, and is fun.
I’ve put together some guidelines for my patients to consider before they’re ready to go back out and run. If you’re unsure or you have questions after reading this post, please contact me! I’d be happy to help.
The first thing to consider is if you feel ready. If you’re apprehensive or unsure; if you get pain or discomfort with other activities such as walking or hiking; then your body’s telling you that it’s not ready yet.
If you’re experiencing symptoms with other activities, then those need to be addressed first. These include:
Running should be enjoyable! Many people will tell you that all mothers leak when they run, but that simply isn’t true. A pelvic health physiotherapist can help to get your body ready before challenging it with the demands of running.
Do you clench when you run? What about when you walk? Do you swing your arms and rotate your torso, or do you grip your abs?
Running is a cardiovascular activity and we need a constant supply of oxygen! The diaphragm – the breathing muscle – sits at the top of the abdominal cavity and it needs space to fully contract and expand.
My favourite resource for positioning and breathing for runners is Julie Wiebe on YouTube. Check out some of her videos and compare her ideas to your natural habits.
Before going for a 5km run, first train your body from the ground up. This will start in a different place for each person, depending on where your body is at. If you’re not sure where you’re at after having a child, consult a pelvic health physiotherapist to get assessed.
First you need to have breath control and be able to consciously contract and relax the pelvic floor lying down. There should be no symptoms before moving on.
Next, move into a seated position or on all fours (hands and knees). Contract and relax the pelvic floor, have awareness of your breath. Try lifting an arm or a leg slowly and then quickly. There should be no symptoms before moving on.
Then go into standing, again starting with both feet on the floor and then lifting one foot or arm. Integrate the awareness of the breath and the pelvic floor during every day activities like picking up your baby.
Does it seem like we’re going really slowly? Yes! That’s exactly right.
From there, we can go into activities such as short walks, long walks, and hikes.
If you can go for a strenuous hike without symptoms and with proper breathing and coordination of the pelvic floor, then I’ll say that you can go for a run!
If you have symptoms when you try running, take a step back. Allow your body to function properly in less strenuous activities before trying again.
Running is a great activity and can be a good way to get outside, spend time with friends, or just clear your mind.
Listen to your body and ask a physiotherapist to help you run without symptoms!
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