Updated: Oct 22, 2019
Have you ever walked in to start your class and found you have a post natal client with the “OK” to return to exercise, but you are struggling to strike the balance of caring for this new mother, and giving all of your clients a great exercise experience? We sat down with post natal expert and super-mum Kimmy Smith to get her hot tips on training post natal clients.
There is no “one-size fits all” rule when it comes to post natal exercise
All women are different. All women experience pregnancy differently and they recover from child birth differently both physically and emotionally. So what does this mean for you as in instructor? My first tip would be to check in with the mother and ask her how she is feeling, she will appreciate the attention and it will make you more comfortable in understanding her capabilities within class.
What is her energy level like and is she getting much sleep?
The first six months with a new born was the most fatigued I have ever been, but also when I was most motivated to get my body back. This combination left me feeling completely exhausted and drained of all energy most of the time.
We do a lot of our recovery and repair when we sleep so new mothers may recover from exercise at a slower rate because they are missing out on periods of deep uninterrupted sleep. Post natal exercise should leave the mother to feeling energised, but not exhausted or fatigued. I have found that a level of around 6/10 perceived exhaustion allows a mother to feel like she is working, but doesn’t add too much to the level of stress in her body.
Post natal exercise should:
1. Restore her strength and tone from the inside out. Pelvic floor and core stability are the primary focus followed by strength and tone built from that solid foundation.
2. Help her mental health by moving her body, getting out of the house and feeling healthy.
3. Strengthen her body in a functional way to give her the endurance to perform daily activities safely.
4. Set a foundation to build her fitness in a safe and positive way.
Has she been to see a Women’s Health specialist to check pelvic floor and core? If not, recommend that she does. The Australian Physiotherapy Association has a “Find a Physio” service on their website.
We interviewed pelvic floor expert, Lyz Evans of Women in Focus Physiotherapy who helped us understand the pelvic floor. Most women have a weakened pelvic floor due to pregnancy and child birth.The pelvic floor is a complex web of muscles, fascia and ligaments sitting deep within the pelvis spanning the base from the tailbone to the pubic bone.
The pelvic floor has 4 main roles in the female body:
1. To be a strong supportive structure within the pelvis preventing internal organs shifting or prolapsing.
2. To create a tight seal around the urethra and rectum to prevent incontinence from the bladder or the bowel (liquid, solid or gas).
3. To provide the sensation and muscle tone required for pleasure during sex.
4. Functions with the deep abdominal and other core muscles to provide stability for the spine, strength, and prevent injuries.
As a quick guide, post natal mothers shouldn't be doing any:
1. Exercises that require a ‘Valsalva maneuver (breath holding) e.g. clean and press squat.
2. Exercises with high impact in a vertical position such as skipping, jump box, star jumps, sprints.
3. Exercises that exert more force through the body than what the core strength can safely handle e.g. standing shoulder presses with weights that are too heavy.
Is she aware of any stomach separation or pelvic floor issues?
Almost every mother will experience some degree of stomach separation (or Rectus Diastasis) during her pregnancy. Stomach separation in a nut-shell is a separating of your abdominal muscles right down the middle of your belly at the tissue that joins your muscles, the linea alba. If a new mother has stomach separation it means that she will be weaker through her mid-section and core. She will be less stable performing any movement that requires balance, her posture may be affected and she also may experience hernias, pelvic floor dysfunction and pelvic pain.
The focus for new mothers should be on trying to recruit and strengthen the transverse abdominis (TA) which is the deepest layer of abdominal muscle and acts like a corset wrapping around the anterior and lateral abdominal wall.
This is best done by gentle toning exercises and avoiding any crunching or flexing movements. These types of movements may just strengthen the rectus abdominis in their stretched position which will actually increase the amount of stomach separation.
Does she have any injuries that you should be aware of?
Many new mothers suffer from lower back injuries due to poor posture and a weak core and glutes. They may also experience sore wrists from supporting the baby whilst feeding. Modify as you would other clients, with unloaded core exercises and front support in a quadruped position.
I hope these questions help you understand your post natal clients, next up are my top modifications and favourite exercises so stay tuned! I would love to hear your experiences training post natal clients so please leave a comment below!
Kimmy is an expert in post natal fitness and wellbeing. She is the founder of http://www.kimmysmithfit.com/ a fitness and wellness hub created to help all Mums feel beautiful, fit and strong. Kimmy is the author of the Fit Mummy Project - the Complete Online guide to Post Natal Fitness and Wellbeing. She is also a Mummy to two beautiful girls, a former professional athlete, a personal trainer, 200HR RYA Qualified yoga teacher and Barre teacher specialising in post natal health.
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