When can I start running again?”
This is one of the most common questions I hear from postpartum mamas. I get it – I’ve been there. I remember being so anxious to move after Benji arrived. Running is so freeing – a great way to leave the house and get some fresh air and much needed alone time. But, I also remember trying to run at six weeks postpartum, and things just felt “off” (just my personal experience).
The truth is, the “when can I run again?” question can be tough to answer. The truth is…it depends. It has a much longer response than simply, “x weeks or x months after baby.” Every woman is different. But, we are talking MONTHS, not weeks. No matter how you birthed your child (vaginal or C-section), birth is a huge event. Your core and pelvic floor need time to recover, and tissue healing is a process. Our goal is not only to have a well functioning core + pelvic floor now, but thirty years from now.
Slow and Steady Wins the Race
Slow and steady is the way to go. I like the recommendation to treat yourself as if you’ve been injured. If you tore ligaments in your knee, you likely wouldn’t start running right after surgery. The same thing applies here. There is rest, rehab, physical therapy, and a progressive strength program to build strength and return to the activity you love. A slow and steady approach can get your body ready, reducing the risk of injury, knee, pelvis, and back pain, incontinence, and pelvic organ prolapse.
Timeline to Return to Running Postpartum
Recent Return to Running Guidelines released out of the UK recommend a return to running between 3-6 months postpartum, provided the woman has passed a specific set of criteria (more below), including a screening with a pelvic health physiotherapist.
From personal experience I felt a bit more comfortable towards the six month postpartum mark. There were a few things that really impacted my return:
- Exhaustion / life with a newborn
- Our bodies are already under a ton of stress caring for baby. Exercise is stress. We want to make sure you’re leaving enough time for rest and recovery from all the activities of mom life + workouts.
- Breastfeeding – Postpartum hormones are no joke.
- Core + Pelvic Floor Rehab with a Pelvic Floor PT
- The length of time to progress through a foundational strength based program
Note: If you are already past the 4-6 months postpartum mark and want to begin running, I still recommend seeing a Pelvic Floor PT and starting a postpartum specific strength training program.
Checklist: How to Know if You’re Ready to Start Running Postpartum
I love this mini-checklist from Jessie Mundell. I’ve also added to it, incorporating the guidelines I mentioned above.
- Solid base of strength and endurance in the core and pelvic floor.
- No incontinence (urine or bowel), prolapse/well managed prolapse, no heaviness/pressure/tightness in the pelvic floor.
- Effective breathing techniques and form to lift baby and weight.
- Consistent postpartum strength training workouts (1-3x/week) for at least 8-12 weeks.
- Diastasis recti is healed with good tension and density in the linea alba.
- Internal Assessment by a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist and they have cleared you for running.
- No pelvic or low back pain (especially when trying to run).
- No ongoing bleeding not associated with your monthly cycle.
I know, I know. It’s a lot. BUT, returning to running is no joke. And we want to try and eliminate the cycle of too much, too soon, and re-injury.
How to Progress Back to Running
When you are ready to start running, I recommend Jessie’s 4-R System for returning. First we start with incline, and then we progress to short sprint intervals before adding distance/time on flat.
Step 1: Incline Walking
- Progress up to incline AFTER you’ve been doing flat ground walking
- Outdoor up and down a hill or indoors on a treadmill.
- Lean forward slightly on the uphill portion, which should help get the upper body stacked over the lower body.
- Incline walking is tough! You will definitely get the cardio burn you’re craving.
Step 2: Incline Running (Sprint) Intervals
- Outdoors up and down a hill, or indoors on a treadmill
- Opt for grass if available
- Keep sprint time low, around 10-15 seconds, followed by a slow walk down the hill. Rest to a full recovery before repeating. A sprint is tough, so keep the interval time short.
- Rest for 2-4x as long as you sprint. For example, if you sprint for 10 seconds, rest for 30-40 (or until you’re ready).
Step 3: Flat Running (Sprint) Intervals
- Outdoors on grass or ground, or indoors on a treadmill
- Sprint time starts around 10-15 seconds, followed by walking slowly to recover fully.
- Rest for 2-4 times as long as you sprint for.
Step Four: Longer running
If short intervals have been feeling good (no pain, pressure, or leaking), then you may be ready for longer steady state running. You can continue to increase your interval or running time as long as it feels good on your body. Walk / recover as needed.
The Return to Running Postnatal Guidelines outline load and impact management testing, as well as strength exercises. Weakness in these areas of strength testing shouldn’t be considered a barrier for returning to running per se, but identity where you can focus your strength work.
Load and Impact Management Testing: You need to be able to complete the tasks below without leaking, pelvic “heaviness” or “dragging,” noticeable gap along the midline, bleeding, or pelvic girdle/low back pain.
- Walking – 30 minutes
- Single leg balance – 10 seconds
- Single leg squat – 10 reps/leg)
- Jog on a spot – 1 minute
- Forward bounds – 10 reps
- Single leg hop in place – 10 reps/leg
- Single leg “running man” – raise opposite arm and hip flexion, jump and switch – 10 reps/side
Strength Exercises: If you cannot complete the exercises below, do not worry! It takes time. The strength exercises below (as listed in the guidelines) are great to add to your postpartum strength training regime.
- Single Leg Calf Raise
- Single Leg Bridge
- Single Leg sit to stand
- Side lying abduction
Get your free copy of the guidelines HERE.
I know this is A LOT! But, taking the time to rest and recover, and follow a postpartum specific strength based program will help get you back on the trails. Need some support with a postpartum strength program? I’d love to help. Contact me here or reach out on social media and say hi 🙂
Feel good mama,