Contributed By Alicia Ferriere, DPT, PRC
Returning to exercise is one hurdle postpartum, returning to running is another. Running requires a lot from the body. Cardiovascular stress aside, running requires you to respond to gravity pulling down on your joints at 4-8x your body weight. It requires your muscles to be explosive while controlling high amounts of torsion going through your body. Running outside requires you to respond to your environment smoothly, without tripping or falling. As postpartum women return to running, it is important to take steps to get there safely to minimize injury down the road.
Basic mechanics of running and jumping
Let’s break this down into basics without getting too complicated. Running consists of transferring your weight from one foot to the other with a slight flight phase in between. That flight phase is what differentiates it from walking. Flight is also what makes running more impactful on your body. You’re essentially hopping from one foot to the other repeatedly. Now, depending on run form and speed, the amount of force going through your joints varies. Regardless, if you’re performing any sort of “run” you’re putting increased load through your joints. There is also increased torsion that is going through your body with each step. Without getting heavy into biomechanics, you need to have control over that rotation to prevent injury with the increased load of running.
What does this mean for your body?
Both pregnancy and labor/ delivery change the body in different ways. Simply being pregnant can put you in a posture that over-lengthens the abdominal wall and shortens hip flexors. Delivering a child can mean some sort of trauma either to the pelvic floor musculature or the abdominal wall. There is also increased elastin hormone running through your body which tends to make your ligaments a little looser. After discussing the force going through the body during running, it makes sense that we want to be as stable as possible to prevent injury when returning to running. If there was any trauma to your core or pelvic floor, you need to make sure that those muscles are properly working to ensure they will stabilize your trunk and pelvis during running.
Where to start
Start by making sure you can adequately work your abdominals, glutes and pelvic floor muscles. Start out with basic exercises such as breathing, and body weight squats. Start to build up some single leg stability by practicing single leg squats or lunging. You also want to build stability in the core through movement. You can try anything from dead bugs to 3D planking. The important part is to feel that you can use the muscles that have previously been put in a poor position to work or even damaged.
Return to plyometrics and jumping
Once you feel confident that your muscles are along for the ride and strong, you want to start to introduce plyometrics back into your body. A great way to start out postpartum is to begin on your hands and knees in a pike position, and practice jumping from here. Be sure to incorporate different directions and transition from double leg to single leg. Once this gets a little easier, introduce light jumping. You want to get your body used to stabilizing against increased gravitational force. You can progress all of this by introducing running drills and bounding before going into your first light run or even walk/run. As with any activity, you want to build your endurance gradually.
When returning to any activity postpartum, it is important to be kind to yourself! Allow proper time for healing and retraining of your muscles. Pregnancy and delivery does a lot to your body! Try not to compare yourself to your pre- pregnancy level of fitness right after delivery. It’s amazing to have goals in mind, but just make sure you give yourself enough time to achieve those goals safely!