Returning to running postpartum can feel daunting. Even as an avid runner and physical therapist, I wasn’t really sure where to start after I had my daughter last summer. With the pressure of wanting to get ready for an upcoming race, I was very eager to get running again. I thought that I could jump back into running when I was cleared by my doctor, but I ended up with knee pain, secondary to tight hips and a weak core. After slowing down a bit and addressing my deficits, I was able to get back to running and I am currently training for a marathon this spring. Below are my tips for how to make your successful postpartum return to running.
Return to running slowly. It is hard not to try and jump back into a pre-pregnancy running routine. There are a lot of hormonal and physiological changes that come along with pregnancy, and it is important to give the body time to heal. Assuming no complications during birth, most health care providers will release women to return to running six weeks postpartum. Though this may be ok for some individuals, it is very important to make sure that your body is ready for high-impact activity like running. Often aiming for a return to running three to six months postpartum is ideal. Consider visiting a pelvic health physical therapist prior to returning to running to make sure that your pelvic floor is appropriately strong. Some other ways to check your running readiness include being able to perform the following exercises without an increase in pain, heaviness, or incontinence: 10 single-leg squats on each side, 10 forward bounds, 10 hops on each leg, single-leg balance for 10 seconds, and walking for 30 minutes. If you can’t complete these exercises, you probably aren’t ready to run yet. If you find that you are strong enough, start with a walk/run program initially, focusing on one to two minutes of running followed by two or more minutes of walking for up to 30 minutes total. Once this feels comfortable, increase the length of the running intervals until you can run comfortably without walking. From there, gradually increase your mileage. The general rule is to only increase mileage a maximum of 10% per week.
Strength train. Strength is one of the most important factors for a successful return to running. Weakness can often lead to injuries, so you want to be sure you have adequate strength. You can start with gentle core strengthening as soon as your doctor gives you the ok, which can be as soon as a couple weeks after birth. From there, it is important to slowly progress and add in full-body exercises. Especially for c-section moms, core strengthening is essential. After a c-section, the abdominal fascia is still only at 73% to 93% of its original tensile strength at seven months postpartum (Ceydeli et al. 2005). If you’re not sure exactly which exercises to start with, or how to progress them, physical therapy is a great place to start.
Managing breast feeding. If you’re a breast feeding mom, it can be really helpful to pump before you run, especially if you’re aiming for an hour or more of running. Also consider purchasing an extra supportive bra to keep things comfortable. Make sure that you’re getting enough calories. Breast feeding alone can burn an extra 500 calories a day, so make sure that you are appropriately fueling yourself for your day and for your running.
Run with your baby. It can be hard to find the time or child care to run. Bringing your little one along on training runs can be fun, but make sure you have the appropriate equipment, and your baby is developmentally mature enough. A jogging stroller with a 3-point harness is the safest choice. Also check with your pediatrician to make sure that your baby has enough head control, which is usually around six months of age.
If you do start your return to running and find that it is not going as smoothly as you had hoped, please reach out to Christie Clinic PT so that we can help!
In the Department of Physical Therapy, Olivia Martin, PT, DPT, provides comprehensive care for patients who require treatment in all phases of physical therapy. She provides preventative injury education, conditioning, and training, as well as treatment and rehabilitation. Olivia specializes in patients seeking care for orthopedic injuries or rehabilitation, Parkinson’s Disease, and running injuries.