Rebuild strength in your core, back and shoulders to meet the demands of motherhood with these postpartum exercises from PT Nicole Chapman.
It is common postpartum to have pains in your back and shoulders – this is caused by postural changes due to lifting, changing, feeding and carrying. We often find ourselves in a hunched over position for a prolonged period which, combined with hormonal changes, can be the cause of great discomfort. In those first few months in particular, you will likely be doing a lot of carrying, rocking and feeding in a front loaded position – with the focus being on your baby’s needs and with less consideration on your own posture, stability and alignment.
The following postpartum exercises are designed to strengthen your core and posterior chain (the muscles that run down the whole of your backside of your body) – they are crucial in supporting everyday activities – picking something up off the floor, carrying, even sitting down. Not only is this fabulous for new mums, but also for anyone who may drive for long periods of time or work at a computer.
Disclaimer: These postpartum exercises are suitable from eight weeks postpartum, providing you have been given the all-clear to start exercising again by your GP or physio. Build up slowly and listen to your body. Refer to your GP or physio if anything doesn’t feel right.
Exercise safely in the winter
1. Glute bridge with isometric lat squeeze hold
Muscles targeted: glutes, hamstrings, quads, core, lats, shoulders
Reps: Aim to hold for 15 seconds – repeat 3 times
- Lie flat on your back, bend your knees keeping them hip-width apart and plant your feet on the floor. Rest your arms down by your sides.
- Take a deep breath in, then press through your heels, tuck your pubic bone towards your belly button, squeeze your glutes and raise your pelvis off the floor until your body forms a straight line from chin to knees, resting on your shoulders. Exhale as you engage the core, until it feels like you have a corset tightening around your spine, in 360-degree brace. Keep squeezing your glutes and breathing normally.
- Keeping your hips high, bring your shoulder blades in towards your midline clasping your hands and squeezing your shoulder blades together (this will feel great for your upper back!).
- After holding, release the clasp and bring your hands back by your side before returning to the start position with control.
2. Side plank with rotation
Muscles targeted: obliques, shoulders, back, glutes. One of my favourite moves for core strength!
Reps: Hold for 20 seconds on each side
- Lie on your left side with your forearm flat on the floor, bottom elbow lined up directly under your shoulder. Bend the bottom leg and rest the side of your knee on the floor.
- Inhale, then lift your hips off the floor as you exhale, rising with control while engaging your core, aiming to feel that corset-tightening, 360-degree brace. Raise your top arm straight above you, reaching for the ceiling.
- Lower your arm and rotate your core as you thread your top arm through the space underneath you, keeping your hips raised throughout. Then, unthread your arm and return to the starting position.
3. Four-point isometric hover
Muscles targeted: core, shoulders, back, chest – this will really help with endurance strength in your neck and shoulders whilst targeting those deep core muscles!
Reps: Hold for 15 seconds – repeat 3 times
- Start on all fours. Feet are hip-width apart and toes tucked under. Hands should be placed beneath the shoulders, knees under your hips. Maintaining this position, take a deep breath in as you lift the knees off the floor an inch. Exhale and engage the core, finding the 360-degree brace.
- Press the palms of your hands into the floor so your shoulder blades are activated and flattened against your back. Reset if you start collapsing and can no longer maintain this position. After holding, return to the start position with control.
4. Superman with frog leg squeeze
Muscles targeted: upper back (lats), shoulders, abdominals, glutes, erector spinae. The perfect move for improving posture.
Reps: Do 10 reps in total
- Lay on your front, nose touching the mat, with your elbows bent at a 90-degree angle. Your palms are resting down on the floor, an equal distance apart either side of your head. Externally rotate your hips, bend your knees, and bring the soles of your feet together in a frog leg position. This is going to focus the exercise into your upper back. Squeeze your glutes throughout.
- Inhale, bring your belly button in towards the spine. As you exhale, feel the air create the corset tightening feeling around your core, then lift the upper back as high as you can off the floor. Keep your head and neck in a neutral position keeping your gaze to the floor. Contract your shoulder blades together and hold, before slowly lowering the chest back down to the floor.
5. Elevated plank to child’s pose
Muscles targeted: core, shoulders, back, glutes, hamstrings, calves, neck, triceps – the full monty!
Reps: Repeat 10 times in total
- Place your hands on a bench or chair that is secure against a wall. Make sure your hands are directly underneath your shoulders. Walk your feet out until your body is in a straight line (shoulders, hips, heels) squeeze your bottom and keep your feet hip-width apart. Press your hands into the elevated surface to activate your shoulders.
- Bend your knees, crouching lower to the floor, while keeping your hands on the elevated surface so your arms begin to lengthen above your head. Ensure your back remains flat. Keep crouching until your hands, head, shoulders and back are in a straight line. Maintain a neutral neck here, keeping your gaze to the floor. Hold, then push your toes into the floor and return to start position.
Muscles targeted: Deep core muscles (lower and upper abdominals), chest, upper back (lats), triceps. A great postural exercise!
Reps: 10 reps in total
- Lay on your back and bring your knees up to a 90-degree angle – this helps to target your core and support your lower back. Hold a weight of your choice (e.g. dumbbell, kettlebell or similar) with both hands, starting with your arms straight and above your chest.
- Then, extend your arms above your head, lowering the weight down to tap the floor behind you – or to wherever your range of mobility allows.
- Inhale, then as you exhale, bring the weight back over your chest and towards your knees. Try to focus on your core here – imagine it’s your core that’s bringing the weight over your head.
To find out more about Nicole’s programmes and to view more of her postpartum exercises, visit nicolechapman.com and follow Nicole at instagram.com/iamnicolechapman.