This post is coming at you after months of planning to write it! I’m so happy to finally be able to share it with you and to also have a resource to send out to my postpartum friends and members who are nervous about getting back to working out after having a baby.
First things first, Orangetheory Fitness is an amazing option to help maintain and build strength and endurance postpartum. (You can check out more information on the workout and what to expect at your first visit on my FAQs post.) I’ve seen so many women (and men!) nervously start their first workout and improve so much over just a few months’ time. It’s so inspiring!
I always have so much to say on the subject of working out postpartum, and I really wanted to put all of my thoughts, tips, advice as a Certified Personal Trainer and Women’s Fitness Specialist, and experience in one place. This post is a little lengthy, so let’s get right to it!
First things first, make sure to get cleared by your doctor before embarking on any postpartum fitness journey. Every childbirth and postpartum recovery is different, so check in with your OB/GYN and make sure that they are comfortable with you participating in high-intensity workouts.
Second, if you are coming back to a workout post-baby, it is vital that you communicate this to your Coach. (More on this below.) Also, if you are experiencing diastasis recti or other postpartum restrictions, it is imperative that you include this information. For now, skip over any exercise that might make the separation worse, like crunches, planks, and twists. You can always see a physical therapist or postnatal fitness specialist for moves to help recover that might include some like these.
And if you’re seeing this before the baby has arrived, be sure to read my previous post on How To Work Out at Orangetheory While Pregnant for tips on how to modify your current workout routine, too.
Here’s what I’ve learned and what I advise to new moms who are getting back to working out, specifically at high-intensity workouts like Orangetheory Fitness.
Acknowledge what your body went through and give it credit.
The biggest tip that I give women who are getting back to intense workouts postpartum is the most important! Ladies. You just grew a human being, endured hours and hours of labor and childbirth, and are probably extremely sleep deprived as a result of a nurse/eat, play, sleep, repeat schedule with a newborn or small infant. While most women are cleared to work out at six weeks postpartum, that still isn’t a lot of time when you think about what your body went through. Acknowledge that and give yourself the credit you deserve!
The first few workouts postpartum can be very humbling, and that’s okay. Every time I got down on myself or became disappointed at the level I found myself post-baby, I tried to remember what my body did instead of progress in my fitness levels during those 10+ months. The human body is truly amazing, and your end result of having a beautiful baby is better than any personal record you could have set during that time. Don’t forget that!
You are basically working without a core. Start small and build in every workout.
I didn’t know what I expected after childbirth, but I sure didn’t think that my core would be nonexistent. I was careful to avoid exercises that might put me at risk for things like diastasis recti during my pregnancy (and sometimes this is completely unavoidable!), but I had no idea that I wouldn’t even be able to get out of the bed or up from off of the couch without holding onto something to help get me up.
If you’re thinking about going from that to a difficult plank variation, you’re missing a lot of key steps in-between. I could barely hold myself steady enough for a reverse lunge during my first few workouts back, and that really threw me through a loop. It was so challenging to stay balanced!
Once I realized what I was working with, I focused on taking everything one step at a time and always listened for the modifications or options from the Coach. If that felt good, then I progressed.
Remember the regressions that you made while pregnant.
I’ve talked about how I went from a runner to a jogger and then a power walker to getting off of the treadmill completely and substituting the bike or strider while pregnant. I listened to my body in regard to what felt good as I got further along and slowly knocked off speeds to regress me from a runner on the treadmill to a strider for the cardio portions of each workout. Eventually, I substituted the strider or bike for the rower, too. I dropped to my knees for a lot of exercises, lowered my weights, used the bench, and simplified movements as time went by.
When coming back postpartum, I kept that regression in mind and had a goal to reverse the order to eventually get back to my runner-self who lifted heavier weights. But, that didn’t happen overnight. In fact, it took me a full year to get up to the speeds that I was at before I got pregnant and improve them. That’s right — a full calendar year. And I’m proud of that!
Ask for options when you feel like you need them.
Just like a working out while you’re pregnant, you’re going to need some modifications or options from time to time. Listen for when the Coach offers them, and if an exercise seems too difficult, ask for something similar that you can do instead because there is always an option.
While I’m not an Orangetheory Coach, I do know that they go off of the interactions that they’ve had with clients to know how to coach them. If you’re upfront with where you’re at and your fitness goals, they will offer options and corrections as much as you let them. The more you ask, the more they’ll understand that you like the direction and give more feedback. Of course, Coaches will correct you regardless, but the point in mentioning this is to never be afraid to talk to them about your goals and receptiveness for feedback in order to improve.
Start on your knees and progress.
Just like I mentioned dropping to a knee during pregnancy, start on your knees postpartum. For exercises that involve core strength for stability like push-ups, planks, side-planks, burpees (with push-ups), etc., start with the modified version on both knees or one knee for side work. It took me at least a month of consistent workouts to progress onto straight legs and be able to hold planks for more than a few seconds.
I remember the day that I was able to do a challenging ab exercise like v-sits, and that didn’t come until about five months postpartum. Things like Russian twists and anything involving weight or a medicine ball also took time for me to gain strength in my core before adding extra resistance on, too.
Start with bodyweight or lower weights than you did before pregnancy.
Since we’re on the subject of weights, think about the regression I briefly mentioned above and build from there. Before jumping into something like an ultimate or rolling burpee exercise (we know OTF loves these), think about simplifying the movement and dropping the weights first. If that feels good, then you can grab a light set of dumbbells and go from there.
What you don’t want to do is expect your body to lift the same weight that you did pre-pregnancy after taking almost a full year off from everything. Avoid straining by slowly building your muscles back and progressing little by little.
Speaking of weight, it’s not all about the scale.
While shedding the extra weight you think you may not need anymore is great, that’s only an added on bonus to working out regularly postpartum. More than anything, getting into an active routine again will be so good for every other reason than what the scale says.
Goals like gaining strength, endurance, power, and training for everyday things that you used to take for granted like taking the stairs, carrying groceries, or lifting a child all day are really just a start.
Looking back on what I was doing at OTF at ten weeks postpartum followed by my progress at five months postpartum makes me realize that little victories in each workout along the way is what it’s all about. More on this below!
Take it all one day at a time. Seriously.
This one is pretty self-explanatory, but I thought it would be best described with quotes from the posts I shared above while I was collecting my thoughts and reflecting on postpartum fitness shortly after Orangetheory workouts.
Written post-workout at 10 weeks postpartum:
“Today I went into my Orangetheory workout giving myself grace. In just 4 short weeks, I’ve gone from using the strider to becoming a jogger, and now a runner on the treadmill during classes. I feel comfortable using the rower again and up my RPMs every workout. I still can’t do all of the challenging ab movements, but I’m getting better and am using fewer modifications each time that I go. I got through pop jacks without modifying (something I couldn’t do last week), and squat jacks using a medicine ball (something I would have modified as well just a week ago). I got a post-baby speed PR on the treadmill, and I’m pretty freaking proud of all 18 of the splat points that I earned today.”
Written post-workout at 5 months postpartum:
“I can truly say it’s been ages since I’ve felt ‘on my game’ at the gym, and it feels amazing. Progress doesn’t happen overnight. It’s taken months to feel like I can start tackling pre-pregnancy goals again. MONTHS. Whatever you’re working towards, keep on working. Focus, determination, and hard work really does pay off!”
More reflecting around the same time:
“Two things are motivating me to stay on top of my goals right now are the Orangetheory Dri Tri in just a few weeks and the Tough Mudder (check out my experience running it at six months postpartum) coming up in early October! My pre-pregnancy self wouldn’t sweat over either one, but — man — I’m nervous! My plan is to stay on top of my OTF workouts (cardio & strength training) 2 or more times a week and add in runs outside as much as I can. It would be wise to get back to yoga for stretching and recovery, too. I’ll keep y’all updated on my progress, and I wanted to share because everybody starts somewhere. Getting in your best shape doesn’t happen overnight! All you can do is your best and work towards your goals one day at a time.”
I wanted to document my postpartum progress and also share my frustrations followed by a mental body check to hopefully inspire and encourage you to do the best you can do and be okay with that. Ladies, and especially new mommas, stop being so hard on yourselves and recognize the little progressions that you make every day.
That’s what progress really is!
If you have any specific questions related to working out postpartum or at Orangetheory, please reach out in the comments below.
Thank you so much for reading!
[Photo credit: Jason Roth Photography. Brooklyn/NYC friends — he’s so great to work with! Feel free to message me for more information.]