How can I tell if my core is ready? Will running worsen diastasis recti? Here are a few guidelines and tips to safely run postpartum.
1. Stabilize from the inside out
The vital first step to safely resume a running routine after pregnancy is to restore strength to the deep abdominal muscles and pelvis so you can prevent injury and run pain-free with sound alignment. I recently met with Dr. Bryan Heiderscheit, a professor of orthopedics and rehabilitation who directs the running clinic at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. His research, reported by Gretchen Reynolds of the NY Times validates the core principles of the EMbody Program. Dr. Heiderscheit emphasizes the importance of strengthening both the deep abdominal muscles and the pelvic floor muscles before you resume running after baby to avoid injury post-pregnancy.
Wondering how to do that? When your doctor or midwife clears you to resume physical activity after delivery, begin our Embody Reclaim program, our 12-week fitness program proven to resolve diastasis recti and improve core health. Pay close attention to ensure you are performing a Kegel with every Core Compression™ (unless you have been advised to avoid Kegels). When you’re at least 12 weeks or more postpartum and you’ve strengthened your deep core and pelvic floor to the point that you’re no longer leaking when you cough, sneeze or laugh, you’re ready to ease into a brief (15-20 minute) run/walk or a light jog.
2. Start with a shortened stride
During your first jaunt, focus on breathing as described below and keep your stride shorter than normal to avoid excessive hip movement. If that feels good, gradually lengthen your stride over the next few runs until you reach your full, natural range of motion. If you feel pain anywhere or significant bladder pressure while running, stop. Suspend running for a few weeks or months as you continue to strengthen your deep core muscles with Core Compressions and Kegel exercises. A great substitute for running during the interim is our low impact cardio-strength workouts, which further enhance improvements in core strength and balanced fitness. After a hiatus to focus on core strength, give running another try, and remember to incorporate proper breathing.
3. Breathing technique
To protect your back and stabilize your pelvis while running, lift your abs toward the spine and perform a Kegel with each exhalation. Breathing correctly is vital to prevent injury! If abs + Kegels = too much to think about, focus on drawing your navel up and in as you exhale (a Kegel usually happens automatically when you do that). Allow the belly to soften and relax with each inhalation.
4. Running with diastasis recti
Is it safe to run if you have diastasis recti? Probably, but it depends. If you have a mild or moderate abdominal separation, a healthy back, and stable hips, and if your pelvic floor is reasonably strong (no bladder pressure, leaking, urgency to pee, prolapse or downward pressure when running or jumping), then you can safely run as long as you follow the breathing guidelines I summarized above. Consciously draw your abdominal muscles up and in toward the spine with every exhalation to protect your core. Then allow your belly to soften and relax as you take a breath. Also be mindful of posture while running with the goal of keeping your pelvis in neutral alignment: neither tilting forward and splaying the ribs (over lengthening the front body), nor tucking under and collapsing the spine.
5. A good sports bra is totally worth it
Invest in a high quality, maximum support sports bra – or consider doubling up and wearing two sports bras while running. This is especially important for breastfeeding moms! Bonus tip: you’ll find running far more comfortable if you time your workouts shortly after nursing or pumping to avoid bouncing engorged breasts. Ouch!
6. Happy trails
Start slow, increase the workload gradually, and listen to your body. By taking time to strengthen your deep core muscles, you’ll spare yourself a host of potential injuries that would undoubtedly hinder your return to tip top running condition. Before you know it, you’ll feel like yourself again in the way that only a good, hard run can make you feel.