How To Train Postpartum Like An Olympic Gold Medalist

7 Mins
How To Train Postpartum Like An Olympic Gold Medalist

I know I know, you think I'm being irresponsible; telling the average woman that they can recover like an Olympic Gold Medalist, but hear me out. Recovery should not be about a specific time frame, specific weightloss, certain fitness level or getting those six pack abs. It doesn't matter if you have stretch marks, weigh a 100 or 250 lbs.  I'm not even saying you need to spend hours and hours exercising every day. 

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 Okay, so how do you train like an Olympic athlete postpartum then?
 
Six words.
 
Regain core coordination, strength and stiffness
 

Core/pelvic floor muscles are most affected by pregnancy and childbirth. Inner and outer core muscles have stretched out for almost 9 months. While activation is an easy first step..the muscles all need to be loaded gradually. Core muscles need to be able to regain strength (the ability to generate force) and stiffness (the ability to resist lengthening against a force like intra abdominal pressure).  It should be the FIRST STEP in returning to exercise and daily activities. It is going to take some specific work to regain that activation/strength and stability. Planks while they are a great exercise, only strengthen the core one way. The Core needs to be able to generate force in all directions and also stabilize against all planes of motion.  Postnatal core work needs to be progressive for total core reconditioning. This, along with my own issues postpartum, is what drove me to create the ReCORE progression.

STARTING THE TRAINING
 
Early September, I flew out to Portland to do the postpartum consult with new mom; triathlete phenom and Olympic Gold medalist Gwen Jorgensen.  And just last week we finished up her 6 weeks of ReCORE. She gave me permission to share how things went, so I thought I'd give an little insight.
 

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Assessing Ab Sets (relaxing/engaging core with pelvic floor, neutral spine, no rib flaring etc..)


My initial consult included assessment questions and screening for possible postpartum red flags that may indicate the client is not ready to start (remember..everyone recovers at different rates).  I do recommend women see a pelvic floor therapist postpartum; there can be underlying issues/injuries (that do not get checked for by an OBGYN/midwife) that I also can’t check. If the client has trouble getting the basic Inner Core exercises down or has certain pain/issues, I will recommend they pause ReCORE program until they have visited with a pelvic floor PT.  

Next, I measured for Diastasis Recti. She was basically a 1 (closed) - at one month postpartum; she did not even have minimal ab separation, so there was actually no need for the Post Natal FITsplint.  I assessed inner core activation/coordination when relaxing/engaging the inner core (transverse abs, diaphragm with pelvic floor ) and assessed her core stability and strength.  This helps me get a good idea where to start and how to progress her along. Gwen posted a few of the exercises along the way on her Instagram account @gwenjorgensen

 

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Wall Sit with Ab Sets

At the beginning of ReCORE, I have clients do the Drop Test. Clients should understand how to coordinate and control the inner core/intrabdominal pressure first though; so sometimes waiting till Week 2 to do the test is needed if it takes them a bit to learn Ab Sets. This is not the same as a Straight Leg Raise Test (too much stress on back/core to start lifting from bottom position)  Starting with the legs in the up position and engaging the core/pelvic floor; the client only lowers the legs as far as they can go before the back starts to arch out of neutral position or belly starts to bulge.  If the back starts to arch, they stop. If the belly starts to bulge, they stop. This gives me a good idea how well the core can stiffen and control pressure. It is not wrong to let the belly bulge..but in this case, we want to test pressure management.  They then repeat this test at the end of the 6 weeks of ReCORE and see how much they improve. 

Before:

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ReCORE Drop Test (before)

Gwen was about one month postpartum here and this is how far she could go down keeping good form and control. Gwen needs to regain more strength and control before doing impact exercises such as running, jumping or lifting to avoid hip/pelvic injuries later on. So even though she didn't have Diastasis Recti, she had other core weakness issues to work on (that pretty much every postpartum mom is dealing with)
 
After:
 
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ReCORE Drop Test (after)

 

*Please note that the Drop Test is only one test and not always an overall view of how strong a core is. Several other tests can be done to get a better picture of overall core stability, function and strength.

 
I find that this test also helps women notice where intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) is going. I have a balloon test as well to help women learn this. Keeping pressure in the abdominal cavity instead of pelvic cavity is important to reduce stress on pelvic floor/ maintain control of the core as the client progresses to harder core exercises and heavier weights. No one wants to deal with a dysfunction pelvic floor or leaking issues down the line. Contrary to what your grandmother told you...no it doesn't have to be a standard issue that every mom puts up with later on.
 
Below are a few questions Gwen answered after finishing ReCORE.
 
What did you notice about your core strength in the 6 weeks?
Gwen: After the ReCORE program I feel much more in tune with my body. I had to relearn how to communicate with my inner core. It took time, but I was eventually able to connect my brain with my core. I feel stronger and am able to know when to push it (with good form) and when to call it a day (when my form deteriorates). 
 
Any change with incontinence?
Gwen: When I first started back after giving birth I didn't have incontinence, but I did have a sense of urgency. This has almost completely gone away after doing the six week ReCORE program. 
 
How about the pelvic area feeling heavy?
Gwen: Before the ReCORE program I felt like my insides were going to fall out when I was running. I had heard other people talk about this, but I never understood until I felt it myself. After two weeks of ReCORE this heavy feeling started to disappear and it is now completely gone. 
 
What did you like most about the program? Anything surprise you?
Gwen: I loved how the program changed from week to week and I was able to adjust the exercises based on how I was feeling. It was difficult at first to connect my brain to my muscles, but I loved being able to reconnect the brain and muscles. 
 
Do you have any advice for other moms returning to running or other exercise postpartum?
Gwen: Be kind to yourself and don't look to others for how or when to return to exercise. Everyone's journey is different and each body will recover in a different amount of time. Seek out help from others and learn about postpartum programs like ReCORE Fitness
 
 
Doable for the average fitness level?  Well.. for less time than it takes to scroll Facebook everyday...I think so. 
 
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Gwen used the Maternity FITsplint during pregnancy and loved how it helped her run more comfortably during pregnancy (no, everyone does not have to run during pregnancy, but if you do...please help reduce stress on your core ligaments/fascia/pelvic floor and wear a support farther in the pregnancy and listen to your body. The Maternity FITsplint is also great for general back, hip, bladder issues that creep up during pregnancy)
 
 
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Gwen Jorgensen using the Maternity FITsplint to run during pregnancy
 
 
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