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 from a baby 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?
 
Five words.
 
INNER CORE activation, strength and stability 
 

It's the muscles that are most affected by pregnancy and childbirth (pelvic floor, transverse abdominals and diaphragm). These along with the outer core muscles have been stretched out for almost 9 months. 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 and planks while they are a great exercise just do not address the inner core properly if the inner core isn't strong or activating correctly in the first place.  It's also not enough to just do basic transverse ab exercises either. Postnatal core work needs to be progressive and work out to the outer core as well 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. Yes I know...pinch me.  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) - this is really, really rare 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...please don't...that's another post topic) 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 strong and coordinated their inner core is. 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. 
 
Now I'm just trying to think of another reason I should go back out there, you know...so I can see their cute baby Stanley again. 
 
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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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