Toning Post-Pregnancy Exercisesby Laura Agadoni
If you've just had your first baby, you may be surprised and disappointed to see that you still look pregnant. Hoping to slip into your favorite skinny jeans, you are disheartened to reach for the same maternity clothes you've been wearing day after day for the past several months. Don't worry: You're perfectly normal. While some women seem to slip effortlessly into their pre-pregnancy clothes in a matter of weeks, this is not the norm. It takes four weeks for your uterus alone to get back to its normal size, and that's just the beginning of the recovery process. Most women take six months or more to recover fully from giving birth.
When to Start
Exercise as soon as you feel able. This could be as soon as a few days after giving birth or sometime after your six-week checkup. If you had a cesarean section, discuss when you can start exercising with your doctor. In addition to breastfeeding, your post-pregnancy exercise program and the amount of weight you gained while you were pregnant can affect how fast you slim down postpartum. Typically, if you gained fewer than 30 lb., if you exercise on a regular basis and breastfeed, you will get faster results.
Start by doing light stretches and then progressing to light exercise after you're sufficiently warmed up. After about four to eight weeks, start working on your abs and thighs, but first warm up for two minutes by walking or jogging in place or by going up and down stairs. Combine light strength training and cardio for a complete workout, but don't overdo it, and set a weekly target weight loss at two pounds or fewer per week, especially if you are breastfeeding. If you lose too much too soon, your milk supply, your mood and your energy level can be negatively affected.
To target your abdominals more effectively, when you do crunches, place your hand on your abdomen. Your stomach should not protrude when you sit up. Pull your belly in toward your back. This keeps your muscles contracted while you are working your abs. Try doing different kinds of crunches than your standard sit-up. Lie down with your hands behind your head. Bend your knees, and with your legs together, drop your legs to one side, keeping your knees bent. Lift your head and shoulders off the floor as you exhale. Do this 10 times, switch your legs to the other side and repeat. After that, lie on your back, knees bent and slightly apart. With your arms out in front of you, lift your head and shoulders off the floor until your hands reach between your knees, exhaling when you sit up. Repeat 10 times. Give your abs a rest by working them every two or three days instead of every day.
The work you do on your abs won't do you much good if they are covered with a thick layer of fat. The best way to drop pounds is by doing an aerobic exercise that tones the most important muscle of all: your heart. Aerobic exercise such as swimming, running, biking, an aerobics class, or working out on an elliptical machine or a treadmill boosts your heart rate and gives your lungs a workout. Aim to do your aerobic exercise for 30 minutes, five days a week. Some aerobic exercises allow you to take your baby with you. Take her along on your cardio workouts with a heavy-duty jogging stroller, or slow down for walks with a regular stroller. You can also get rolling with a bike trailer or an infant safety seat for your bicycle.
You can burn fat with stroller exercises, but make them more effective by planning ahead. Warm up by walking at an easy pace for five minutes. Walk faster for five more minutes. Walk with big strides for three minutes. Walk at the easy pace again for five minutes. Increase your pace and take big strides for three minutes. Slow down for five minutes. Walk as fast as you can for a minute. Cool down by walking slowly for three minutes. With this 30-minute workout, you should burn 160 calories.
Pregnancy can weaken your internal vaginal walls, but with Kegel muscles, you can strengthen them again. Find these internal muscles by stopping your urine mid-flow: You've just used your Kegel muscles. You can do Kegel exercises sitting or lying down. Contract the muscles, hold it for five seconds and relax for five seconds. Repeat five times. Your goal is to do 10 reps, holding the muscles taut for 10 seconds, then relaxing 10 seconds. Do these three times a day.
- BabyCenter: Your Post-Baby Belly: Why It's Changed and How to Tone It
- "Fitness" Magazine: Lose the Baby Weight Fast: Toning Circuit Workout
- BabyCenter: Postpartum Exercise: Is Your Body Ready?
- "Fitness" Magazine: Top 10 Firm Belly Tips (of All Time!)
- MayoClinic.com: Kegel Exercises: A How-To Guide For Women
- Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images