You’ve had a beautiful baby, or two, or five…….And you can not wait to lace up the shoes and take a few minutes to unwind and run your favorite trail. You may be hesitant… am I safe? I don’t want to hurt myself.
So when is the right time to get back to running?
The answer that everyone loves to hate: it depends.
There are certain time specific guidelines like after a C-section or waiting 6-8 weeks post delivery to begin a walk/run.
What actually determines if you are safe to return to running, is if you have sufficient strength/control to allow for proper mechanics to absorb impact and enough energy available.
How do you know if you have sufficient strength or control?
At 6-8 weeks postpartum it’s advised that you are evaluated by a pelvic floor therapist that understands running and running biomechanics. They will be able to take you through a battery of tests to determine if you are ready to begin a walk/run.
How can I improve my strength and control before I see a pelvic floor therapist?
…..Yes, breathing will help. You may be wondering what breathing has to do with strength for running. Well it has everything to do with strength and control for running. During pregnancy and post-partum your body changes structurally and chemically to accommodate a growing human. Many of those changes very obviously impact the positioning of your pelvis and rib cage. Your diaphragm is a muscle that assists with breathing. It creates the change in pressure to allow your lungs to fill and empty. Your diaphragm is also a part of your core.
Your diaphragm works in conjunction with your deep abdominal muscle, transverse abdominis, and pelvic floor muscles to create your core. The analogy of a can is generally helpful to visualize how they work together. Imagine a soda can. The wall of the can is your transverse abdominis. The top of the can is your diaphragm. The bottom of the can is your pelvic floor muscles. You need all 3 walls to hold pressure within the can. If you pop the tab open or puncture a hole in the side, you lose the pressure that was stored within the can.
Your diaphragm and pelvic floor create a piston. When you take a deep breath in and your diaphragm contracts downward to allow space for your lungs to fill, your pelvic floor muscles relax and lengthen (lower) to accommodate for this movement of the “top of the can” down. When you exhale, your diaphragm relaxes and moves upward, meanwhile your pelvic floor muscles contract (rise) to accommodate for this movement of the “top of the can” up.
Many people do Kegels wrong. This is a great way to work on strengthening your pelvic floor while also focusing on your breathing mechanics that you will use when running.
Focus on 360 breathing exercises…meaning filling your rib cage in all directions (fron, back, and side to side). Not just filling your stomach. You can start in easier positions like child's pose or laying on your side. You can progress to laying on your back, then sitting, and then standing
2. Work on your anticipatory core
Your core turns on subconsciously before you move. When running we need to ensure we are optimizing our core strength, so that it can help our body absorb the impact of running to avoid injury. Running is actually pretty challenging to our core, as it has to dissipate the impact of body weight plus acceleration. A great exercise to work on your anticipatory core is below.
First, you need to check your alignment to maximize your core’s participation. Your rib cage should sit over your pelvis. When looking from the side, you should be able to draw a perpendicular line from the bottom of your ribs to the front of your pelvis. Put another way, if you imagine your ribs as a bell (like the liberty bell without the crack hopefully)... the bell of your ribs should not be angled forward or backward similar to what occurs when a bell rings. The bell of your ribs should be in neutral.
Once you’ve adjusted your rib and pelvic position, you lean your whole body forward (like in the picture), hinging forward from your ankles. This is great because it mimics the position your core will need to work in when you return to running
3. Work into a strengthening routine
Start easy with body weight and double leg exercises. Then slowly progress into weighted and single leg exercises.
Finally, be kind to yourself.
Everyone will progress differently because of different demands on their body. The best time to get back to running is when you’re ready. In the meantime, you can start with these exercises and enjoy walks around the neighborhood.