Fitness and Running Postpartum: Tips From A Mom
Updated: Mar 14
By Guest Blogger Jonna Gilbert-Wahle
Jonna Gilbert-Wahle and her daughter Jordan log their miles around the neighborhood.
Photo: Max Wahle
As a high school athlete, my least favorite part of practice was running. I never thought I would ever enjoy it, let alone choose to sign up for races. However, running was a big part of my childhood. I vividly remember being pushed by my mom in her red running stroller, and moving my arms to help her go up hills. I enjoyed chasing her as she crossed the finish line in many races.
When I got older, I crewed her during some of her ultramarathons. I helped her to change socks, shoes, and clothes. I covered her with sunscreen. I paced her for short distances. Recognizing and embracing my love of running during college, and after competing my first half-marathon, I was hooked. Running is in my blood.
Jonna, 2 1/2, with her mom Miriam stretching before the start of the
1990 Legg's Mini-Marathon (10K) in Central Park. Photo: Jon Gilbert
Before I became pregnant with my first child, I had been running daily. I was registered for my third half marathon, but severe morning sickness hindered my ability to train, and I was unable to participate. A running stroller was one of the first items added to my baby registry, and shortly after my daughter Jordan was born, I was able to put it to good use, just as my mom had 30 years before. My postpartum recovery after Jordan went fairly smoothly. Unfortunately, it did not go as smoothly after my son Sawyer was born, 21 months later.
TIPS FOR GETTING BACK INTO A FITNESS ROUTINE POSTPARTUM
Due to a combination of lack of motivation, giving birth in the winter, coping with postpartum anxiety, a fussy baby, and a very active toddler, fitness did not come easy. After months and constant support from my husband Max, I was able to get back on my fitness and running routine. From my experience, I’ve come up with a few tips to help fellow moms looking to get back into an exercise routine postpartum that works for them.
1. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY and GIVE YOURSELF TIME
After Jordan was born, six weeks of healing was sufficient before I began a running program. When baby number two came along, I thought I was invincible. I waited only three weeks after giving birth before attempting a circuit routine from a body guide program. Big mistake! I struggled through the 28-minute program and was incapacitated the next day. It is important to wait out the doctor-recommended amount of time before gradually getting back into an exercise routine. It wasn't until I was seven months postpartum after Sawyer's birth that I felt mentally and physically strong enough to start a consistent fitness routine. Listen to your body, and let it heal from giving birth.
2. FIND A PARTNER
When your body is ready, find a partner and slowly begin to exercise. My husband encouraged me to join him in a pushup challenge shortly after I was medically cleared. It was both fun and motivating. Jordan and Sawyer usually join us in our workouts, too.
A toddler, an infant, and squats in the neighborhood park.
Photo: Miriam Diaz-GIlbert
3. COMBINE YOUR BABY'S NAP WITH A WORKOUT
Not all babies are good nappers but, if yours is, take advantage. A quick video workout program makes utilizing that time easier. On a good morning, my son will nap for 90 minutes. This allows time for a 15-30 minute workout, post-sweat nutrition, and a shower. If your work out is interrupted by cries, pause and tend to your baby, and hope you can continue where you left off.
If only it were that easy, and baby was predictable! If your baby would rather be in your arms, put the baby in the carrier, and do sets of squats. Or secure your baby in the stroller and go for a walk (or run!) around the neighborhood. If there's a playground nearby, utilize the jungle gym: benches for tricep dips and set-ups, monkey bars for pull ups, and steps for decline push ups. If your workout evolves into chasing your toddler around the playground, that counts too!
The neighborhood playground jungle gym is perfect for pull ups.
Photo: Max Wahle
4. SET SHORT & LONG TERM GOALS
Women are incredible creatures capable of more than we realize. One way to challenge ourselves is to set goals. After Jordan my short-term goal was to give myself five months to run a sub-8 minute mile because that is what I was asking of my field hockey players to complete during preseason tryouts (at the time I was a varsity field hockey coach). My husband helped me train by running with our daughter in the stroller.
After I gave birth to Sawyer, my short-term goal was sticking to a body guide program for an extended number of weeks. I completed 16 consecutive weeks before focusing on running. My long term goal is to sign up for a half marathon in 2018, which will be my third, and my first since becoming a mom. There’s just something about a non-refundable registration fee that really lights a fire under your butt! Challenging yourself gives you something to look forward to. Setting goals helps to keep you on track.
5. JOIN OTHERS
Connect online other postpartum moms who encourage, motivate, and inspire you. Fitness moms I enjoy following are @reviejane, @diaryofafitmommyofficial, @alexandra.jargren, and @bubs2bikinis, to name a few. Look them up and join! Perhaps there are people in your community who gather for walks, hikes, or workouts with their families. It's always more fun to workout with company.
6. TRAINING IN ALL WEATHER
The time of year your baby is born can affect your fitness plans but it does not mean they need to disappear. Having a spring baby, like my daughter, is ideal for getting outside for walks or runs without having to worry about bundling your little one up. My son was born in the winter, which means super unmotivating cold, short days. But with my husband's help and encouragement, we make the best of indoor workouts in the comfort of our home. If you're feeling courageous, bundle everyone up and go for a stroll.
7. BALANCING CAREER AND FITNESS
Having a career, children, and a fitness routine is challenging. When my daughter was born, I was teaching and coaching, and had access to the school's workout facilities. Plus, we had a wonderful and convenient childcare situation that made for a smooth transition when I returned to work. I took a much longer maternity leave with my son and dreaded going back to work. My son was a trickier baby and I was dealing with a lot of anxiety. At the end of that school year, I chose to take time away from the classroom to focus on my family and mental health. I continue to tutor and coach to satisfy my passion for teaching. Fitness is my version of self-care and allows me to be my best self, mother, and wife. Find the balance that works for you and your family.
THE NEXT GENERATION OF FITNESS AND RUNNING
It's hard to imagine my life without running. To spice things up, I include strength training. I have the pleasure of pushing my children in the running stroller and having them mimic my fitness moves. The other night as I was putting my running shoes on, my daughter said, "Mom, you going for a run? OK, have fun. Love you." Finding the motivation to stay active is not an easy task but knowing that I am setting a positive and healthy example for my children, just as my mom has and continues to do for me, pushes me to cross the finish.
Jordan is fast on her feet! Photo: Miriam Diaz-Gilbert