Considerations on training postpartum

Some two weeks ago, a mom I worked with during her post partum phase shared her feelings of discouragement because she was unable to train as much and as intensively as when she was a competitive rower.

I remember those days when I too believed that if you cannot train with the intensity and volume as you did before, you might as well not train, After I stopped kayaking and hadn’t found CrossFit, I simply couldn’t make myself exercise as much as I did before without there being a competitive goal.

Back then I was in my twenties and if I wasn’t studying, odds were I was in my kayak covering many kilometers or pumping iron inside the gym. Although I really had no idea what an athlete should be eating to fuel herself (shocking I know), I was as lean as ever and fully convinced that I was super fit and healthy.

Like the mom in this post, I too had the mindset that in order to be fit and feel good about my body I needed to do a massive amount of work. Mind you, I was injured and over trained.

But is this mindset correct? Do we need high volume and intensity to be fit? I would say yes of and no. It depends. And no I am not being facetious.

First of all let me borrow one of the dictionary’s many definition of fitness: it is “the quality of being suitable to fulfill a particular role or task.” Mind you the dictionary also defines it as “ an organism’s ability to survive and reproduce in a particular environment.” Considering that you are reading this, I am presuming that your goals are higher than this.

For you reading this, I would like you to consider a few things:

Where are you in your postpartum journey? If you just had a baby, I would advise that you please be kind to yourself. Start by joining a Post Partum series and take it from there. There is so much going on, the last thing you need for the sake of your own mental and physical health is to force your body into competitive training.

What are your goals? If you were an athlete before and intend to continue down that path, you, just live everybody else, need to take the time to recover physically from pregnancy, delivery and adaptation to the new reality. In this case I would also advise the postpartum series, seeing a women’s health physiotherapist to take a good look at your pelvic floor. I am a huge supporter of seeing a pelvic floor specialist so you really know what is going on before you start ramping things up

What does your training program me look like? This may upset a few people but please find someone who understands how to train post partum women. Contrary to popular belief, simply scaling exercises really isn’t the way to go about it. Does the person training you know how to progressively load you to start doing things like running, jumping, cleans, snatches without destroying your pelvic health? Are you even ready for loads? You are caring for a baby and your frontal load carrying is off the charts. Does your training reflect that reality? Do they understand the hormonal and physical changes your body has undergone in order to program me accordingly? How are you sleeping? Can you even recover from the intensity or volume of the training you need to do for competition? Are you getting better or are you breaking your hard earned muscle down?

Do you have a support group? You know by now that taking care of small humans and deal with life is no easy feat. Heck lets call it what it is: mentally and physically exhausting in ways, I personally never began to envision.

If you cannot answer these questions positively you may want to ask yourself some serious questions. Adrenal fatigue is no joke. I was there once and it was one of the roughest rides of my life. It takes a long and painful concerted effort to get over it and it can even jack up your thyroid and your mental health. What are the long-term consequences of taking this road for you as a person and are they worth it? This is of course an answer that only you can give.

This being said, the odds are that you are not a competitive athlete. Maybe you are a CrossFit mom, I am going to presume that you love hitting that glycolitic pathway. You like fast and hard workouts that leave you huffing and puffing on the ground, for going 100%. Maybe you were going 4-5 times a week to the gym and felt good about yourself.

Even if you aren’t into CrossFit, right now your goal may be to lose body fat and get back some of that muscle mass that allowed you to do all that fun stuff at the gym and wear your favourite outfits so well.

But things have changed, you aren’t getting much sleep, you may be struggling with breastfeeding, maybe you just returned to work and are in the process of trying to find some kind of balance in the chaos and constant change of plans that is motherhood.

By all means I know what it is like to look in the mirror and wonder what the heck happened, I know what it is like to maybe look at your belly button and realize that it got a bit beat up with the pregnancy, maybe it will go back to what it was before, maybe not.

If you were once super proud of those lines you achieved through dieting and exercising like a fiend, I understand feeling sad and frustrated because it all seems to have disappeared. But here again my question to you would be: “what are your goals mama?” To be fit and strong? Well maybe start by defining what those words mean to you.

If the goal is to look exactly like you did before, let me just say that the odds are that you won’t. Your body has undergone a massive change. A body that has adapted and grown another human doesn’t ever go what it was just like there is no amount of dieting that will get a full grown woman’s body back to her pre teenage years. Wanting, punishing our badmouthing our body into not wanting it to have any signs of the amazing work it has done is a disservice to us as women, growers of other humans.

Mind you I am not saying you cannot be a fit and strong badass mama and feel great about your body. In fact let me get you in on a secret: you don’t need to hit the gym as you did before to get the results you want. You don’t need two-hour sessions and you most certainly do not need to feel like you are doing Fran every time you do a workout. It is neither healthy nor efficient use of your time. If this is how you are training, please engage with your coach or maybe find a new one. Anyone can help you get a good sweat. Getting you fit, flexible, strong and healthy is a whole other game.

I would suggest that what you need is your own definition of “success”. A healthy, fun and realistic plan that you can mostly stick to in the long run. And I say mostly because, you know, motherhood is a whole other set of curb balls and a three that doesn’t bend, breaks in the wind.

A few weeks ago my child and I got to spend a few days with a good friend who is a competitive CrossFit Games athlete in the open division. She is a mother and has long passed her twenties. It was amazing to see how she manages her life, motherhood, marriage, work and training for the Games. It takes organization, being able to bend, having a good coach that knows how to program me for her reality and an awesome support team.

It takes a village mama and you know what? That village isn’t just for raising that child but to also help keep the mother healthy and sane.

Whatever you chose, however you define it, my wish for you is that you find your way to something that leaves you fulfilled and at peace with yourself.