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(If you’ve had a Cesarean section, you should stay with the “Building Block” exercises, combined with stretching and easy walking, until you’re healed and have your doctor’s go-ahead to do the harder workout.)
The cardio connection Once you’re no longer bleeding heavily, add easy walking to your fitness schedule. If you’re conditioned, says Bonnie Rote, this can be as early as two weeks. If not, wait until three or four weeks postpartum. Take the baby for a stroll, and slowly graduate to 10- and 20-minute walks. If you feel fatigue, increased pelvic pain or discomfort, you’re doing too much. Other warning signs are blood that’s a dark-red color, or bleeding that returns after your discharge, or lochia, has turned yellow.
Continue with only low-impact aerobic activities such as stationary cycling and postpartum exercise classes (avoid step) until your joints and balance return to normal. Large lateral movements, such as wide squats, sidesteps or leg abductions, are not a good idea just yet. Begin slowly and build on to your routine.
[Building blocks] Designed by pre- and postpartum exercise expert Bonnie Rote, R.N., these exercises prepare your muscles for the serious work of getting into shape again. If you can’t find time to do them together, says Rote, break them up and do each one whenever you can throughout the course of the day. Before you begin, make sure your pelvic-floor muscles are healed to the point in which you can hold back urine. For some women, this may be three days after giving birth; for others, three to four weeks.
1. Partial Plié Stand with hands at waist or holding back of a chair for balance, feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart, toes pointing comfortably out, knees facing same direction as toes. Keeping torso erect, abs pulled in and pelvis in neutral position, contract pelvic-floor muscles to do a Kegel exercise [A]. Holding the Kegel, lower yourself to a position halfway between standing and a 90-degree bend at the knees [B]. Only bend as low as you can without changing pelvis position. Squeeze buttocks as you return to a standing position. Release pelvic-floor contraction and repeat. Begin with one set of 5–8 reps; gradually work up to 12. When you can do 12 comfortably, do 2 sets of 5–8 reps and work up to two sets of 12 reps. Strengthens pelvic-floor muscles, front and rear of thighs, and buttocks.
2. Starting Steps Stand sideways to a chair so left hand is holding on to it. Starting with feet forward and hip-width apart, step forward with left foot into a lunge position, with right heel off floor [A]. Standing erect, abs in, lower yourself halfway to a point between standing and a 90-degree bend at left knee. Make sure left knee is directly over ankle and right knee is under hip [B]. Straighten legs and repeat reps; then switch to right foot in front and repeat. Start with one set of 8–12 repetitions on each side; work up to two sets of 12. Strengthens thighs, buttocks and calves; prepares legs to push body weight up a step.