Hike Your Way Back to Your Pre-Baby Body

Talk about happy trails! Here's the perfect month-by-month postpartum workout plan to help you shed the baby weight and get outside at the same time


Looking for a fun, easy way to get the exercise you need? Try hiking—not only does it help build strength, but it also allows you to be with your baby and other new parents as well. You can carry your baby in a front carrier or an all-terrain stroller on tougher trails, and she can enjoy the spring breezes, movement and changes in light that come with being outdoors. When Marietta Gilman's daughter, now 6, was an infant, Gilman, a former backpacking and rafting guide, organized hikes designed just for new moms and dads. "We all found it's easier to be outside with our children than inside the house," she says. "It can be very still inside." So what do you need to get going? Start by finding a few hiking partners. Check out new-mom groups, gyms, churches, childbirth-education classes, the Sierra Club (www.sierraclub. com) or local outdoor-gear stores. Then buy a guidebook to your area, plot your paths and, as time goes on, add new places to your repertoire to keep hiking interesting. Before you start hitting the trails, regain strength and flexibility with our gentle "Postpartum Moves." (They're so gentle, you can do them two days after giving birth.) Then, with your doctor's approval, begin the following progressive hiking program, adapted from Gilman's video, Hiking With Baby (Roo Views, 2000, $12; to order, call Gilman at 415-499-3510). After six weeks, add the indoor weight-training moves.

The new-mom hiking program

Days 1–14: With your doctor's approval, begin by walking about two blocks to a quarter-mile twice a week, depending on your strength, with your baby in a front carrier. Stay on flat ground as you regain strength and balance, and wear well-cushioned shoes and thick cotton socks. (If you've had a Cesarean section and find wearing a front carrier uncomfortable, use a stroller.) Days 15–28: After 2 weeks on flat terrain, add short staircases or small hills (they will help build your butt and calf muscles). Increase the distance as you get stronger. To build strength, increase hiking to 4 times a week, 30 minutes per hike.

After 4 Weeks: You now may be ready to undertake a more rigorous hiking routine (check with your doctor first, of course). Be sure to stretch all major muscle groups before and after each hike.

4–6 Weeks Postpartum: During these 2 weeks, build up to an hour-long hike. To build strength and stamina, alternate hilly terrain with flat: On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, hike on trails with small hills. On Tuesday and Thursday, keep to flat ground.

6–8 Weeks Postpartum: For the next 2 weeks, extend your hiking time by 15–20 minutes per hike, and drop a day so that you're hiking 4 times a week.

8–12 Weeks Postpartum" For these weeks, extend your hiking time another 30–45 minutes and drop a day, so you're hiking for 2 hours 3 days per week, still varying days on flat ground with days hiking on hills. On the 2 days that you're not hiking, do a different exercise, such as aerobics or swimming, to stay active. Note: When your baby weighs 16 pounds, it may be time to transfer her from a front carrier to a backpack. When you do this, add neck and shoulder rolls to your warm-up.

Walk This Way Walk naturally. Push forward with your hips and pull in your abdominal muscles. Doing this will help to keep yourself balanced and support your back. * It's easy to lean forward while wearing a backpack. Avoid this by keeping your hips forward and your shoulders relaxed. * When walking downhill, keep your knees slightly bent and take small steps, rolling from heel to toe. When walking uphill or downhill, shorten your stride and swing your arms as you would normally without a backpack or front carrier. * Raise your arms over your head from time to time. Doing this will keep your hands and fingers from swelling. * Never hike alone. * Keep it up! Even if you return to work after your maternity leave, try to keep hiking, at least as a weekend family activity.