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A Simple Strength Test for (New) Moms

Having a baby is life changing. That statement isn’t shocking to parents. The emotional and social changes are only the tip of the iceberg. Most mom’s will attest to feeling “off” after having a child. This is the aspect of being a parent that the dad’s will never experience: the physical changes. The list of physical changes for mom is long, from feeling “off balance,” “weak,” or simply “not myself.” It’s no wonder many new moms are eager to return to exericse, aiming to lose the baby belly. “I’ll start doing crunches, pushups, and jogging once the doctor clears me,” think most moms.

Let’s take a step back. Your body carried another human being for nine (really 10) months. Simply jumping back into a previous exercise routine may be more harmful then you realize. A mother who engages in strenuous activity without first understanding the effects of pregnancy may be lining herself up for injury. From sore knees to a painful low back, moms are struggling in their postpartum return to activity. Before you start sweating, I recommend these tips when returning to exercise post partum:

1. Check for Diastasis Recti and Pelvic Floor Dysfunction
2. Check for proper Hip strength
3. Understand how to ease into exercising and running

Understanding Diastasis Recti and Pelvic Floor Dysfunction

Diastasis Recti
Diastasis Recti is a separation of the two halves of the rectus abdominis, A.K.A “the six pack.” Aside from the consequences of an unwanted belly bulge, a diastasis recti can have detrimental effects during daily activities, especially during exercise. A diastasis recti significantly comprimises your ability to activate your abdominals. Without activation comes less stabilization that ultimately leads to injury. If you’ve been diagnosed with a diastasis recti your first objective is to re-train your core musculature. The test and exercise progression for diastasis recti can be found here.

Pelvic Floor Dysfunction
The muscles of the pelvic floor are stretched and weakened during pregnancy and delivery. Consequences for new moms include pelvic pain, urine leakage and urgency. You may brush it off as “a natural side effect after birth;” however, pelvic floor dysfunction is more than intrusive and messy. Pelvic floor weakness may lead to injury when returning to exercise, too. If you catch yourself holding back laughter, and avoiding jumping, take a look at this article on controling your bladder.

Can You Pass This Test?

Most mom’s view cardiovascular exercise, like running, as the path to least resistance to becoming active postpartum. This can spell trouble for many ambitous moms as they find fairly quickly that “everything hurts.” Running requires a lot of hip and core strength. Do you think your hips are prepared? Try this test to find out:

How to:Stand on one foot, tap your toes of your opposite foot to the side, now the heel, and finish with reaching backward. Were you able to maintain your balance? Now try again and pay special attention to the movement at your knee.
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Grading the Test
If your knee falls inwards or your simply unable to balance or control the motion you fail. Perform roughly 10 reps on each side and see how your fare. Poor control, balance, or a knee that drifts inwards may indicate that your hip muscles may not be prepared for impact exercise such as running, jumping, or fitness classes.

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Lastly moms, ease back into your exercise routine. Returning to “pre-baby body” can be daunting. Just remember that your body has spent nearly a year changing so be patient. Your primary goal should be to improve your core and hip strength first. Doing so provides a launch pad for better movement and decrease risk for injury. Upon returning to running or high impact exercises consider these concepts:

1. Proper rest and recovery; at least 1 day in between high impact exercise to recover.
2. Perform intervals of jogging/walking when fatigue sets in.
3. If you begin experiencing lower leg pain or back pain stop; and go back to your core and hip exercises.
4. Continue to supplement your running/high impact exercises with proper core/hip strength program.


REFERENCES
1. Dutton, Mark. Orthopaedic Examination, Evaluation and Intervention 2nd Edition. United States. The McGraw-Hill Companies Inc. 2008.
2. McGill, Stuart. Low Back Disorders. 2nd Edition. Champaigne, IL. Human Kinetics. 2007.
3. Chiarello, Cynthia M. PT, PhD1; Falzone, et al. The Effects of an Exercise Program on Diastasis Recti Abdominis in Pregnant Women. Journal of Women’s Health Physical Therapy. Volume 29 Issue 1. Spring 20005. P 11-16.

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