35 Postpartum Workout Moves That Are Just as Good as Having a Trainer

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Giving birth may be an unparalleled joyous experience, but postpartum physical challenges can sometimes be tough to tackle. It's important for new moms to remember that they should feel healthy and get their strength back to more easily focus on that new bundle of joy. The good news is there are plenty of body-positive, postpartum exercise techniques (no trainer necessary) for strong supermoms to try.

Anxious to start a new mom workout routine? We spoke with four fitness experts who specialize in postpartum strength training (many of whom are moms themselves!): Heather Tyler, personal trainer and owner of Simply Fit LA; Dayna Kurtz, a personal trainer with a certificate in training pre and postnatal clients; Kendra Fitzgerald, a postpartum corrective exercise specialist and co-founder of Devoted Mamas; and Crystal Widmann, a personal trainer and women's fitness specialist at Y2BFit. 

"It's so much more than just 'getting that body back,'" Kendra Fitzgerald tells CafeMom. "I want moms to feel even stronger than before they had kids and be able to go into any gym class and not make any issues worse."

The postpartum period lasts up to six months while the body adjusts to its new changes after giving birth, according to an article posted in the Journal of Prenatal Medicine, so there's no rush to begin getting back in shape. It's also important to remember that not all exercises are treated equally and that exercises like HIIT or weight training should only be attempted by women who are further along in the postpartum process.

Crystal Widmann tells CafeMom that moms should wait until the first postpartum doctor's appointment (about six weeks after giving birth) before beginning any exercise routine. However, some low-impact stretches like the Transverse Abdominal Contractions can be begun almost immediately after a natural birth. Other exercises like higher intensity drills or anything using weights will likely take several months to get back into.

"As always, we should listen to our body," Heather Tyler tells CafeMom. "Walking and swimming are good first introductions. Stay hydrated and consume enough fuel if breastfeeding (usually an extra 400-600 calories per day before strenuous exercise)."

Tyler said that after giving birth, she was walking and stretching by weeks two and three, planking after week four, swimming after week six, and doing resistance work after week 12.

That being said, everyone's body is different and some women may take a longer time to adjust than others. As always, consult a doctor before beginning any exercises.

From challenging HIIT exercises to simple neck stretches, these 35 training moves and cardio exercises are designed to make the physical transition from pre- to postnatal easier on Mom's body (and help keep up with those midnight feedings!).

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  • Postpartum Planks

    1

    "Planks are great for retraining the core: for lifting, holding, twisting, carrying, and all the things new moms will do with their little one," Heather Tyler says. 

    Tyler suggests trying four different plank positions: the default "push-up" position, leaning on forearms and elbows, and planking on each side. Start by aiming for 30 seconds total, and then slowly add time as the plank position becomes more comfortable. 

  • Postpartum Walking and Stretching

    2

    Sometimes the best exercises are the simplest ones. Make sure to move around (with baby in tow!) to keep those muscles working. Tyler suggests accompanying walks with simple hamstring and quad stretches: Extend one leg toward the sky and the other to the ground, while pulling the upper leg toward the head. 

    "Movement and releasing the muscles are important for postpartum moms since we sit in static positions and lie down so often with the new ones," Tyler says. "Stretches are great things to combat lower back pain."

  • Postpartum Targeted Weight Lifting

    3

    After having a baby, there are some hidden physical challenges that new moms don't even think of, like strengthening wrists and forearms.

    Tyler suggests holding a light weight (5-10 pounds) in one hand, while supporting the forearm from wrist to elbow (and don’t move forearm) and holding the weight up and down, and repeating this simple exercise 10 times, three reps for each arm. This exercise will improve overall grip and forearm strength.  

  • Postpartum Neck Stretches

    4

    "We hold, nurse/feed, and pick up the baby all day," Tyler says. "Necks are easily compromised and often cause pain to radiate down the arm to the wrist."

    To alleviate that pain, stretch the neck to the right side by gently placing pressure on it with the weight of the right arm on the side of the head, Tyler says. Hold for 30-60 seconds, then look down toward armpit and hold for 30-60 seconds, and then back to first position and hold 30-60 seconds. Repeat on the left side.

  • Postpartum Bench Press

    5

    Bench or chest presses are for maintaining upper body strength, possibly the most important muscles that moms use every day.

    Heather Tyler suggests starting with light-medium weights: lie flat on a bench, hold the weights with arms bent at 90 degrees, (elbows toward floor), press upwards overhead with arms extended straight over the shoulders, and repeat. She recommended three sets of 12-15 reps per day. 

  • Postpartum Rows

    6

    Another important upper body strength training exercise is the simple row

    "Lean slightly forward with a straight/neutral back, hold weights just above the thighs and pull arms back, bending elbows and keeping weights as close to waist as possible," Tyler explains. "Squeeze shoulder blades together then release controlled back to starting position." 

    She recommended three sets of 10-15 reps each. 

  • Postpartum Swimming

    7

    Looking for a cardio exercise that gets the heart pumping? Graduate from simple walks with baby to one of the most recommended exercises for new moms (or anyone).

    "Swimming is one of the best full-body cardio activities, pre and post baby!" Tyler says. 

  • Postpartum Bike Riding

    8

    Another oft-overlooked cardio exercise for busy moms is bike riding. There are even plenty of baby carriers for moms who want to bike with baby. 

    "Even biking short distances will help moms condition and get back on track," Tyler says.

  • Postpartum High-Intensity Interval Training

    9

    Yes, even postpartum moms can do some light HIIT training to really kick off the metabolism. 

    "Combine strength and core exercises with these higher-intensity cardio moves," Tyler says. She suggests trying short bursts of burpees, jumping jacks, and high knees / jogging in place. 

  • Postpartum Jumping Rope

    10

    Jumping rope is not just for kids. This relatively cheap cardio exercise can be done from home and is a great way to burn calories while Junior is down for his afternoon nap. 

  • Postpartum Sumo Squats

    11

    "These are great for strengthening muscles in the back, pelvis, legs and butt -- the sumo has an added option of giving arm muscles a boost, too," Dayna Kurtz tells CafeMom. 

    Here's how to do one properly: Stand with feet about a shoulder's width apart, and toes pointed at about a 45-degree angle. Tuck the tailbone under to engage the core muscles. Take a deep breath and slowly bend the knees and then slowly rise back to a standing position. For an added arm boost, get the baby involved!

  • Postpartum Modified Push-Ups

    12

    Not quite up to attempting a traditional push-up position? Try Dana Kurtz's modified push-up:

    "Come down onto hands and knees onto a mat. Make sure that the wrists are lined up under the shoulders, and knees are underneath the hips," Kurtz explains. "From here, walk the hands forward, and allow the lower legs to bend up towards the sky, forming about a 45 degree angle. Exhale and lower toward the ground. Inhale on the way up."


  • Postpartum Forward Lunges

    13

    The basic lunge is another one of the "flexercises" Dayna Kurtz recommends for postpartum strength training. 

    "Take one step forward, then bend the knees so that they just gently grace the ground," Kurtz says. "Straighten the knees, slowly come back up and then bring front leg back to the starting position. To bring baby into the fun, place him facing out with one arm under his bum and the other around his chest."

  • Postpartum Standing Obliques Crunch

    14

    Even though the traditional obliques crunch is completed in a lying down position, Dayna Kurtz suggests that new moms try a standing obliques crunch variation as an alternative. 

    In this exercise -- as shown in Kurtz's video demonstration here -- new moms can stand shoulders-width apart, holding their baby over their head on one side, while bringing their knee up to complete the standing obliques crunch. She recommends aiming for 7-10 reps.

  • Postpartum Mountain Climbers

    15

    "Mountain climbers are a terrific exercise because they can be done almost anywhere, they require no equipment and they are terrific for the core muscles and the lower body muscles," Kurtz said in her demonstration video.

    Here's how to do them: Start out in a plank position, with the wrists aligned under the elbows, and for about 30 seconds at a time, bring the knees up into the elbows. Repeat as necessary for about 10-15 reps.

  • Postpartum Seated Thoracic Twist

    16

    "This one is great for new moms because it helps them get out of the forward-rounded posture of carrying / cuddling / feeding / playing with their baby, and helps release the tightness that settles behind the bra strap during pregnancy which carries over into postpartum," Kendra Fitzgerald says.

    To complete this exercise, keep the hips stable while in a squat or sitting position, then twist to the side while keeping hands over the chest. Repeat for both sides. 

  • Postpartum Seated Strap Work & Pelvic Floor Breaths

    17

    While seated with legs crossed or out in front, stretch forward using a yoga strap as a resistance band and breathe deeply into the strap.

    "This exercise targets the pelvic floor and expansion of the mid-back to help with deep rib breathing," Fitzgerald says. "New moms need this expansion in the mid-back for their core muscles to function properly."

  • Postpartum Transverse Abdominal Contractions

    18

    "This exercise targets the kegels and the deep transverse abdominals," Fitzgerald says. "These are super important for postpartum moms because both the pelvic floor and transverse abdominals get 'turned off' during pregnancy and keeping them strong is essential to core stability and proper body function."

    To activate the TVA muscles during exercise, lay down with bent knees and push the belly button into the spine. On exhale, lift the pelvic floor for full TVA activation. 

  • Postpartum 90/90 Breathing

    19

    For this exercise, lay down on the floor, keeping legs at a 90-degree angle and feet against a wall or flat surface. Inhale into lower ribs, while lifting pelvic floor and draw front ribs down. Try this technique for 5-15 breaths. 

    "The glutes and hip flexors tend to compensate when there is weakness in the pelvic floor / core," Fitzgerald says. "These are excellent for new moms because it helps re-coordinate the diaphragm, pelvic floor, and abdominals to stabilize the pressure in the abdominal canister."

  • Postpartum Dead Bugs

    20

    To step up the 90/90 breathing techniques, try this dead bug exercise that targets core stability. Lay down on the floor, keep a neutral pelvis, lift one leg at a time and exhale. 

    "The goal is to keep the spine, hips and ribcage completely stable while moving the extremities," Fitzgerald says. 

  • Postpartum Bridges with Marching

    21

    "These are great for postpartum because the glutes become tight, weak, and clenched when the pelvic floor and core muscles are not functioning properly," says Fitzgerald. "These exercises get those muscles firing properly so they can work as they should and offer solid support for hip stabilization."

    Here's how to do it: Lift knees into a bridge pose with knees pressing forward off the feet. While keeping knees stable, march in place one leg at a time.

  • Postpartum Hip Hinges

    22

    "Postpartum women often bend from the lower back instead of at the hips due to muscle weakness, which puts unnecessary pressure on the lower back and spine," Fitzgerald says.

    The hip hinges are designed to relieve that pressure. Simply stand up straight and then bend over at the waist, using the hips as a "hinge" without bending the knees.

  • Postpartum Squats

    23

    Squats aren't just great for building up the backside -- they can also help moms gain back their strength in their glutes.

    "Squats are necessary for postpartum because we squat so much in everyday life and it's essential that they are done correctly," Fitzgerald says. "Squats reinforce the benefits of the hip hinge, help maintain proper pelvis alignment when sitting and lifting heavy objects (like small children!), and strengthen the pelvic floor."

  • Postpartum Arm Haulers

    24

    "This exercise targets the mid-back muscles around the bra strap and shoulder muscles which become weak and lock down during postpartum," Fitzgerald said. "They are very important during postpartum because of the demands moms place on their upper back muscles on a daily basis."

    To accomplish this exercise, start by laying stomach-face-down with arms outstretched back. Glide arms just above the floor, then bring fingertips to forehead then glide arms back. Repeat for 10-15 reps.

  • Postpartum Child's Pose

    25

    "These stretches are important for postpartum because they relieve all of the main muscles that tighten and lock down during postpartum," Fitzgerald says.

    For the child's pose, make sure the knees are bent and wide, breathe deeply into the upper back, and walk slowly toward the left and right sides. Repeat for 5-10 breaths.

  • Postpartum Hip Flexor Stretches

    26

    "The posture tends to worsen in postpartum when moms tend to sit for long periods of time, either nursing, feeding, rocking, [or] pumping, which adds to the tightness of the hip flexors and can lead to back pain," Fitzgerald says.

    This pose -- with one leg outstretched in the back and the other bent in front at a 90-degree angle -- strengthens the hip flexors and helps realign the pelvis to neutral. Hold for 5-10 breaths on each side. 

  • Postpartum Neck Release

    27

    "This release is essential to new moms because it relieves tightness in the upper back and neck muscles which overcompensate for the weakness in the upper back," Fitzgerald says.

    To try this stretch, sit tall with opposite hand over the head. Reach the opposite arm out and down to stretch the neck. Hold pose for 5-10 breaths. 

  • Postpartum Transverse Abdominal Contraction with Heel Slides

    28

    This is a variation on the original TVA contraction. Lay on back with knees bent and feet flat. Inhale and exhale fully with belly button pulled in toward spine. Extend one leg out for the length of the mat and repeat for two sets of 10 reps.

    "The transverse muscle naturally engages when we exhale, but we lose this connection when we are pregnant due to the muscle stretching as well as the breathing pattern changing as the organs shift upward during pregnancy," Crystal Widmann says. "Adding heel slides to the initial transverse abdominal contraction is a progression to make the move a little more difficult." 

  • Postpartum Transverse Abdominal Contraction with Knee Lifts

    29

    To perform this TVA variation, lay back with knees bent and feet flat. Inhale and exhale while pulling the belly button toward the spine. Lift one leg up with knees bent above the hips. Repeat with both legs for two sets of 10 reps. 

    "Adding knee lifts to the initial transverse abdominal contraction is a progression to make the move a little more difficult by extending one leg and placing tension on the hip flexor which connects directly to the deep core muscles," Widmann says. 

  • Postpartum Stability Wall Ball Squats

    30

    First, stand with back against the wall with a stability ball against the spine. Inhale and bend the knees as if sitting in a chair, then exhale and straighten the legs. Repeat for two sets of 10 reps to start. 

    "This is a great exercise during the postpartum period because it mirrors the everyday move of bending down to lift things (like our kids) while teaching the transverse muscle to engage when we perform these movements," says Widmann.

  • Postpartum Stability Ball Marches

    31

    To perform this exercise, sit on a stability ball with legs at a 90-degree angle, inhale then exhale while pulling the belly button in toward the spine, and then lift one foot off the floor. Repeat two sets of 10 reps to start. 

    "This exercise trains the transverse abdominal muscle to engage on an unstable surface because you're using your transverse muscle to prevent yourself from rolling off the ball as you lift one leg off the floor," said Widmann.

  • Postpartum Bent Knee Windshield Wipers

    32

    For this exercise, lie back with legs bent with knees above hips and legs at a 90-degree angle (with flexed feet) and a yoga block between the legs (optional). Arms should be extended in a T-shape. Inhale, then exhale pressing the navel to the spine and lifting the pelvic floor. Release both legs to the right, and then engage the TVA muscles to come back to starting point. Repeat for two sets of 10 reps to start. 

    "This exercise works the transverse muscle while also working the obliques in a safe way that doesn't place pressure on the rectus abdominals or the pelvic floor," says Widmann. 

  • Postpartum Bent Knee Side Planks

    33

    To begin this exercise, start on the right side forearm with elbow directly under the shoulder and arm at a 90-degree angle with both knees bent, ankles behind the knees and feet flexed. Inhale, then exhale engaging the TVA muscle and lift hips off the floor. Hold for two seconds and repeat two sets of 10 reps on each side. 

    "Side planks are a great way to engage both the transverse as well as the oblique muscles," says Widmann. 

  • Postpartum Bird Dogs

    34

    To perform, start in a tabletop position on all fours, while inhaling and exhaling and pressing naval to spine. Extend right leg back at hip height and extend the left arm forward at the same time. Return to center and repeat for two sets of 10 reps.

    "The best way to work the rectus abs during the postpartum period is as a stabilizer for other muscles as opposed to more focused movements like crunches," Widmann says.


  • Postpartum Bridge Tucks

    35

    Start on back with knees bent and a yoga block between the thighs. Inhale, then exhale, lifting the navel to the spine and lifting the pelvic floor. Lift the hips off of the floor while squeezing the yoga block and return to the starting position. Repeat two sets of 10 reps to start

    "It's important to perform exercises for both the glutes, back, and core during the postpartum period to develop stability through the pelvis," says Widmann. 

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