Ecstasy, exhaustion, extreme fatigue, euphoria, tears of joy, emotional high, jelly legs, swelling, bruising, RELIEF! Have you experienced these feelings? I most recently did after crossing the finish line in Central Park, New York last November after completing the NYC Marathon. But, these are all words you could use to describe the emotions and physical feelings you experience after giving birth too.
There are a number of parallels between running a marathon and childbirth – both require physical conditioning and adaptation over a number of months; hydration, nutrition and rest are all key factors in maintaining optimum health during a marathon build-up and also pregnancy; both place extreme physical and emotional stress on the body during the actual race or childbirth; and finally, both require a patient approach and time in the recovery phase. It is this final point that I’d like to explore further and discuss in relation to short-term patience for long-term gain.
There is a long held belief in running circles that your next race is only as good as your recovery from the last one. An experienced coach once said to me that to achieve optimum recovery, you should allow for one day of rest for every kilometre run in a race. Therefore after running a marathon you should allow your body at least 42 days of rest prior to starting a new training plan. (Rest refers to active recovery or cross training – minimal running)
The same approach could be applied to recovery from childbirth – your body has been changing over a 40-week period, why not allow it 40 weeks to recover?
Pushing too much too soon in either scenario – following childbirth or running a marathon – can lead to short and long term physical problems such as incontinence, lower back pain, or prolapse issues following childbirth, or overuse injuries following a marathon. Going to hard too soon can also leave you emotionally and mentally exhausted – expecting too much too soon can leave you feeling sad, stressed and disappointed.
The key to recovering both physically and emotionally in both scenarios is to set realistic goals, time frames and exercise plans based on understanding and listening to your body.
Adequate recovery from either childbirth or running a marathon should start with the treatment of any acute injuries/trauma, whilst allowing the body sufficient time to rest. It is while we sleep that our body recovers and regenerates, so try and grab additional sleep or a power nap whenever the opportunity presents, particularly in the early weeks/months.
Ensuring nutrition and hydration are both high in quality and the volume necessary to replenish used stores and assist in the recovery process is also a high priority. (Sally is the qualified expert in the nutrition department so please contact her if you require further information regarding this topic.)
Secondly the treatment of any underlying and ongoing musculoskeletal issues should be attended to. These can include pelvic instability, lower back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome and pelvic floor muscle weakness following childbirth. Referral to physiotherapists who specialise in this area is an efficient and effective way of assisting the body to heal and recover to optimum health.
Attending weekly or twice weekly ShapeUp Mums sessions is also another way to assist in the recovery phase following childbirth. All exercises prescribed by the ShapeUp Mums trainers have a number of progressions and regressions suitable for women of all fitness and pelvic floor muscle strength ability. We ensure that you are working within your limitations and not pushing too hard too soon.
Our approach to exercise is to work from the inside out, reinforcing the foundations by regaining strength and function of the pelvic floor and core-stabilising muscles. These muscles are the foundation support of all activity and exercise. Working outer muscles at too high a level before inner strength has returned can lead to injury and incontinence.
Finally, setting yourself realistic goals and expectations is key to ensuring you don’t place too much stress on yourself physically and/or emotionally. 30 minutes of moderate exercise on more days of the week than not is a great place to start. That 30 minutes can be as easy as walking to the shops with bub in the stroller, attending ShapeUp Mums, or vacuuming the house!
Before you know it, weeks soon turn into months and if you have been following this little by little approach, including quality pelvic floor and core stability exercises with gentle progressions in your exercise regime, listening to your body and understanding what its telling you – rest when tired, cut back on additional exercise when sick, or see a physio if you have an injury – you’ll be running that marathon in no time!
By Jacqui Toohey
ShapeUp Mums Trainer