Accepting that your current status might not allow you to do everything you once could be an ego blow for athletes. But it will help you avoid comparing your current self to your earlier self, which can be disheartening, explains Matt Berenc, CSCS, director of education at the Equinox Fitness Training Institute in Beverly Hills.
When your body is ready to train again, your specific exercise prescription will be highly individual—but these mental and physical notes can help anyone make a strong comeback.
Set a new goal. Without a structured training plan, it’s easy to feel lost. Building toward an endpoint, even if it’s short-term, like trying a new activity three days a week for a month, helps you stay consistent, says Dillon Peterson, a Tier X coach at Preston Hollow in Dallas.
Prioritize different planes. Popular endurance activities like running, cycling, and swimming call for lots of movement in one plane of motion. Restore balance with lateral and rotational exercises like reverse lunges with cable chops and single-leg deadlifts with cross body reaches. Add 1 to 2 sets of 8 to 10 reps of at least two such moves per strength session, Peterson says. The benefits will trickle into other sports.
Cap strength sets at 8 to 10 reps. This range allows you to perfect form and quality using heavy weights without working to a point of breakdown, Peterson notes.
Prep your hips and glutes. These muscle groups are powerhouses that help your body work more efficiently, keeping energy levels high in your subsequent session, Berenc says. To get the benefits, complete a few sets of 1 to 3 reps of an Animal Flow move or a half- or full-kneeling exercise during every warm-up.
Do something new. Climb at an indoor rock gym or work on mastering a new skill at least twice a week, suggests Berenc. “The goal is to vary the stress being placed on your body.” Switching it up will keep things fresh physically so your body doesn't get burned out in your sport.
Adopt a process mindset. No single session will rocket you to pre-injury strength, says Peterson. Instead, it's a small-steps process. Mapping out those milestones (for example, starting with a push-up from your knees, then progressing to a full push-up, and so on) gives you mini wins to keep you motivated, says Berenc.
Regress your exercises. Performing compound exercises without weight helps you rebuild tolerance for volume and intensity, says Berenc. Practice moves like the hip hinge (to prep for the deadlift) and squat at least 2 times per week and as often as every day, completing 2 to 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps. Doing so ensures you’re moving intentionally, which restores and improves range of motion, notes Peterson. Add dumbbells or other weights after 2 to 3 weeks.
Adopt long-duration static stretching. Every bit of range of motion that's lost in a joint is compensated elsewhere, explains Peterson. (If you have an injured shoulder and reach for something, you might twist more at the hip, for example, putting you at risk for more injuries.) Spend 90 seconds in a static yoga pose like Happy Baby during your warm-up to increase mobility and flexibility.
Check your breath. If you hold your breath during a lift, your body might tense up because it perceives the move as a threat. Breathing regularly relaxes the muscles, allowing for bigger movements and, ultimately, a return to the activities you love. Inhale from your belly before initiating a lift, hiss on the exhale as you move the weight, then inhale as you return to start.
Be compassionate. “Pregnancy and delivery are extremely taxing on the body,” says Berenc. “It’s like running a marathon and having to sprint up a long hill just before the finish line.” Plus, those nine months subject you to sleep deprivation, low energy, and fluctuating hormones. Showing self-love means starting out more slowly than you might like. Just know that this gradual progress will set the foundation for your future workouts, he notes.
Move close to the floor. Hip bridges and Cat-Cow allow you to work from the ground and eliminate the balance factor as you adjust to your new weight distributions, Peterson notes.
Split exercise into small chunks. If you can’t dedicate 30 back-to-back minutes, train in bursts, Berenc says. Sprinkle a few movement snacks throughout your day and by nighttime, you may have fit in a full session.
Do moves that counteract your new duties. Train your shoulders, upper back, and hips through bodyweight squats, hip-openers, side-lying rotations, and rows to counter some of the bodily stresses of caring for a newborn, like lifting them from the crib. Aim for 2 sets of 10 to 15 reps 2 to 3 times per week, Berenc says.
Prioritize your core. You lose strength in the area during pregnancy, so you need to work it every day, Peterson says. Dead bugs require you to draw your belly button inward, which increases ab engagement. Perform 1 set of 6 to 8 reps per day. He suggests spending three times longer on the eccentric (lengthening) phase of each move than you do on the concentric (shortening) phase.
Another way to activate the deep core muscles, Berenc notes: diaphragmatic breathing. Do 1 to 2 sets of 1 to 2 minutes during every workout; it's surprisingly difficult and will help you restore core strength.