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Return to Running Postnatally

Updated: Jan 31

Getting back into or starting running again can be a daunting prospect after birth. There are many factors to consider when taking up running postnatally from your pelvic health to lack of sleep, and this will help outline a basic structure you can follow that can help you kickstart your running journey.

I recommend waiting at least 3 months, minimum, before starting running - allowing time for tissues too heal and also to gain pelvic floor and core strength, which you can start to do from the early weeks BUT this is a rough guide, a pelvic health/women’s physio will advise further.

During this rehabilitation period, there is plenty you can do to start building up to that first run - all of which are outlined in phases 1-5. How long you spend on each phase is down to your body, there is no set time frame, so work with your body and not against it. Patience is key.

Phase 1 - Respect your body and the healing process first and foremost

When returning to running postpartum, a gradual return is best. Take. Your. Time. Birth is a trauma to the body, regardless of method, and it has to heal and recover adequately before reintroducing any type of exercise, let alone high impact impact exercise such as jumping or running. My advice here is not to just pop on your trainers and off you go.

Before even thinking of exercising again, think about how your body is responding to the healing process but also the demands of a newborn. Respect your pelvic health as well, regardless of birth method your body has been through an entire pregnancy and birth and needs to heal. Your pelvic floor, if you had a vaginal birth, will have stretched to over 250% times its resting state during birth. So to introduce any sort of impact, like walking or running, must be done gradually to allow tissues to heal adequately. If you had a c-section you underwent major surgery and again, it takes time for the body to repair.

I recommend booking in with a women’s health physio for an assessment - they can assess your core, pelvic floor and so much more and give you a good indication on what you may need to work on (strength wise) including checking for abdominal separation. The waitlist for an appointment can often be 8-10+ weeks, so I recommend calling to book as soon as baby has arrived and they can advise how long to wait before an assessment.

How long the initial healing process is totally down to the individual.

Phase 2 - Start with gentle exercises that compliment the healing process & walking

I recommend gentle exercises including breath work, pelvic floor connection, deep core connection and mobility which focus on helping you reconnect with your body, but which dont put any undue strain on the healing tissues. Exercises like pelvic floor squeezes and deep core connection breaths can in fact help with the healing process by bringing blood to the area for tissue repair and you can find out more in New Beginnings: A Gentle Postnatal Course,

This 10 minute video "Postnatal Core Connection: Why & How" will give you a bit more insight into its importance too:

When you feel ready for that first walk postpartum, don’t aim for 5k, but 100m! Slow and steady. Keep the pace slow, as the faster you walk the higher the impact, which is what we’re building up again

Phase 3 - Strength training: Start from the inside out!

Once you have worked through some gentle exercises to reconnect with your body, and you have been signed off by your GP, consultant or pelvic health physio to do further exercise, these are areas that you can work on strengthening to help prepare you for running, which can be done alongside your walking to compliment it.

Step 1️⃣ Pelvic floor Exercises - work daily to be able to feel a strong lift in standing, not just seated and lying, and aiming for roughly 10s holds & release + 10s quick holds and release. It is equally important that you feel the release of the muscles each time too. High impact forces, like when running, are absorbed by the pelvic floor so it’s important it has strength to contract and relax evenly.

Heaviness or incontinence can be a sign of pelvic floor weakness or overactivity - again, a pelvic health physio can help with the assessment here

Step 2️⃣ Deep Core Strength - I'm talking about deep core, not the superficial 6 pack! Working the transverse abdominals (which wrap from front to back of the abdomen like a corset) can be done via core connection breaths. This helps with pelvic stability, something else that’s important for running!

This video from Instagram will help guide you through some "Beginner Postnatal Deep Core Exercises"

You can find more exercises to advance on from this in New Beginnings: A Gentle Postnatal Course,

Step 3️⃣ Glute Strength - aka your bum muscles! Strength in the glutes is something we tend to lack in the postpartum period, but what propels us in walking and running, so we really need them! Plus they help keep our pelvis stable, along with the core (see how they all interlink?)

Step 4️⃣ Strength/Resistance Training - Its time to build up those supporting muscles! Starting with bodyweight, build strength all over before introducing extra resistance through bands or light dumbbells. The more you repeat the exercises, the more the body adapts, so working through a structured plan can help here such as The Postnatal Program. This is a strength & core training program for mothers 6 weeks (vaginal) or 10 weeks (c-section) post birth (medical professional sign off recommended).

Step 5️⃣ Master Single Leg Exercises - running is a single leg exercise! As you bond from one foot to the next, you need to build stability on each side. It is also important to be training laterally (side to side), through exercises like lateral lunges so you can be stable moving forwards but also side to side - a plane of motion we don't often work in!

Step 6️⃣ Gradually introduce impact - starting with increasing the pace of your walks and adding in a few hops or running on the spot - think... how does it feel? How does your body respond? Are you feeling 'icky' or any heaviness in the pelvis? Focus on a gentle reintroduction and assessing how your body feels each time. If it feels good, you can slowly increase the amount you are doing.

Phase 4 - Increasing impact

Once you feel comfortable with some gentle impact, its time to introduce more! By completing one round of this doesn't mean that you're bullet proof, but that you might be ready to start that first gentle running interval (outlined in Phase 5).

➡️ Walking for 30 mins at a good pace (not an amble)

➡️ Single leg balance 10 seconds each side

➡️ Single leg hop in place 10 reps each side

➡️ Jog on the spot 1 min

➡️ Lunge with hop 10 reps each side

➡️ Single leg squat 10 reps each side

➡️ Lateral skater bounds 20 (10 each side)

➡️ Lateral lunge to hop 20 (10 each side)

➡️ Forward jog 10-20 strides

All of which are demonstrated in this reel:

Each time, assess how your body feels - Can you feel any pelvic heaviness? Is there any incontinence? Do you feel stable? Is there any pain around incision/pelvis? Are there any areas of clear weakness that may increase risk of injury if running began?

If you notice a weakness when performing these exercises, it doesn’t mean stop, but may represent an area you may need to work on strengthening. Consider a visit to a pelvic health physio and that more pelvic floor, core and strength rehabilitation may need to be factored into your workout routine before taking the step into that first run.

It is key to build the distance/time you are running/walking for, before adding in more impact (increasing the time spent running vs. walking). Then if you feel ready, you can increase the running time and decrease the walking time.

Phase 5 - THAT first run!

For me the first run took place around 4 months after birth. That was after I had followed all of the steps above including both New Beginnings & The Postnatal Program AND been signed off by my women's health physio to start running.

Here are some suggestions to make that first run successful:

  • Splash out on some supportive footwear - not day to day trainers but proper running shoes and fitted for arch and ankle support.

  • A supportive sports bra - seems obvious but remember your boobs change a lot during pregnancy and postnatally, especially if you are breastfeeding, so your pre-pregnancy bras might not be supportive enough.

  • Supportive leggings - avoid wearing leggings that dig in too much around the waist. This can effect your ability to breathe optimally (see below).

  • Breastfeeding mums - have higher levels of relaxin hormone which can increase joint laxity. This can increase risk of injury, or pelvic floor dysfunction so to be acutely aware of changes in the body and or pelvic floor functioning!

Time for the first run:

  • Warm up & Cool down - Absolutely vital! Particularly a stretch a few hours after, once the muscles have returning to resting state.

  • Breathing throughout your run - how you breathe this has a direct effect on your pelvic floor and core functioning. Optimal breathing means diaphragm, core and pelvic floor all working in sync. Inhaling evenly 360 into the rib cage, keeping the tummy soft and relaxed, avoid gripping or sucking in the tummy. Inhale through the nose, exhale out through the mouth.

  • Positioning.- think “tits over toes” - a slight lean forward. This can also help with optimal breathing too as! Aim to strike from mid foot to toe, again this will be made easier with correct positioning.

  • Start with running intervals - Run for 30s, walk for 30s, for 10-15minutes. Lower your running/impact intervals if you feel any pelvic heaviness, soreness, experiencing leaking. It doesn't mean stop, just that perhaps it was pushing too hard too soon, so reduce the pace to a walk or reduce the length of the internals.

  • Subsequent Runs - Each time you gradually increase the time you do the intervals to 20mins, 25minutes etc. with similar intervals of 30s on, 30s off.

It is key to build the distance/time you are running/walking for, before adding in more impact (increasing the time spent running vs. walking). Then if you feel ready, you can increase the running time and decrease the walking time. How you increase the intervals is down to the individual. Remember like anything after baby, slow and steady.

It is so important that you asses how you feel after every run. Both immediately and the following day:

  • Pelvic heaviness? As this can be a sign of prolapse or laxity

  • Leaking? This can be a sign of an over active or under active pelvic floor

  • Soreness?

  • Tightness?

It might be you have to lower the running intervals or work on strengthening or some release work too. It is why mobility training is key here too!

Final Thoughts

When starting out on your return to exercise and also running, I cannot stress the importance of having a plan. Jumping back into what you did prior to pregnancy or even during pregnancy can set you back before you've even left the starting blocks. Focus first and foremost on healing and your pelvic health before starting to strengthen the body all over, and checking in regularly with your body and your medical professional. Both New Beginnings & The Postnatal Program can assist you with a structured return to exercise, building your strength from the core to all over.

Good luck!

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