Start Running Again With These Tips From A Postpartum Physical Therapist + Sample Training Programs!

Are you excited to get back into running postpartum? 

And not sure when or how to begin? 

Were you an avid runner before baby? 

And now you are now chomping at the bit to get back to it? 

Or, you never ran consistently before, but are craving to do so now to get those endorphins flowing? 

Whether 6 weeks, 6 months or 6 years postpartum – this article is for you, mama!

Before you continue reading, know that you are unique and that your timeline is your timeline. Which may look different from your bestie’s, and that’s okay! So, let go of comparison. That being said, there are a few non-negotiables to check off the list before you embark on your first run.

I want to make sure you are able to walk for 30 minutes without the following symptoms:

  • No feelings of heaviness in the pelvic region
  • No leaking of urine or inability to control bowel movements
  • No notable Diastasis Recti, learn more about Diastasis here
  • No pelvic or lower back pain
  • No ongoing blood loss past 8 weeks postpartum (not including your menstrual cycle if this has returned)

If you cannot “check off” each of the above criteria – PAUSE. 

It’s necessary to rebuild your core and pelvic floor foundation prior to engaging in impact activities. This reduces your injury risk and ensures that you return to running feeling good, without injury! If you notice any of the above symptoms continuing beyond 8 weeks postpartum, you may benefit from individualized evaluation by a physical therapist with specific training for postpartum care. They can evaluate you individually and determine the optimal exercises for you to progress through. By following your physical therapist’s recommendations and engaging in lower-impact activities such as Pilates, Barre and Yoga, you’ll be checking off those boxes in no time! Learn more about what you can expect at your first pelvic health physical therapy appointment, read this

Next, it’s important to consider the timeline of healing postpartum. You’re usually given clearance at your 6 week OB/Midwife appointment to return to physical activity and it is advised to wait at least 12 weeks to return to running.

All clear on the lists above, but not quite 12 weeks postpartum? Keep reading for progressive loading strategies to help your body prepare for impact activities once you’ve met that healing time frame. Strength training, walking, and mobility work will be your emphasis until the recommended healing time frame of 12 weeks occurs to begin any higher impact activities like plyometrics or running programs. Learn more about progressive loading here

Past 12 weeks postpartum? Moving through progressive strengthening prior to starting a return to running program is ideal. Let’s dive into why it’s important and how we can accomplish this!

Research shows that your body accepts 2-8x its body weight when completing impact activities, such as running and jumping. That’s why strength training is such an important component of any return to run program. Specifically, single leg exercises! When you run, it’s essentially a series of single leg hops. So, we help the body prepare for this loading strategy by breaking down those single leg hops into strength-based movements.

Here are some exercises to consider for progressive lower body strengthening:

  • Single Leg Wall Sit
  • Single Leg Squat
  • Single Leg Romanian Deadlift
  • Reverse Lunge
  • Lateral Lunge
  • Single Leg Heel Raise

A goal of 3 sets of 10-15 repetitions is a good rule of thumb for the above exercises. You can pair two exercises together to create a circuit. 

Example: Complete 10 repetitions of the Single Leg Wall Sit, followed by 10 repetitions of the Single Leg Squat, then alternate those two exercises for 3 sets of each. Move on to the next two exercises and do the same. 

This helps keep the muscles guessing and works the muscles in different ways versus doing 3 rounds of 10 repetitions for a single exercise all in a row. Make sense? You’ve got this, mama!

If these feel good using your bodyweight, consider adding a dumbbell in each hand for added resistance. If any symptoms from the checklist above come on during completion of these exercises, check your form. Still feel symptoms? Consider seeking out a physical therapy evaluation to help you progress through loading with exercises specific to you!

Alright, mama. You’ve checked your symptoms and have the all-clear. You’ve met your healing time frame of at least 12 weeks postpartum. You’ve done your strength training and feel strong, stable, and ready to up the intensity. 

You’re ready to RUN! A friendly reminder that your timeline is your timeline 🙂

Let’s get to running then, shall we?! A walk / jog progression is recommended to allow all of your tissues time to get used to impact again. 

Some important points to keep in mind when prepping for your first run:

  • Warm-up for 5-10 minutes pre-run
  • Keep it dynamic!
    • Examples: hamstring scoops, walking lunges, toy soldier, hip swings, knee to chest hugs, lateral lunges
    • Perform ~1 minute of each exercise to get the blood pumping and reduce risk of muscle strain
  • Stay on level ground (ie. avoid hills and trails)
  • Do not run on consecutive days
  • Cross-train on off days with strength training, walking, swimming, biking, yoga, Pilates… whatever it is you enjoy!
  • Take one day of rest each week
  • If you have pain or leakage during your run, do not up the intensity or duration until you can complete the current level without symptoms
  • Cool-down for 5-10 minutes post-run
    • Here’s where static stretching comes into play!
    • Examples: hamstring stretch, quadriceps stretch, half kneeling hip flexor stretch, pigeon pose

Walk / Jog Sample Programming (1 Month)

Week 1

Monday: Run 1 minute / Walk 4 minutes  x4-5 reps

Tuesday: Cross-train

Wednesday: Run 1 minutes / Walk 4 minutes x5-6 reps

Thursday: Cross-train

Friday: Run 2 minutes / Walk 3 minutes x4-5 reps

Saturday: Cross-train

Sunday: Rest

Week 2

Monday: Run 2 minutes / Walk 3 minutes x5-6 reps

Tuesday: Cross-train

Wednesday: Run 3 minutes / Walk 2 minutes x4-5 reps

Thursday: Cross-train

Friday: Run 3 minutes / Walk 2 minutes x5-6 reps

Saturday: Cross-train

Sunday: Rest

Week 3

Monday: Run 4 minutes / Walk 1 minutes x4-5 reps

Tuesday: Cross-train

Wednesday: Run 4 minutes / Walk 1 minutes x5-6 reps

Thursday: Cross-train

Friday: Run 5 minutes / Walk 1 minutes x4-5 reps

Saturday: Cross-train

Sunday: Rest

Week 4

Monday: Run 5 minutes / Walk 1 minutes x4-5 reps

Tuesday: Cross-train

Wednesday: Run 8 minutes / Walk 1 minute x3-4 reps

Thursday: Cross-train

Friday: Run 10 minutes / Walk 1 minute x2-3 reps

Saturday: Cross-train

Sunday: Rest

From this point forward, you can continue adding minutes to your run or start tracking via mileage. As you progress, a 10-20% increase in mileage each week is a good target to keep in mind so as to not overdo it. Keep this up until you’ve reached your running duration and intensity goals. Please note note, focus on duration first and intensity second. Once you’ve reached 30 minutes running duration, then you can begin upping your intensity/speed and terrain. 

I hope this provided some new insight and perspective into all the important components of returning to run postpartum to set yourself up for success! Save this to come back to for reference as you embark on your return to running journey. I’ll be over here cheering you on – keep moving, mama!

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