5 Fast Strength-Building Exercises for New Moms
By ERICA ZIEL
I've trained a lot of moms, expectant moms and new moms, and I've found it's best to start getting back into shape with a smaller range of motion when performing a new exercise. Giving birth can create imbalance throughout the body because of postural changes, so moving through a range in which you can really feel the correct muscles activate makes the exercise so much more effective.
These five exercises are great for strengthening your entire body in a short amount of time -- perfect for us busy mamas!
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As you become stronger, you'll notice an increase in the range of motion through which you can feel your muscles working. Start slow and small if you need to.
1. Narrow Squats With Rotation (20 to 30 reps)
Stand with your legs together and keep them together through the whole movement. Squeeze your butt as you lower down into a squat while rotating your torso to your right.
At the same time, bring your left elbow toward your right thigh. Feel the rotational movement by bringing your left ribcage toward your right hip. Exhale as you slowly stand back up, scooping your belly in and up. This is a great way to bring the focus toward your abs.
Inhale as lower back into your squat, legs together, rotating toward your left side. Alternate sides each rep.
TIP: This exercise is great for strengthening your abdominals post-baby without putting too much stress on your rectus abdominis -- especially if you have diastasis recti (abdominal separation). Moving slowly through this exercise is best and really focuses on activating your deep core muscles.
2. Lunge Jumps(10 on each leg)
Stand in a lunge with your left leg forward, right leg back, while reaching your left arm back and right arm forward. Exhale as you use your legs and glutes to power up into a jump. Even if your front toe barely leaves the ground, that still counts.
Modification: Omit the jumping motion and keep your front leg grounded, just doing a lunge. Complete 15 to 20 reps on each side if you're not jumping.
TIP: I use this exercise to add a little cardio to the workout. Plus, anything that requires more power (jumping) will strengthen even more muscles in a short period of time.
3. Plank Slides (10 to 20 reps)
Hold your plank by keeping your knees on the ground for 30 to 60 seconds. Start with the modified plank (knees on the ground) and master it before progressing into the full plank.
On a mat, get into a full plank on your elbows and toes. Draw your shoulders down and away from your ears by using your middle back muscles. Slightly tuck your hips so you are really engaging your deep abs and not allowing anything to go into your back.
(If you can't keep it out of your back, do the modification for now, then build up to a full plank.)
Exhale as you press your heels back. Inhale as your press your body forward. Feel the motion really engaging your abs. Think about doing a gentle Kegel and scooping your lower belly in and up while trying to feel a strong connection through your belly button.
If you're not there yet, just do your best to really focus on that core connection. It varies from mom to mom as far as how long it takes to get the connection back, so you may need to do the modification and strengthen your abs first.
TIP: Planks can be a great way to get you core strength back, unless you have diastasis recti. Instead, do single-leg drops as described below or another standing core-activating exercise.
Modification: For single-leg drops, lie on your back with one leg flat on the floor and the other leg at 90 degrees. Inhale as you slowly lower your leg toward the ground, and exhale as you engage your deep abs (focus ribcage down and scoop your belly in and up). Do 10 to 20 reps on one side, then switch legs.
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4. Twist Jumps (10 to 20 reps)
Keep your legs connected throughout the entire exercise. Start in a squat to your left with your torso rotated to your right (similar to narrow squats with rotation).
Then, using your legs and core to power you, come up into a small jump, switching your legs toward the other direction midway through so you land with your legs to your right.
Go into a squat on your right side, then jump up and rotate your legs (still keeping them together) to your left. Continue alternating until you have completed all reps.
Modification: Do another set of the narrow squats with rotation -- no jumping involved with that one.
5. Single-Leg Dips (10 to 20 reps each leg)
Start with your right foot flat on your mat, arms extended straight and hips lifted. Your torso and outstretched left leg should be close to parallel to the floor.
Hold and squeeze your triceps while drawing your shoulders down away from your ears. Inhale as you lower your hips down by bending your elbows slowly.
Exhale as your press your body back up, lifting your hips and extending your arms straight. Repeat until you complete your reps on this leg.
Then switch legs. Be sure to roll your wrists in circles to release any tension in them in between switching sides.
Modification: Keep both feet on the ground.
See the workout moves here:
Repeat this workout for another for two to three sets, then move on to the stretches:
Standing Hip Stretch (hold for 10 to 30 seconds each side)
Standing on your left leg, bend your right leg across and go down into a squat, sticking your butt out and arching your back.
You should feel a great stretch in your right hip and low back. Hold 10 to 30 seconds, then switch sides. (If you need support, hang on to a chair or do this near a wall).
Standing Quad Stretch (hold 10 to 30 seconds on each side)
Standing on your right leg and keeping your right knee softly bent, grab your left leg with your left hand and pull it back.
You should feel a great stretch on the front of your left thigh. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds, then switch sides. (If you need support, hang on to a chair or do this near a wall).
Readers -- Are you a new mom who is trying to get back in shape? Was it difficult to resume an exercise routine after giving birth? What kinds of exercise moves did you focus on? Leave a comment below and let us know. Want more content like this? Sign up for the LIVESTRONG.COM newsletter!
Expert personal trainer and Pilates instructor Erica Ziel is the author of The Knocked-Up Fitness Guide to Pregnancy. Erica has been featured in and contributes to Fit Pregnancy magazine, The New York Times, Oxygen magazine, People.com and other prominent media outlets. She is the creator of Knocked-UpFitness.com and Pilates-Infused Functional Workouts. Her DVDs and workouts are designed for expecting moms, new moms and busy moms, addressing topics such as preparing your core for delivery, diastasis recti and postural changes.