Ask new moms about one of the biggest frustrations they face, and you’ll most likely hear “lack of time for self-care.” New babies bring a lot of joy. But the nonstop care they need can derail any attempt at regaining fitness and losing pregnancy weight. Additionally, breastfeeding can cause your body to hang on to extra pounds to ensure you have enough fuel stored to produce breast milk. So, it can take a bit more time to budge the pounds for some women. Also, most exercise routines are time-consuming and don’t easily fit into a busy mom’s day. It can be defeating, making fitness last on the priority list. That’s where postpartum interval training comes in. As we know, interval training, particularly high-intensity interval training (HIIT), can be used to get a great sweat in little time. So, it’s pretty ideal for new moms.
Read on to learn how you can use postpartum interval training to help lose the pregnancy weight—plus some tips for safety and success to keep in mind.
Interval Training and Fat-Reducing Hormones
There’s no better way to boost your fitness level and kick-start fat loss in a short period of time than interval training. You can create a tailor-made postpartum interval training routine with little to no equipment or need for a gym membership. The best part? You can do a maximum-result workout in only 15-20 minutes, three days a week.
Studies show that high-intensity interval training causes a release of epinephrine and norepinephrine, which may play a role in reducing fat. These hormones spur the release and breakdown of fat and can even help target deeper abdominal fat stores. Interval training enhances exercise and post-exercise fat oxidation and can improve muscle mass over time. This in turn can increase resting metabolic rate.
When you do short bouts of intense effort, your metabolism fires up. This boosts oxygen use to the point where your body plays catch-up during recovery and burns a higher-than-normal level of oxygen for a sustained period of 24-48 hours. Also, hormones responsible for improving insulin sensitivity (the ability to take up and use glucose) are released, additionally aiding in fat loss.
Sara Johnson, ACSM-certified exercise physiologist and instructor of Fit4Mom in Madison, Wisconsin, says that the “afterburn” created by interval training can significantly boost fat burning for postpartum women. She also stresses that high-intensity training is great for building calorie-burning muscle mass.
The boost in insulin sensitivity from interval training is especially key for a postpartum woman. It helps her shift from the decreased insulin sensitivity of pregnancy (to ensure the fetus gets enough nutrients) to a more normal response. The quicker her body returns to normal glucose tolerance, the more efficiently she’ll be able to lose body fat.
What Constitutes As Interval Training?
Interval training can take many different forms, but the basics are generally the same. It consists of doing high-intensity (75-90 percent of maximal capacity), short bouts (six seconds to several minutes) of exercise with rest periods of varying lengths in between.
The great thing about interval training is that you can incorporate almost any type of exercise, such as cycling, fast hill walking, running, rope jumping, bodyweight movements, and weight or resistance band exercises. You can tailor the intervals to your level of fitness and increase the intensity as you become more fit.
Postpartum Interval Training
New moms should keep the following considerations in mind before starting postpartum interval training.
Talk to a Doctor.
Check with your health care provider to make sure your body is ready for exercise. Any incisions or tears should be fully healed. Women who had a cesarean section should be fully recovered before starting high-intensity interval training.
Don’t jump right in to high-intensity interval training. Build a base of lower-intensity exercise for several weeks to see how your body responds, and increase your workload sequentially.
If exercise causes any pain or discomfort, reduce the intensity and length of the interval, and increase the rest period. If you continue to have discomfort with an activity, switch to another type of exercise. Never push through pain. Remember, it takes time for your body to recover after pregnancy and delivery. You may need to hold off on postpartum interval training for a while if you aren’t able to do the routine without pain or discomfort.
Find the Right Support.
Invest in a workout bra that fits well to provide support for your breasts and avoid discomfort from fast movements. Some women find that wearing two sports bras works well, especially if your breasts are larger. Key style points to look for: adjustable wide straps, moisture-wicking fabric, convertible nursing flaps, and non-chafing seams.
Also, breastfeeding moms should nurse or pump prior to exercising to help reduce breast discomfort.
Pay Attention to Your Abdominal Muscles.
Most postpartum women have lax abdominal muscles and pelvic floors. So avoid activities that require a bouncing motion during the first few months after delivery. You may feel more comfortable using a belly band for support during that period when exercising, especially if you experience lower-back or pelvic pain with movement.
Core Points for Developing a Postpartum Interval Training Routine
- Start with a warm-up for five minutes or longer to prepare your body for more intense exercise. If you’re a runner, start with a slow walk and increase your pace to a run over the five minutes.
- Always include an active rest period after each push. For example, if you’re doing sprints, follow the intense portion with a slow walk.
- Start with longer, less intense intervals when beginning a postpartum interval training program. Once you’ve built up your fitness level, you can push to higher intensities for shorter durations. Start with an interval with a work-rest ratio of 1:1, and as you get stronger work toward a 2:1 ratio. Johnson has her clients start with several minutes of moderate cardio exercise such as walking, followed by a more intense power walking interval for a minute, and then back to regular walking. This is a great way to slowly prepare your body for higher-intensity intervals.
- Once you’ve mastered less intense intervals, you can alternate among various levels of intensity, pushing to near your maximum effort and then moderately high as you cycle through your bouts. Remember, your first interval should be at the lowest level. After you’ve cycled through several intervals, you can switch back and forth with intensity levels.
Mix It Up
Be creative—don’t stick to the same routine. Interval training is most effective if you change it up and challenge yourself. Your baby stroller can provide your postpartum interval training exercise, especially if you build in some hills to your route. Bring along hand weights or resistance bands. You can switch to different types of exercise within your workout. For example, mix intervals of fast stroller hill walking with intervals of resistance band or bodyweight exercises.
You don’t need to leave the house to do interval training. You can create a routine that includes a sequence of bodyweight exercises, such as burpees, push-ups, lunges, squats to jump-ups, and jumping jacks. Start with ten reps of each, and build the number and speed to increase intensity.
If you have stairs in your home, build them into your interval training by doing a sequence of stepping up one or two steps and back down as quickly as possible.
Your biggest challenge will be finding the time for exercise. Think about when you can fit in your short interval training several times a week. Create a stroller walk date with friends who can join your postpartum interval training. It’s more fun that way, and knowing you’re meeting up with others is motivating. Consider working with a maternal fitness certified instructor to get the most out of your exercise, and check out Aaptiv’s workout classes. It’s a great way to get started with exercise after delivery. Remember, even a little bit of exercise is helpful. So if you only have ten minutes, do what you can in that time and be proud of yourself.
Catherine Cram is an exercise physiologist and a leading expert in the field of maternal fitness. Her consulting company, “Prenatal and Postpartum Fitness” specializes in providing the most current maternal exercise information and continuing education courses to health and fitness professionals.