Returning to HIIT Postpartum

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Just had a baby and wondering when you can get back to your high intensity workouts? We get it. The theme of returing to HIIT workouts postpartum is slow and steady.

HIIT = High Intensity Interval Training

This is exercise consisting of bursts of high intensity activity alternating with short rests or low intensity activity.

HIIT is different from other styles of steady state lower intensity cardio. It involves short bursts of all out effort followed by a time of rest. This is then typically repeated for several rounds.

HIIT workouts are great if you are short on time, as they typically only last about 30 minutes and can elevate your metabolic rate for up to 24 hours after your workout. This helps burn more calories, lower body fat, improve blood flow, lower blood pressure, and increase metabolism.

Tabata workouts are a classic example, but almost anything can be made into a HIIT workout by adding bursts of high intensity into your workout.

HIIT workouts are great for those looking to maximize time after baby. Keep in mind that exercise will look different from pre pregnancy, and that’s ok.

It’s not one size fits all

Returning to HIIT postpartum is not one size fits all. What’s important is that you understand the principles for safe and effective progression. And that you have properly healed and started restrengthening your pelvic floor and core after baby.

For tailored answers, please see a pelvic health physical therapist in person. Information provided here does not constitute personalized medical advice.

Let’s breakdown postpartum exercise into two keywords: windows and strategy.

Windows of return to postpartum HIIT

A good general rule is to wait at least three months before returning to anything high intensity. Even better, give yourself a window, not a drop-dead date.

Three to six months is an appropriate window to first consider adding HIIT back into your routine. And maybe longer if you are experiencing signs and symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction or other disability during that time.

Listen to your body

Pelvic floor dysfunction is a potential indicator that your body requires more healing and activity modifications before performing high intensity activity. We want to avoid injury or worsening symptoms for our pelvic floor muscles.

If you have any of these pelvic floor symptoms beyond the first 6-8 weeks postpartum, get checked out by a pelvic health professional.

  • Leaking pee or poop
  • Difficulty pooping
  • Painful sex
  • Pelvic and/or low back pain
  • Heaviness, pressure, bulging in the low pelvis

Risk Factors for Pelvic Floor Dysfunction

  • Breastfeeding
  • Obesity
  • Scar (cesarean or perineal)
  • Pre-existing pelvic floor issues
  • Pre-existing hyper-mobility condition
  • Postpartum depression

Don’t set unrealistic expectations

The concept of a window versus a specific date can be used as a motivational tactic especially helpful during early postpartum.

A window accounts for variations in your personal needs and lifestyle that will affect your performance. It avoids unnecessary disappointment when you feel like you have failed to meet a deadline.

Windows of return also help takes the pressure off of unrealistic expectations and comparisons to others. Physical fitness and health are usually not well measured by deadlines and comparisons, but rather by gradual and incremental individual changes.

It can be unhealthy to compare postpartum workouts. Use time windows to allow needed flexibility for your personal considerations with new baby and changing body.

Strategy to return to HIIT postpartum

A general strategy for your postpartum hiit workout is to increase the volume and duration of activity, then the intensity.

This will allow your body to improve cardiovascular endurance, muscle mass, and neuromuscular coordination first. It then can improve the automatic coordination of pelvic floor and core response to increasingly higher intensity demands.

It’s generally okay to advance to the next level when your current level of activity feels manageable. Ensure pelvic floor symptoms are not present during or after the activity.

Each example below starts at the lowest intensity option and progresses to the full HIIT style expression.

Example 1: Jump Rope

  • Alternating hops x 1 min intervals – work up to 10 min
  • Single unders x 1 min intervals – work up to 5 min
  • Double unders x 10 sec intervals – work up to 1 min

Example 2: Box Jumps

  • Step ups x 1 min – work up to 10 rounds
  • Explosive step ups x 1 min – work up to 10 rounds
  • Small box jumps x 1 min – work up to 10 rounds
  • Medium box jumps x 1 min – work up to 5 rounds
  • Tall box jumps x 30 sec – work up to 5 rounds
  • Box jumps (med to tall height) as fast as possible x 30 sec – work up to 5 rounds

Example 3: Tabata Workout

  • Non-impact (toe-ups instead of jumps, walk in/out of the burpee, etc.)
  • Full impact with pause between each repetition
  • Full impact normal timing, but moderate the pace (steady pace, but not AMRAP)
  • Full impact with longer rest phases
  • Normal workout (full impact, normal timing, AMRAP)
  • ** AMRAP = as many reps as possible

Modify to progress

Included in the concept of strategy is how to modify if you are having any trouble with the activity.

Feeling pain and leaking urine does not mean that you are objectively weak or broken. It does mean that something needs to change so that your body can handle the task.

Sometimes it will be appropriate to stop or hold off on the task, but you may not need to completely stop or regress. Try modifications first.

This is where working with a qualified healthcare or fitness professional will come in handy. This person can assess you and help you find the right modifications to keep you active and progressing.

How breastfeeding may affect HIIT postpartum

The hormones associated with breastfeeding also contribute to ligamentous laxity, decreased fat metabolism, and suppression of ovulation and menstruation.

These things are NORMAL during regular frequent breastfeeding, and are not necessarily effects of high intensity exercise.

It’s good to factor this into your mindset and understanding of your experience within the first year postpartum in order to avoid unrealistic expectations regarding fat content, speed of return to HIIT, and menstrual cycling.

You may seek to work with a physical therapist specializing in prenatal and postpartum fitness, as they will have advanced training and education to work with you.

Start your 7 days free trial of our postpartum strengthening program for step-by-step guidance on rebuilding your core and pelvic floor after birth.

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