If you’ve had a baby, or are currently pregnant, you’ll be all too well aware of how your body has changed. You may get pains in places that you never used to and feel like you move differently.
If you think about it, it makes perfect sense that the body needs to change to accommodate your growing baby. The relaxin hormone helps relax the joints and ligaments to make birthing “easier”. The alignment of your spine and pelvis changes as more weight grows on your front.
But once baby is out, everything doesn’t just “bounce” back. If you ran prior to pregnancy, you may find that you feel slow, heavy and you “plod”. This has nothing to do with weight but more the fact that you can’t lift your legs to run so “shuffle”.
In this article I’m going to explain some of the reasons why this might be the case and provide you with some exercises to help. Also, check-out my other articles such as “How to Return to Running Safely After Birth”.
The Why? Hip Strength
As mentioned above, your pregnant body has stretched out and shifted. The baby bump weight and accommodations mean your hip muscles may have relaxed and stretched. So don’t move the way they normally do - pregnancy waddle anyone!
Your hip flexors as well as your abdominal muscles are all needed to help raise your legs up and create the knee drive in order to run. Hence, if your pelvis is out of alignment and/or if your muscles are weakened or not engaging properly, you’ll have trouble lifting and driving through your legs when you do go to run.
The good news is that this is relatively easy to fix. But it can take up to 7 months for your body to realign itself. So be patient. In the meantime you can start with some at home strength work.
Below is a suggested routine for helping build up your hip strength for running. It is only a guide so please check in with your WHP or Trainer if you experience any pain or need special modifications.
Tip #1 - Hip Circles
Circling the leg around in the hip x each direction, each leg. Do 2 sets.
Points to note:
The leg moves, not your hips.
Move slowly and deliberately.
Don’t worry about grisly or gritty sensations, as long as not painful.
Tip #2 - Rocking Hip Flexor Stretch
Start in a kneeling lunge position. Rock forward to stretch the hip on the back leg, rock back to stretch the hamstring on the front leg. Do this 5-8x each leg.
Points to note:
Use books or yoga blocks underneath your hands if you can’t reach the ground.
Don’t lift your hips up as you come forward.
Aim for a little more range of motion each time.
Keep hips level and facing forward.
Add a cushion underneath your knee if you need to.
Tip #3 - Leaning Wall Marching
Beginner: Stand facing a wall. Lean into the wall and keep body straight - like a plank. Come onto tiptoes. Lift one knee up at a time, keeping the heel in line with the other leg. Exhale as you do so. Pause at top. To make it harder, put a mini band around your feet. Do 10-20xl.
Intermediate: Form a reverse plank on a chair and hold plank while marching as described above. Do 10-12x.
Tip #4 - Bulgarian Split Squats (BSS)
Beginner: Place one leg on a chair behind you for balance. Inhale and squat down with your weight through the front leg. Exhale and push through the front leg to fully stand up. Do 6-8 each leg.
Intermediate: As above but add dumbbells to each hand.
Points to note:
Push your bum back towards the chair. You can place your hand on your glute and you should feel it engage.
Try to use the back leg for balance only.
Keep your front knee in line with your toes at all times.
Keep your hips level as you lower.
Tip #5 - Quadruped Fire Hydrants
Beginner: Form an all fours position. Lift one leg out to the side like a dog peeing on a fire hydrant. Exhale as you do so. Use only your glute med/side of hip to do this movement. Rest of body stays still. Do 5-8x each leg.
Intermediate: Add a mini band around your legs.
Points to note:
If you get sore wrists you can either make fists with your hands or position your forearms on a chair or couch to do this exercise.
Try not to visibly shift your weight when you lift your leg.
Keep your spine in a neutral position. Your transverse abdominals also need to engage to help hold you still and support your back while in this position.
Do 2-4 sets of these last three exercises depending on time and fitness.
To Sum Up
If you do this routine 2-3x per week you’ll start to notice greater mobility and strength through your hips. This will then lead to better running form and more enjoyable running experience!
Check out my Run Confident - Run Strong programme. An 8 week return to running programme for new mums. It will help you get back to running safely and effectively. For more advanced or tailored running and triathlon programmes you can contact me for more info.
Relaxin and its Role in Pregnancy - Authors: Laura T. Goldsmith PhD, Gerson Weiss MD, Bernard G. Steinetz PhD
Returning to running postnatal – guidelines for medical, health and fitness professionals managing this population – Authors: Tom Goom, Gráinne Donnelly and Emma Brockwell Published – March 2019
Maximizing Recovery in the Postpartum Period: A Timeline for Rehabilitation from Pregnancy through Return to Sport – Authors Rachel Selman, Kate Early, Brianna Battles, Misty Seidenburg, Elizabeth Wendel, and Susan Westerlund