Strength Losses After Pregnancy Aren't Permanent

We've heard stories of superwomen who ran marathons in their third trimester of pregnancy or lifted weight until the due date. While these cases do happen, the rest of us pregnant mortals end up modifying our regimen on physical activity to accommodate the growing belly.

It's reasonable to expect that somewhere along the way, our fitness decreases.

A new study brings a mix of good and bad news: Indeed, we lose strength, but we can regain some of it.

The Study

Most studies on post-partum fitness have focused on cardiovascular fitness, but there aren't many on strength, said Margarita Treuth, associate professor at Johns Hopkins University. Treuth is lead author for the study, published this month in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

The study followed 63 women in their 30s from pre-pregnancy to nearly seven months post-partum. The subjects included a wide range of fitness levels. All were tested for body composition, physical activity, physical fitness and strength before they became pregnant and after giving birth.

At six weeks post-partum, the women had lost some leg strength and a little upper-body strength. That's understandable. They probably weren't doing any exercise. Most healthy women who've had an uncomplicated vaginal delivery typically get the green light to resume physical activity at about six weeks.

At 27 weeks, the women regained most of their leg and upper-body strength.

Women also changed their regimen to include more walking and home exercise.

Researchers don't know how long it would take for women to fully recover their strength, Treuth said.

Resume Exercise After Doctor's Permission

But what's important is that women resume some form of physical activity as soon as they get a doctor's OK, she said. And walking is a natural choice because it's weight-bearing cardio exercise that most women can do while pushing a stroller.

If you're several weeks post-partum, being outdoors is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Getting some fresh air and sunshine can lift your spirits. Go early in the morning before it's too warm outside. Avoid going midday. Make sure your baby is fully shaded by the stroller or pram canopy.

Yes, the baby might cry while you're going for a walk, but don't let that stop you.

If you miss the socialization at the gym, check with your local hospital for weekly walking programs for new mothers. Or try stroller-based fitness classes such as Stroller Fit (www.strollerfit.com) and Stroller Strides (www.strollerstrides.com), in which an instructor leads the group through a walk and a series of strength-training routines.

If you can't get to the gym to lift weights, consider investing in free weights and a weight-training bench for home workouts.

And give your body time to adjust. If you were doing bicep curls with a 20-pound weight pre-baby, start at a lower weight, and work your way up.


Lisa Liddane is a health and fitness writer for The Orange County Register and an American Council on Exercise-certified group fitness instructor. Write to her at the Register, P.O. Box 11626, Santa Ana, Calif. 92711 or send e-mail to lliddane@cregister.com.


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