When it comes to your postpartum recovery timeline, everyone just says to go slow..
…but when is it time to start going fast (or heavy, or high intensity)?
For starters, the postpartum recovery timeline is not actually a timeline unfortunately. There’s no universal “you can go fast at 4 months postpartum.”
Instead, I like to think of it as a series of checkpoints!
And not just checkpoints overall, but checkpoints applied to every single movement.
Because you’ll be able to go fast or feel normal with some movements before you even feel comfortable enough to attempt others (think body squats vs. barbell snatches)!
In this post I’m going to outline the series of “postpartum checkpoints” I’ve used on myself, personal training clients and in FIGR:Postpartum to help get you back to “fast” safely and effectively.
This is my checkpoint framework for your postpartum recovery timeline:
Checkpoint 1: Connection Breath
This is the backbone to everything you do in your postpartum recovery.
I wrote an entire article about it here, but put simply, the connection breath is a breathing exercise to connect with your core and pelvic floor. When you inhale, the belly inflates, when you exhale, the belly deflates + pelvic floor lifts.
Ask yourself these questions as you practice, and before you add this breath to actual movements:
Can you do it laying? sitting? standing? on all fours?
Are you able to actively engage and connect with your pelvic floor muscles?
You can start practicing this breathing technique as early as in the hospital if you want! It’ll be included in all other checkpoints going forward.
Once you’ve gotten comfortable with and aware of the connection breath, then it’s onto checkpoint 2:
Checkpoint 2: Flexibility + Mobility
As we get into stretching and mobility, it’s important to always use the connection breath as your foundation! You should be able to confidently breathe as you sit or flow with each stretch.
Stretch and mobility movements should focus mainly on the neck, shoulders, back and hips, since these are the body parts that are most strained by motherhood.
Some of my favorites include: butterfly, cat cow, down dog, seated pike fold, standing wide forward fold and runners lunge.
I’m also going to include walking as a mobility movement because this is a great way to mobilize the hips and establish your endurance foundation! Plus, walking, stretching and mobility all generally feel comfortable around the same time.
Some questions to consider before moving onto checkpoint 3:
Can you stretch for 10 minutes without it feeling like a workout?
Does 10 minutes of walking feel comfortable? Can you maintain full core control and not get out of breath?
Can you hinge at the hips and hold a wide forward fold comfortably, without your core feeling like a total sack of potatoes?
For my ladies with c-sections, can you comfortably sit in a runners lunge without irritating your incision?
When stretching and mobility starts to feel like stretching & mobility (and not like a full workout itself) then it’s time to move onward!
Checkpoint 3: Basic Body Weight Exercises
Just as with checkpoint 2, you should carry the connection breath to your body weight exercises with every single rep!
Here are the basic body weight exercises you should nail down before moving onto it’s weighted option:
- good mornings
- glute bridges
- reverse lunges
- step ups
Stay within checkpoint 4 until:
- you have full control over your breath during each rep
- you can hit full range of motion with that movement
- your body is able to fully recover (during and days after) with no pelvic floor or core weakness symptoms (like leaking, bulging or heaviness).
For some movements you’ll be able to check all those boxes before others, and that’s where it gets fun! If you’re able to do all of the above with a glute bridge, but still feel “off” with reverse lunges, stay at checkpoint 3 with lunges AND move onto checkpoint 4 with glute bridges!
This is where everyone’s postpartum recovery timeline becomes unique.
Checkpoint 4: Light Resistance Training With Basic Movements
This is where we get to start adding back dumbbells, bands and/or suspension training (like a TRX) to basic body weight movements.
This is often one of the hardest parts, especially for the advanced gym-goer, because we want to hop right back into the weights we used to use. We tend to feel weak if we pick up the 5 or 10lb weights.
You are not weak. You just had a baby.
And you are becoming stronger by starting with those lighter weights.
I recommend adding a band or TRX before adding dumbbells. This just makes sure the body can handle that light resistance.
Using squats as an example:
- start with banded squats with a band placed right above the knees
- next try TRX supported squats
- then single DB goblet squats
- then onto dual DB front squats.
Once you nail this movement progression, then start increasing weights to your goblet and front squats to build back to your normal from there!
After a basic movement feels comfortable with some resistance, then you’ll be ready to add in higher difficulty movements!
Checkpoint 5: Dynamic Body/Light Weight Exercises
At this point, we continue to build weight with those basic moves, and its also the point we can start working on dynamic moves as well!
Take the basic body weight exercises we already built a foundation with and add a dynamic piece. Examples:
- Body squats turn into squat reaches which turns into squat jumps
- Reverse lunges turn into walking lunges which turn into jump lunges
- Good mornings turn into light DB RDLs and DB deadlifts which turns into DB cleans, DB vipers or KB swings
After we add back in all the movement variety, and feel comfortable + recovered (core + pelvic floor-wise) then it’s time to start building back to full load and intensity.
Checkpoint 6: Build To Full Weight + Intensity
This is where you’ll remain for each movement until it feels back to normal for you.
By the time you get to checkpoint 6, some moves will be back at full speed/weight, while with other moves you’ll still be laying that foundation.
For instance, your shoulder press, bench press, and goblet squat weight/pace/intensity might be fully back to normal, but your barbell snatches, pull-up capacity and sprint capabilities will probably still be in the works.
This is why there is no deadline or absolute timeline when it comes to going fast.
It is all relative to you, your goals and to each specific movement.
Okay, but can you give a general postpartum recovery timeline?
I know, I was the same way.
I wanted a timeline to at least help see if I was on track.
So given everything mentioned above, paired with the fact that every woman’s experience is different, here’s a general timeline. This assumes you start your recovery from day 1 postpartum:
Checkpoint 1 – Connection Breath:
This is your foundation for all other checkpoints, so there is no timeline on when you should “achieve” it. You can start practicing this deep breathing technique as early as in the hospital bed (if you feel ready for it) and should continue this practice for up to a year postpartum or beyond. It is SO good for you.
Checkpoint 2 – Flexibility + Mobility:
Similar to above, this is a foundational piece that is important to practice at every subsequent checkpoint and beyond your postpartum recovery. You should start stretching whenever you feel capable, but it is recommended to start within the first 1-2 weeks after arriving home from the hospital and should feel comfortable within 1-2 weeks or so of starting.
Checkpoint 3 – Basic Body Weight Exercises:
Body weight movement will always be a part of your normal workout routine, but if we’re talking general timeline for this to feel normal, it would be around that 6-8 weeks postpartum mark! Start around 4 weeks with the basics that mimic every day movement so that it’s no more strenuous than day-to-day tasks.
Checkpoint 4 – Light Resistance Training With Basic Movements:
Starting with light weights and bands around week 6 would set you up to feel comfortable with most (or all) weighted basic movement patterns around week 12. This doesn’t mean you’ll be at the normal weight you used to, but just that your body would feel comfortable placing more load than just your body weight in that position!
Checkpoint 5 – Dynamic Body/Light Weight Movements:
Around week 10 is where you may feel comfortable enough with the basics to add back more dynamic/advanced movements. Since these are generally the harder movements (postpartum or not) it could take weeks or months for you to feel totally comfortable with them! Think burpees, running, thrusters, jumping lunges… they’re never necessarily easy anyways.
Checkpoint 6 – Build To Full Weight + Intensity:
Similar to checkpoint 5, it could take you months, or years, to build back every single movement to the same intensity you had before. For me personally, it took about a year to do everything I used to be able to do with the same comfort. When you get back to your normal also depends on your prior fitness level (I discuss this is a full blog topic here)!
I hope you’ll be able to use these checkpoints to pace your own postpartum recovery timeline! If this helped you feel more confident in your postpartum recovery needs, share it with a friend!
And if you don’t want to worry about programming your own postpartum workouts, simply subscribe to FIGR:Postpartum! It follows this exact framework and takes all the guesswork out of your recovery! It is my exact day-by-day programming I did to build back my body and gym foundations. Being a year+ postpartum myself, I can confidently say that following a structure progression can make all the difference!
I got you,