Are you ready to start a postpartum weightlifting program?
You have come to the right place!
This article will give you a step-by-step weekly plan that you can follow to get back to the barbell.
Plus, you’ll also get a free PDF outlining the process.
Let’s get started!
Although I am a doctor, I am not your doctor. This information is for informational purposes only and should not substitute the advice from your healthcare professional. All kinds of exercise and dietary changes are potentially dangerous, and those who do not seek counsel from the appropriate health care authority assume the liability of any injury which may occur. Please read my full Disclaimer for more information. Also, this post may contain affiliate links: meaning I may receive a commission if you use them.
Ok, moving on.
If you don’t have time to read the entire post now, you can download it as a PDF for free.
Okay, let’s get started.
When can I lift weights postpartum?
In general, OBGYNs will say that you can start to lift weights 6-8 weeks after delivery. But in reality, it will probably be closer to 8-12 weeks.
Your return to weights will largely depends on three factors:
- How active you were prior to and during your pregnancy
- Any postpartum complications you may have had
- The type of delivery you had (vaginal vs c-section)
I go over all of this in more detail on my post When Can I Lift Weights Postpartum? Realistic Expectations.
Why Cant You Lift Heavy Things After Giving Birth?
You can’t lift heavy things after giving birth because this places too much pressure on your abdomen and uterus. This is especially true if you had a c-section.
There is a small chance that your incisions can burst open, leading to delayed wound healing, and possibly a hernia.
If you had a vaginal delivery, your uterus still needs time to return back to its normal state.
This is why we recommend that you dont lift anything that weighs more than 15-20 lbs for at least 2 weeks.
Just make sure to always speak to your doctor, as working out too soon postpartum can lead to serious complications.
Your Guide To Postpartum Strength Training
I know that you might be eager to get back to postpartum exercise, but it’s important that we take our time.
I will break this post up into four distinct phases, depending on how many weeks you are post-delivery.
- Phase 1: Encompasses the first 6 weeks postpartum. The goal of this phase is to get you moving again.
- Phase 2: Weeks 6-12 you will begin doing bodyweight exercises while strengthening key muscle groups.
- Phase 3: Weeks 12-16 you can start to lift the barbell again. We will start low and go slow.
- Phase 4: After successful completion of Phases 1-3, you can proceed to more intense workouts. The minimum time frame is 16 weeks post-delivery.
*As with all things fitness related, always check with your doctor before engaging in any exercise activity! *
Alright, are you ready?
Phase 1: The First 6 Weeks
For the first 6 weeks, it is important that you focus on healing, and getting some basic movement on a daily basis.
Do not put yourself on bedrest!
There is no evidence that it helps – and it can increase your risk of forming blood clots.
The American College of OBGYN recommends that women begin physical activity a few days after delivery.
So what kind of physical activity should you do?
Walking is by far the best type of exercise you can do within the first few days of delivery.
When we do our postpartum rounding in the morning, one of the first questions that we always ask is – “have you gotten up to walk yet?”
Most women should be able to walk the very next day after cesarean section or vaginal delivery.
Aim for at least 10 minutes of walking every single day.
Pelvic Floor Exercises
The second type of physical activity you should do immediately postpartum are pelvic floor exercises. The easiest one you can do is the kegel exercise.
Do these every single day at least once or twice per day.
In my post on pelvic floor exercises – I go over 4 different exercises you can begin incorporating over time.
The last type of physical activity you can do are simple bodyweight exercises.
I suggest you start these 1-3 weeks after you deliver, if you are feeling ready.
This exercise is great for strengthening your booty, your legs, your core, and pelvic floor.
You can use the back of a chair to help you stand back up if needed.
You can also add the postpartum trainer glute resistance band to make this exercise more difficult.
For a more intense squatting regimen, I have created the Postpartum Squat Challenge that can be performed in the comfort of your own home!
Do these exercises 2-3 times per week.
If any of the above exercises cause pain or discomfort, stop and talk to your provider!
- Begin pelvic floor exercises immediately, and do them daily
- Start walking within 1-2 days of delivery, and aim for 10 minutes per day
- After 1-3 weeks, begin adding gentle bodyweight exercises, 2-3x per week
Phase 2: Weeks 6-12
Once you have made it to the 6-8 week mark, you may or may not be feeling ready for more.
If not, that’s ok. Continue walking, pelvic floor work, and gentle bodyweight exercises.
Over time, you will eventually feel strong enough to incorporate more exercise into your routine.
At this point, I want you to begin incorporating
- More Exercise Variations
- Core exercises including Diastasis Recti Training
- Corrective Isolation Training
But before you do – make sure that your doctor or healthcare provider clears you to exercise.
If you are generally healthy, your provider will likely clear you at the 6 week postpartum visit.
Okay, before we get to the exercises let’s go over a quick warm-up that you should do prior to any workout.
Warm-ups serve a few purposes including increasing your body temperature, promotes circulation to your muscles, improves blood flow to your body, and prepares your mind for physical activity.
It does not have to be long nor complicated.
In fact, here is a simple 5 minute full body warm-up you can do to get your body ready for exercise.
Okay, now to the exercises.
More Bodyweight Exercises & Dumbbell Exercises
Up until this point, you’ve only been doing squats and push-ups. Now, we will begin strengthening other muscle groups.
You can do these with your own bodyweight, dumbbells, or resistance bands.
In general, you want to strengthen 4 different types of movement patterns:
|KNEE FLEXION EXERCISES|
|HIP EXTENSION EXERCISES|
Common pushing exercises include:
- Different types of push-ups
- Pike push-ups
- Dumbbell bench press
- Dumbbell shoulder press
Common pulling exercises include:
- Wall Pulls
- Seated Band Rows
- Scapular Wall Slides
- Dumbbell Rows
Common knee flexion exercises include:
Common hip extension exercises include:
- Glute Bridge
- Romanian Deadlifts
- Single-Leg Deadlifts
Pick 1 exercise from each of these categories, and let’s move on
What about ab exercises?
I’m glad you asked.
Core Exercises/Diastasis Recti Training
Strengthening your abs/core is one of the most important things you need to do postpartum.
That’s because of two reasons:
- The abs get very weak during pregnancy from lack of use
- The abs gets stretched out, often leading to a midline separation
This midline separation is called diastasis recti.
Common complications include low back pain, posture changes from a weakened core, and possibly a hernia.
Fortunately, I have an entire article on 100 different exercises you can do for diastasis recti.
The exercises are listed into four separate categories.
- On your back
- On your knees
- On your side
Pick 4 core exercises (one from each position) and let’s move on
Lastly, I want you to select some corrective exercises to include in your workout.
A corrective exercise is a movement that is used to strengthen any weak links you have in your body. THIS IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT TO DO BEFORE LIFTING A BARBELL.
Because several muscle groups get weak throughout the pregnancy. This creates muscular imbalances which if left untreated can:
- Cause other muscle groups to compensate for the weak muscles groups which can
- Lead to muscle overuse and tightness, which can then
- Ultimately lead to pain and injury
So let’s nip this in the bud right now, before we get to the barbell.
The core is the first muscle group, which we addressed above.
The second area that needs to be strengthened is the glutes and the hips. Believe it or not, your booty is one of the most important muscle groups in maintaining core stability.
Weak glutes = poor posture, poor core stability, and poor power production.
So how do you combat this?
By doing glute specific work.
I go over the very best exercises to begin activating the glutes and the hips in:
Pick 2-4 glute exercises from the list above. Now it’s time to create the workouts
Postpartum Workout Prep Phase
Alright, now that you have all the exercises selected, we are going to create three separate workouts.
Ideally, you should do each workout once per week.
So your workout may look something like this:
|Knee Flexion Exercise|
|Core Exercise 1|
|Glute/Hip Corrective Exercise|
|Hip Extension Exercise|
|Core Exercise 2|
|Glute/Hip Corrective Exercise|
|Core Exercise 3|
|Core Exercise 4|
Each workout should take no longer than 30 minutes maximum.
When doing each workout- here are some basic ground rules you should follow.
Always start with weights that are lighter than you can handle. If you are using bodyweight exercises, always start with an easy progression.
There is no need to race here. Give your body time to get used to the resistance again.
Always focus on corrective exercises:
Never forget that your core and glutes need extra attention during this time.
The program above purposefully schedules corrective work at least twice per week. Don’t just go through the motions, take the corrective work seriously.
This will benefit you in the long run once you’re ready to go back to the barbell.
When in doubt – progress from bodyweight -> dumbbells -> barbells
Lastly, try to break each major exercise into a bodyweight version, a dumbbell version, and then a barbell version.
I want you to progress through each of these three phases before moving on to the full barbell versions.
- Push-up -> Dumbbell floor press -> Bench Press
- Single Leg Hip Hinge -> Dumbbell Romanian Deadlifts -> Deadlifts
- Pike Push-up -> Dumbbell Shoulder Press -> Overhead Barbell Press
This should get you to the 12 week mark.
- For Phase 2, start progressing from bodyweight exercises to dumbbell variations of the barbell movements
- Be sure to include corrective work focusing on core and glutes 2-3x per week
Phase 3: 12-16 Weeks
Now that you are 3+ months postpartum, you might be ready to start using the barbell again.
But if you aren’t ready… THAT’S NORMAL!
Don’t feel like you need to strictly follow this time frame.
You may need 6 months to get to this point. And that is okay.
Take your time, and listen to your body.
So whenever you’re ready to get started, keep on reading.
The Postpartum Weightlifting Program
At this point, you should feel strong enough to do the four basic movement patterns with dumbbells.
Again they are,
- The Push,
- The Pull,
- The Hip Extension, and
- The Knee Flexion
So for this next phase, we will create a basic weightlifting program using barbells from scratch.
How many times per week should you workout?
For your first postpartum workout with the barbell, you should aim for 3-4 days per week.
Ideally you can schedule it as
On the 3 off days, you can take a walk, do a light cardio session, or focus on additional corrective exercises.
How often should you workout each movement pattern?
I recommend that you do each of the four movement patterns two times per week. I also recommend doing corrective work two times per week.
The schedule above will give you enough time to do this plus have 1-2 complete days off.
How long should each workout last?
Each workout should take you no more than 30 minutes to complete. At first, your workouts may be quicker than this.
I prefer that you have shorter, more digestible workouts to help you get back into the routine.
The stronger you get, and the heavier you lift, the longer your workout will take.
Okay so now let’s get to the workout!
|Barbell Squat||2 sets @ 60% intensity|
|Dumbbell Shoulder Press||2 sets @ 60% intensity|
|Glute Corrective Exercise||3 sets|
|Bench Press||2 sets @ 60% intensity|
|Dumbbell Row||2 sets @ 60% intensity|
|Core Exercise||3 sets|
|Deadlift||2 sets @ 60% intensity|
|Dumbbell Reverse Lunges||2 sets @ 60% intensity|
|Glute Corrective Exercise||3 sets|
|Barbell Shoulder Press||2 sets @ 60% intensity|
|Dumbbell Bench Press||2 sets @ 60% intensity|
|Core Exercise||3 sets|
- Aim for 60% intensity. Not too difficult, and not too easy.
- Work your way up to 75% intensity over the next four weeks.
What About Cardio?
You can also do cardio with this workout routine.
I recommend that you do it 1-2x per week on your off days. A brisk walk or a light 20 minute jog will suffice.
If you prefer to run, check out my post on Postpartum Cardio.
If you prefer high intensity interval training, check out these 3 postpartum HIIT workouts.
What To Look Out For
As you begin to use the barbell, there are a few things that I wan’t you to be careful of.
If you leak urine, stop
Do you remember all of the pelvic floor exercises you did during the first few weeks?
Those exercises are meant to strengthen the muscles that provide the strength to
- Maintain continence (aka control your urine), and
- Keep your uterus in place
If lifting weights is causing you to leak, you either need to continue strengthening your pelvic floor muscles or you should see your provider.
If you experience pain, stop
Exercise should be difficult, but it shouldn’t be painful.
Always listen to your body.
It is constantly giving you information.
If you develop low back pain, pelvic pain, or hip pain, then stop that particular exercise.
Be sure that a qualified healthcare provider evaluates your symptoms.
If you notice worsening abdominal protrusions, stop
Last but not least, lifting weights postpartum can worsen diastasis recti.
That is why I recommend that you focus heavily on core work during the first 6-12 weeks.
Avoid lifting heavy weights for now, and continue strengthening your obliques and transverse abdominis muscles with safe diastasis recti exercises.
- In Phase 3, you will begin incorporating barbell exercises into your routine
- Build up slowly over a span of 4 weeks, and look out for any of the warning signs mentioned above
Phase 4: 16 weeks +
Okay you have made it!
Getting to Phase 4 may take you 16 weeks, or it might take you longer.
It really doesn’t matter how long it takes you to get here, just as long as you have successfully finished all of the above phases.
So what’s different in Phase 4?
- One: You can increase the intensity
- Two: You can increase the volume
- Three: You can do more barbell exercises per workout
Phase 4 Workout Example
|Barbell Squat||3 sets @ 75% intensity|
|Barbell Bench Press||3 sets @ 75% intensity|
|DB Row||3 sets @ 60% intensity|
|Core Work||3 sets|
All of the same principles from Phase 3 apply.
Continue building up in a sustainable manner, to a program that you can handle.
Listen to your body.
Stop doing any exercise that causes pain or discomfort.
And last but not least…
Don’t forget that you are amazing!
Other Frequently Asked Questions
Weightlifting and breastfeeding- what do I need to know?
Breastfeeding burns a lot of calories. That means that you will need to consume an additional 300-500 calories a day, just to keep up your energy and milk production.
As such, breastfeeding would take priority over muscle building and recovery.
So if you are exercising and breastfeeding, it is extremely important that you
- Stay very well hydrated
- Consume at least 500 extra calories per day
- Eat a sufficient amount of high protein foods every day
For more information on the type and amount of calories you should be consuming while breastfeeding, check out my complete breastfeeding meal plan.
Last but not least,
What About Weightlifting after C-Section?
I’m glad you asked. I will write an entire post on an exercise routine you can follow after a C-Section.
Sign up to my mailing list below to be notified of when it gets released!
Where Can I Find A Free Postpartum Workout Plan?
I have put all of the information in this post into a convenient PDF for you to download.
Enter your email address below to download it.
Final Words On Postpartum Weightlifting
Getting back to your first postpartum weightlifting workout can be a challenge.
The most important thing is that you don’t rush the process and you follow a step-by-step approach to maximize safety and readiness.
So now I want to hear from you.
How long did it take you to get back to working out?
Did you have to do anything differently?
Comment below and let me know!
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Brittany N Robles, MD, MPH, CPT
Brittany N Robles is a full-time OBGYN, a NASM certified personal trainer, and health & fitness expert. She holds a Masters of Public Health degree in maternal health with a special interest in exercise and nutrition. She is also the co-author of The White Coat Trainer. Learn more about her here.
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