I’ve had two kids. After my first, I learned how not to get back into racing shape. Since my nearly new Cervélo was collecting dust bunnies in the spare room because the doctor forbade me to ride during pregnancy (after only one minor crash!), I rushed to get back on the bike too soon. Of course, I didn’t quite understand just how big of a role balance plays in cycling, and just how much pregnancy kills your balance before and after delivery.
Painful story short, I sped down the backside of a climb, looked down at my shoe to check something, and wound up in a ditch by the roadside. My beautiful new carbon fiber bike was scratched and headed to the repair shop–for a full month–while I was destined for two months of postpartum physical therapy. Sheesh.
After my second kid, I am wiser. While I can’t say I didn’t rush back to the bike after this go-round, I trained smarter instead of harder. And now, I want to pass on my hard-earned knowledge to you. But before you do anything, make sure you’ve got the OK from your doctor. They’ll probably tell you to wait at least 6-8 weeks post-partum to start exercising again. Especially since there ain’t much recovery sleep going on. But never, ever, ever, take my tips to practice without consulting your doctor first.
Regaining Your Balance & Strengthening Your Core
With the rapid weight gain followed by the rapid weight loss, and other physiological changes that I have no clue about, your balance will most likely be totally out of whack. Hormones have let your ligaments stretch and so forth, so it’s important to ease into exercise because you’re at a higher risk for injury even several months after delivery. It took me nearly a year to fully regain my balance after my first kid, but with my second, I started toning and balance exercises as soon as I could.
According to my coach and physical therapist, the fastest way to get back to normal is through core exercises and proper stretches. Here’s a video by BeFit, and a super happy trainer to get you excited about your postpartum workout. These are almost the exact exercises my PT made me do during recovery:
A few key things to remember, though. If you’ve experienced an abdominal separation (pretty common, actually), you’ll want to go easy on exercise moves like crunches that put too much stress on the area and actually make the problem worse.
Once you’ve worked your way back up to a strong core, and you get the go-ahead from the doctor, you can move on to more challenging core workouts that are cycling specific. But, for now, focus on getting that core nice and recuperated.
Make Yourself Comfy
I got started training, well, on the trainer. Instead of hitting the pavement right away this time (cuz, I physically hit the pavement the first time), I kept my early days of riding indoors. I started with some low-intensity workouts–even just some easy spins for the first week or two back. Get your muscles used to the act of riding again, and start to tone up slowly as you get back to race shape.
Of course, I have to bring up the subject of comfort. Because, remember, you just had a baby. It’s important to make sure that you’re not pedaling in pain. In fact, if you do have pain, STOP.
Despite my reluctance to admit it, I bought one of those massive gel seat cushions to cover my fancy, $200 Fi’zi:k saddle. You might try one too–click the link to see what I’m talking about.
Whether or not you do go the crazy padded seat route, invest in a nice pair of bibs. Heck, treat yourself! You just brought life into the world! Get the expensive ones. I happen to love Voler’s Black Label bib shorts (read my full review here) and Santini’s Anna Meares Collection kits (full review forthcoming) for their irritation-free comfort, sleek look, and super great chamois. Not to mention that they’re well designed for women–hopefully a growing trend, but still tough to find these days.
Of course, the final piece of the puzzle here is your saddle. I ended up having to swap saddles after each kid. Lame, right? Let’s face it, those bones probably won’t ever be back the way they were pre-pregnancy. All the more reason to add a new saddle to the list of items that will reward you for all those hours in labor. C’mon, you know you deserve it. Unfortunately, there’s no easy recommendation for me to give you here. My best advice is to hit your LBS and see if they have a test saddle program. My LBS, Art’s Cyclery certainly does, and they let me try out 8 different saddles before I found the perfect one.
I also previewed a new saddle design called the Reprieve Saddle, which I will soon be testing. It may be one answer to postpartum pain, so you might check it out. But, without having ridden it just yet, I can’t yet tell you if it’s the one-stop-shop for saddle replacement–but more on that soon.
Take Some You Time
This is unsolicited advice. With my first kid, I experienced some pretty severe postpartum depression. I just didn’t know it at the time. Riding my bike was one of the few activities that let me feel somewhat better. The freedom, the exercise–it was all good for me. Talk to your family, and be sure to give yourself time to get back on the bike. Kids are a heck of a lot of work, and work is tiring. Even an hour to head down the road and back will help you to feel refreshed. Depression is lame. Bikes are awesome. Besides, you’re gonna need some time to test out the fabulous new gear you got to celebrate being a mom.
Hey, by the way, congratulations on your new addition! Getting back into shape will come–just try not to rush it. You’ll be back on the bike in no time. And now you’ve got someone new to share your love of cycling with. It’s really a pretty cool thing.