Exercises For Getting Back Into Climbing Postpartum
To all the new mum's out there - have you managed to get back into climbing amidst the challenges of being a new parent?
I recently gave birth to a beautiful baby daughter and through the help of a physiotherapist, I was able to safely get back into bouldering within 3 months. Hopefully, sharing my recovery journey will help you with yours. Note, my experience is based on a vaginal birth with second degree tear and no complications during birth or pregnancy. Always consult a qualified health professional for advice that is suited to your physical needs.
Month 1 - Remind your brain of the muscles that exist
The first 4 weeks was just about survival. There is no sugar coating it, taking on parenthood for the first time is brutal. Mentally, I was doing my best to keep up with the steep learning curve and at the same time trying not to beat myself up over the baby crying constantly. Physically, I was exhausted at having to breastfeed every few hours and carrying my crying baby in between feeds to rock her to sleep. Needless to say, climbing was not on my mind. My body also felt alien to me - I could feel my organs sloshing around now that they are no longer squished aside, my joints were clicky and achy, and I could no longer use my core to get out of bed.
The goal for month 1 is to recover by resting as much as possible. This means lying down to take the pressure off the joints and pelvic floor muscles. I did basic tensing exercises daily to remind my brain of the muscles that exist:
- Core tensing - pull your belly button towards your spine and hold for 1 sec. Repeat 10 times. Do this 3 times a day.
- Pelvic floor - engage your pelvic floor for 6 seconds, rest for 3. Repeat 12 times. Do this 3 times a day.
- Slow walking - start with 10 minutes at a time and gradually increasing to 30 minutes
Month 2 - Deep core exercises
I became a little impatient and started doing sit ups, push ups, pull ups, planks and long walks in excess of 60 minutes. That is, until I found out I had mild prolapse. Unfortunately, I pushed myself too far and my soft tissues paid for it. Prolapse is quite common in Asian women, but fortunately it can be improved with the right intervention. Aside from resting more often, I had to go back to basic exercises to strengthen my pelvic floor as well as improve the deep core rather than surface core muscles:
- Ab crunch - Lie down on the floor facing up, lift your shoulders off the ground and attempt to touch your bent knees with your finger tips. Focus on activating your lower ab muscles and try not to bend your upper back. Hold for 6 seconds, then roll back down. Repeat 10 times.
- Rib crunch - lie down on the floor facing up with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Lift your arms and point your fingers towards the ceiling, making 90 degrees with your body. Reach for the ceiling and lift your shoulders off the ground, focusing on engaging the muscles just below your ribs. Hold for 2 seconds. Repeat 10 times.
- Side planks - lie down on your left side, leaning on the left forearms for support. Position your left elbow directly beneath your left shoulder and rest your left palm flat on the ground. Bend both knees so your feet are behind you. Lift your right hips off the ground so that your body is straight, supported by your forearm and your knees. Focus on activating your obliques and abductors. Hold for 30 sec, repeat 3 times on both the left and ride side.
- Pelvic floor - engage your pelvic floor for 12 seconds, rest for 6. Repeat for 12. Follow this with 10 strong, sharp bursts. Do this twice a day.
- Walking - gradually increase to 60 minutes by the end of Month 2.
Month 3 - Light indoor bouldering on slabs
By 12 weeks, I was starting to get the hang of getting out and about with a newborn. The best time to leave home is just after a feed, so the baby is not hungry and not too tired. If possible, have someone sit in the back seat with the baby. Many shopping centres such as Westfield and Chadstone have very nice Parents rooms with breastfeeding cubicles and nappy changing stations.
We ventured out to a few bouldering gyms in Month 3, our top pick being Boulder Labs in Ferntree Gully. It is far enough for the baby to fall asleep during the drive over, has plenty of parking, lots of room to push the pram around, and a baby change table in the bathroom. If you’re lucky and the baby is in a good mood, you can walk for 7 minutes to Wholefood Merchants for a bite to eat afterwards. Bloc Haus is a close second, it doesn’t have a baby change table but has party rooms that are quiet and dark when not in use, perfect for a sleeping baby.
Most of the problems I worked on were slabs as my core was not yet strong enough to handle overhangs. Plus it is best to climb down rather than jump down in order to protect your pelvic floor. If you have to jump down, remember to engage your pelvic floor first before you let you. After you get home from a bouldering session, make sure you lie down for 10 minutes to rest.
As for Month 3 exercises, continue with the same ones from Month 2 but kick it up a notch:
- Ab crunch - Same as Month 2
- Rib crunch - Same as Month 2
- Side planks - Don’t bend your knees so you are supported by your forearm and your feet instead.
- Pelvic floor - engage your pelvic floor for 20 seconds, rest for 6. Repeat for 12. Follow this with 20 strong, sharp bursts. Do this just once per day.
That’s it! The above exercises might sound like a lot, but you only need 5-10 minutes per day. I often do my pelvic floor exercises whilst breastfeeding, especially in the first 2 months. Lastly, I also started cycling in Month 3, but found that introducing both cycling and bouldering at the same time was too much for my lower back. Best to introduce one sport per month.
Climbing is one of the things that keeps me sane and gets me through the challenges of being a new parent. I hope you make time for yourself too and remember, the above exercises can help you feel stronger and more like yourself again, but sometimes what you may need is a whole day in your pajamas watching Kath and Kim on Netflix. And that’s okay too.