Are you a new parent who wants to return to — or take up — martial arts training? We’ve got some tips to help get you started on your new postpartum martial arts journey.
Performed safety and responsibly, martial arts can be a great choice for post-natal exercise. Training can improve your physical fitness, provide stress relief, promote better sleep, and possibly help manage postpartum depression. All of which are beneficial for anyone who is starting to recover from pregnancy and giving birth.
We’ve covered how to train in martial arts while pregnant before (see “Martial Arts and Pregnancy: What You Need To Know Before You Train For Two“), now let’s take a look at when and how to get back to your favorite martial arts once the baby’s here.
Consult your doctor.
According to the Mayo Clinic, it’s generally safe for someone who had an uncomplicated pregnancy and vaginal birth to start exercising after a few days, or when you feel ready. If you had any issues during pregnancy or delivery, though, it’s best to discuss your postpartum martial arts training plans with a healthcare professional. Their expertise will help you figure out what exercises are safe for you and what timetable for returning to them is responsible. Which will allow you to train in martial arts with maximum benefits and minimum risks.
Talk to your instructors. And your martial arts training partners.
There is a good chance that your instructors, coaches, and fellow martial arts students will have at least some experience with postpartum martial arts training. Whether they’ve worked with a student after they’ve given birth or they themselves have trained in martial arts after giving birth, they might have some insight into how to responsibly integrate training into your life. For added expertise, you could also consider hiring a fitness professional who is specifically trained in post-natal exercise to help guide you through those first few months.
Listen to your body.
There’s some key words in the Mayo Clinic’s recommendations for postpartum exercise that shouldn’t be ignored: when you feel ready. The expertise of your health care professionals and martial arts coaches is important, but you know how you feel best of all. Do you feel physically and mentally healthy enough to start your postpartum martial arts training? Then go for it! Are you not feeling quite up to it, but know yourself and your martial arts training community well enough to know that postpartum martial arts training will help you get there in a supportive and safe environment? Then maybe if it’s worth a try. If you’re genuinely not ready to start martial arts training, though, it’s ok to take more time to rest. Martial arts will still be there for you when you are ready.
Health experts recommend beginning with simple, low impact exercises like walking, light stretching, and core work that focuses on the pelvic floor. Postpartum martial arts exercises that would fall under that description include light warm-ups in most disciplines, Tai Chi, light Karate kata, and gentle shadow-boxing (or shadow-boxing with lighter weight boxing gloves to add some resistance training to your workout). Solo grappling drills in arts like amateur wrestling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu could also be adapted into a postpartum core workout if you want to get creative. As you continue to recover and get stronger, you can start to incorporate classes and technique training into your postpartum martial arts training routine.
Don’t be afraid to push yourself — as long as you’re staying responsible and informed.
Most of the literature on postpartum exercise is still pretty cautious. That’s understandable. Giving birth is a major event that has a massive impact on your body. It’s important to make sure that you’re healing and taking care of yourself in the weeks and months after. You should be careful.
But if you know our own body, have a solid martial arts training background, and have health professionals who understand your situation well, you can proceed with more involved postpartum martial arts training under their guidance and your self-awareness.
For example, Brazilian-Jiu Jitsu luminary Emily Kwok returned to BJJ three weeks after giving birth. Here’s how she described that time in an interview with Breaking Muscle: “My physical therapist just warned me to go easy since my ligaments were still tightening up and my joints were beginning to move again with some resistance and load. I just taught and moved lightly for the first couple weeks, but was trying to train a bit harder by my sixth week post pregnancy. What has been affected more than my physical capability is my mental sharpness…that has taken awhile to get back. I have had a hard time getting my body to do what I want it to do as quickly as I want it to happen! I also have struggled to be as fluid and efficient with my movements.”
You can also start at home.
The first weeks and months of your baby’s life are an extremely busy and exhausting time. If you don’t have the time or energy to make it back to your martial arts dojo — or you don’t feel comfortable going back just yet — you can also start your postpartum martial arts training at home. Shadowboxing and bodyweight warmup exercises can be done with no equipment at all. Or you can add boxing gloves and small exercise equipment if you’re ready for the extra strength training challenge. Core work and stretching just needs a mat. As you get stronger, you might also consider adding a freestanding punching bag to your home gym. In addition to being a great workout, it’s a great source of stress relief. Which is something every new parent needs.