UPDATE 2/2/2016: I’ve learned a LOT about postpartum fitness since I wrote this, and I no longer endorse this program as something to do after you’ve had a baby. Please, please make an appointment with a pelvic health physiotherapist after you have a baby and DEFINITELY before you begin any weightlifting program. Check out this post on my other site for more information why.
Lifting is focused. It requires your undivided attention, because you definitely don’t want to zone out while holding a substantial amount of weight over your head.
Lifting is fierce. Lifting asks you to dig deep and find the strength for one more rep.
Basically lifting makes you feel like a total badass.
I didn’t always think this. For an embarrassingly long time I believed the myths about lifting heavy weights making you bulky. Better stick to the 5 lbs Barbie weights and do sets of 50 if you want to get toned!
There’s a lot of information out there about why, exactly, the “heavy weights will make you look like a bulging, beastly man” theory is total BS.
One of the best that I’ve found is this book: The New Rules of Lifting for Women (affiliate link).
(There’s also an updated version coming out in November that I’m DYING to get my hands on. Apparently they’ve made some definite improvements to the program, like getting rid of utterly useless crunches YAY.)
I love this book. I want to hug this book for explaining everything so clearly and allaying any and all fears about lifting weights. If you think you might be the least bit interested in adding some weights to your fitness routine, you need this book.
One of my favorite quotes: “A woman who’s willing to work like a galley slave in Spinning class, twist herself into Gordian knots in the yoga studio, and build enough core strength with Pilates to prop up a skyscraper will walk into the weight room, pick up the pastel-colored Barbie weights, and do the exact opposite of what will give her the results she wants.”
YES. A million times yes. However, I also understand that the weight room can be super intimidating and it’s definitely easier to just hop on the elliptical or treadmill. I totally get it. But I know for me personally, after several go-rounds on the “all I want to do is run oops I hurt myself again” hamster wheel, I get injured when I’m not strength training, and running alone doesn’t really impact my weight at all. This program will make you stronger, both mentally and physically. And who doesn’t want that?
I read it in April and was so excited to jump in to the program (yes, this April, at 30+ weeks pregnant. You’ll want to clear it with your doctor if you are starting an exercise routine while pregnant but lifting weights is definitely ok if it’s something you’ve already been doing). After about 4 weeks, though, I got really, really tired and just couldn’t find the energy to continue, so I set aside my book until after Olivia was born.
Once I felt up to it (and was cleared by my midwife), I started the program over again from the very beginning. At first I was tempted to do some really weird math and start where I’d left off by saying, “well I weighed 25 pounds more, and I was doing lunges with 10 lb dumbbells, so I can start with, like, 50 lbs for lunges!” No. Don’t do it. That math just doesn’t work.
There are seven stages to the program. Stage 1 has two workouts, A and B, that you do eight times each, plus two bonus workouts at the very end where you can really see how much you’ve improved. This stage is designed to introduce you to lifting and get you comfortable with the weights. Each workout has five different exercises that you repeat for either two sets (first half of the stage) or three (second half).
I started Stage 1 on September 3, and I’m a little over halfway through. I’m lifting three times per week (the book recommends either two or three times; any less than two and you won’t see results, any more than three and you’re not giving your body adequate recovery time).
I would NOT recommend jumping into this program immediately after having a baby if A) you’ve never lifted before, or B) you didn’t work out during your pregnancy. I think it would just be too much. My own personal guideline is if I’m able to do an exercise without feeling any pressure on my pelvic floor (or especially pelvic pain, if it hurts you should stop IMMEDIATELY, once again please talk to your doctor and don’t rely on my opinions and experiences), then I will continue. You also want to watch out for bulging in your abdomen when you’re doing push-ups and planks — lay off those exercises if you see that happening. If you’re experiencing that, I highly recommend checking out Jessie Mundell’s Core + Floor Restore program. I was part of her post-pregnancy coaching group for the first two months post-Olivia and those exercises really helped me strengthen my core and close the separation in my abs.
Why This Program Rocks:
- Results, man! Can’t argue with that. I already feel so much stronger and I’m not having any back pain like I did when Natalie was just a wee one. I can move heavier weights than I could when I started, so I am definitely making progress.
- Repetitive. Doing the same workout eight times really allows you to get better at those specific exercises and see a lot of improvement.
- Short workouts. If you’re efficient and you’re keeping your rest periods to 60-seconds like the book suggests, you can get it done in 20-30 minutes. Mine usually take longer because I get distracted changing the song on my Spotify playlist, popping the pacifier back in Olivia’s mouth, and removing idiot cats from the workout room, but this is not a program you need to dedicate 10 hours a week to.
Things I’m Not Crazy About:
- Repetitive. Yes, it’s nice that I was able to add so much weight to my lunges and step-ups, but dear god does it get boring quickly. That repetition is definitely a double-edged sword.
- Not much explanation of proper form. The book has photos and instructions for all exercises, but I feel that for the big lifts (squats and deadlifts), you really need more than two sentences about how to do it. You could really hurt yourself if you’re not using proper form and I’d like to see a little more emphasis on that.
- You can’t do it without either a home gym or a gym membership. Kind of a “duh” statement, since it’s about lifting heavy weights and you can’t exactly cobble together a DIY barbell. So you have to invest money in equipment for your home or in a gym membership, and not everyone is able to do that (if bodyweight exercises are more your thing, I just read You Are Your Own Gym and was really impressed with it).
The book suggests a nutrition plan. I’m not following it. I barely skimmed that section. In my flip-through I did notice that they emphasize getting plenty of protein and making sure you’re eating enough to fuel your workouts, and I appreciate that. There is, however, a strong reliance on protein powders in the recipe section and I’m just not on board with that. Not for me.
I’m not currently following any specific diet (and by that I mean “kinds of food you put in your mouth,” not “eating less to lose weight”) but I do lean more towards paleo than anything else. Maybe paleo + cookies is a more accurate statement. Breakfast and lunch are usually grain- and processed food-free; dinner is a lot more flexible. I still eat pasta, and we’re big fans of dessert, but most days I encourage myself to wait til after dinner to have dessert with Will, rather than grazing my way through an entire sleeve of Oreos during Natalie’s naptime. Not that that has ever happened. Ahem.
I’m still breastfeeding and plan on continuing that til Olivia is at least a year old, so I make sure to eat enough food and drink enough water to support that. That is my first priority, above and beyond losing weight or making strength gains. So I don’t worry too much about the nutrition piece; I eat when I’m hungry and keep the house well-stocked with lots of fruit and veggies and protein. And cookies.
Now, there is one area where I’m straying big-time from the plan in the book, and I’m sure it’s affecting the rest of my results. The book says just stick to these workouts, add some cardio if you want but don’t go nuts with it, and don’t feel like you need to add anything on top of what is written in the workouts.
That being said…I DESPERATELY want to be able to do chin-ups. Unassisted, from a dead hang. It’s kind of my life goal right now. We have a pull-up bar and that’s all well and good, but I’m not strong enough yet to even do one. So I ordered a pull-up assist resistance band and decided that I would do chin-ups every day to get better at them.
The bar is hanging in our closet, and 2-3 times a day I just hop onto the band and do a set. When I first got the band, I could do three assisted chin-ups in a row before my arms were like NO MORE. I’m currently up to six. Every couple of days I give it a go without the band. No luck so far but I’m definitely making progress. I’m hoping that by the end of Stage 1 I’ll be able to do one without the band. You’ll know when I do because my shout of triumph will be heard across the land far and wide.
So what do I need?
If you’re going to do this at home, there are a few things that you either have to have, or will just make life easier.
- A weight bench, barbell, and plates. We have that set from Walmart and I’m really happy with it. I especially like that the uprights are adjustable, so you can set it at the right height for back squats and you don’t have to lift the bar from the floor.
- Bumper plates. I’m giving this one its own bullet point because I didn’t understand why you needed these, separate from iron plates, before I started. For proper form with your deadlift, the bar needs to start at a certain distance off the ground. Too low and your form suffers. With iron plates you just can’t get the bar high enough (unless you have boxes or something you can set it on). Bumper plates are rubber and have a bigger diameter than iron plates and will get you the height that you need. Check locally for these; I found a set of 10-lb plates for about $30 at a local fitness supply store. Everywhere else online the price was closer to $50, so you can probably find a better deal close to home.
- Dumbbells. You can get these anywhere. We have a set of 5 lbs, a set of 10 lbs, and individual ones of 20, 30, and 35 lbs. Adjustable ones are especially nice but we just weren’t willing to spring for those.
- Starting Strength. This isn’t strictly necessary, but I found this book HUGELY helpful for improving my squat and deadlift form. I was doing a lot of little things wrong and this book helped me to correct those things. You could also just watch this video and fix your squat in 10 minutes.
- New Rules of Lifting for Women facebook group. This group is such a fantastic resource. The women are really helpful and will even critique your form if you’re not sure about a certain lift, just post a video of yourself doing it and they’ll offer suggestions. Some of them have even finished the program multiple times. Totally inspirational and motivational.