Most of us can’t quite jump back into our old workout routine after a baby arrives. In fact, many of us don’t even have “an old workout,” but everyone wants to lose the weight that pregnancy adds.
To ease back into a good routine or to begin a new one, the first step is always to consult with your health care provider. Once you have her go-ahead, you can get started with a quick interval series that is challenging (but achievable) even when you’re still measuring baby’s age in weeks.
The idea behind interval training is twofold: first, alternating periods of hard work with a more moderate pace helps you keep going. Second, the up-and-down rhythm created trains your heart to recover quickly from its overdrive mode, leading to greater overall cardiovascular health.
Training with a heart rate monitor is an easy way to track your exercise, but it’s easier and lower-tech to simply gauge your Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE). On a scale of one-to-ten, one marks the effort you’d expend to lounge on the sofa and ten equals running up Everest at your top speed.
First Step: Up and Down Intervals
If you have a steep hill nearby, you have an automatic interval tool at your disposal and you won’t even need a timer! Warm up first by walking uphill at an RPE of about three-to-four and downhill at the same rate; repeat for a total warm-up time of five minutes. To begin your interval workout, walk uphill at a moderate pace (at least a five-to-six on your RPE scale) and walk quickly or jog downhill (around a seven-to-eight RPE). Repeat as your energy and schedule allow, and be sure to cool down at the end by walking at least three minutes at about a three-to-four RPE. Going uphill, maintain good form by keeping your hips tucked under your ribs; think about leading from the hips, keeping the shoulders back, and rolling through the entire foot to propel yourself up the hill. Heading down, the tendency—especially when jogging—is to lean back, but to avoid knee strain, aim instead to be upright as you coast down.
Using a flat outdoor area, a stopwatch comes in handy. Warming up, walk at a steady pace of three-to-four for at least five minutes. Then, begin your intervals by using a 1:1 ratio. Walk very quickly or jog (seven-to-eight RPE) for one minute, then walk or jog at a four-to five RPE for one minute. Alternate your one minute intervals for as long as your workout schedule allows, and follow with a cool down by walking at a three-to-four pace for three minutes or more.
If you are Supermom and can actually make it to the gym, you can use a treadmill to simulate either the hills or the timed examples.
Second Step: Turn on the Turbo
The example of Up and Down Intervals shows a walking workout; once you’re ready to progress, add jogging intervals as indicated. In the flat-surface example, you could also change the ratio of your workout from 1:1 to 2:1 (two minutes of hard work and one minute of recovery), advancing later to 3:2, then 3:1 and so on.
The pyramids weren’t built in a day, and it will likely take some time to build enough strength for this format as well. When the Up and Down Intervals have become less challenging, try the Pyramid. In this format, the challenging intervals become longer in the span of one workout. Warm up for at least five minutes (a three-to-four pace). Your first work interval, at about a six, lasts one minute; follow with a one minute recovery at a four-to-five RPE. For the second interval, work for two minutes and recover for one. Next, work for three minutes and recover for one. Continue lengthening the hard-work phase until you feel exhaustion coming on, and then do a five-minute recovery cycle. Gauge how you feel at the end of that long recovery, and begin again if you feel up to it.
Intervals are a great way to ease into a challenging workout when time is limited. Using our own perceptions of work and exhaustion keeps even those of us with Type-A tendencies within a safe range while building up cardiovascular endurance. And if you need another reason to give intervals a try, here’s one of the best: you can bring that fabulous little one along in the stroller and begin teaching great health habits by example from the very beginning.