The Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD) stages were created by Canadian Sport for Life as a guide, to quote the website, for “an individual’s experience in sport and physical activity from infancy through all phases of adulthood”.
Getting your body back in shape after having a baby can feel like you are starting at square one again, and literally like taking baby steps all over again as far as fitness is concerned! As with exercising during pregnancy (the subject of future posts) I’ve been asked quite often about getting back in shape after childbirth. When I think back to my fitness progression in the year after giving birth I can relate it well to the seven LTAD stages, which are below with a Postpartum spin and a rough timeline for each. Of course, the timeline is very approximate and very individual depending on the birth experience, the baby and number of older children you have, your pregnancy training, and how determined you are to get to or back to a certain fitness level!
1 – 2: Active Start and FUNdamentals (0-3 months postpartum): This is the go with the flow stage. You are adjusting to life with a newborn and really going by feel. Any physical activity is short and for fun such as social walks with baby, yoga, some core work when you feel ready, a light spin on the bike, with no structured training, just something as often as you can that makes you feel good and gives you a little time to yourself!
3. Learning to Train Again (3-6 months postpartum) : If all goes well, at this stage a slightly more structured approach can be taken. You may start making weekly training goals, make a training schedule, or sign up for a regular class. With the ligaments that were loosened during childbirth getting tight again impact exercise such as running can start to feel more comfortable, especially if doing any intervals or speed work.
4. Training to Train (6-9 months postpartum): After both of my children it wasn’t until about the 6 month mark that I felt more normal again, and feeling strong and “normal” in my core again, especially while running. So at this stage I felt good to go as far as following a regular training program again. If competing at all, races can be a good gauge of progress but may be viewed more as “training races” in this time frame depending on your goals. Many moms can get frustrated if they haven’t lost the baby weight by this point but I would emphasize here the importance of focusing on how much better and stronger you feel after exercising consistently again. Weight loss may plateau at times but as long as you are feeling fitter and fitter and make the time to workout consistently while eating healthy the weight will take care of itself eventually!
5. Training to Compete (9-12 months postpartum): Now it is go time! Depending on your progress, you may be able to drop the “I just had a baby” excuse for performance. By this stage after both of my children I was back to my pre-pregnancy weight or lower (thanks to breastfeeding!) and previous benchmarks as far as interval times in training and tests on the bike. If you’ve worked hard you can feel as fit as ever and ready to tackle any training or race challenges you’d like to set for yourself around the 12 month postpartum mark!
6. Training to Win (12 months postpartum +): While obviously not every mom’s goal is to go out and win races after having children, I look at interpreting the Training to Win phase as the time during which you can set more challenging goals for fitness or competition, whatever that may be personally for you! Raise your personal bar a little! For me, that began with training and competing at the same level I was prior to children, and then working on improving that level over time – before my advancing age starts to slow me down that is, ha!
7. Active for Life: Congratulations! If you’ve made it this far, have managed to stay fit during pregnancy and after a child or two, you’ve made it through one of the biggest obstacles in life to staying fit and will have no problem making physical activity a priority for in the coming years!