Cardio After Having A Baby
Choose the right type of cardio training for great results and avoid the chronic cardio trap.
The fitness world has very clearly established over the last few decades that high intensity interval training or HIIT is vastly superior to low level, prolonged steady state training.
Should I Consider High Intensity Interval Training?
In English; working very hard for a short time, resting for a short time and repeating for 20 minutes is far, far superior to drudging away on the treadmill for 90 minutes.
HIIT has been demonstrated in both the research and real gyms everywhere to provide better fat loss, more improvements in fitness and less cortisol (the stress hormone, more on that to come). It's far more time effective and can be easily applied by almost anyone, even without gym memberships.
For a new mum just returning to fitness, HIIT can be a useful tool in helping you shed baby weight and regain conditioning that may have been lost during the pregnancy.
What Do I Need To Do Before Introducing HIIT?
There are a few considerations though:
- Pre-conditioning. Basically what level of fitness and training had you achieved before the little one came along? When introducing HIIT training into your routine, be sure to choose an activity and level that you will be able to handle. If you are well experienced and know your body well, this is easier to guess. Just make sure you do not go straight back to where you left off, you are likely to have lost some fitness. If you are newer to fitness, start small and you can quickly build your level up. Its better to find you feet in the shallows rather than dive in at the deep end with this training modality.
- Exercise selection. In the first stages of your return to training you may be better emphasizing a spin bike over a treadmill. The spin bike can be a really tough workout but is low impact and stable. Making it a good choice for the first few stages when your body may be less stable than before. Outside running and treadmill intervals are great choices for the third and fourth stages of training outlined in the article on phased return.
- Work and rest periods. In the interest of keeping things simple working hard for 60 seconds and recovering for 120 seconds provides a solid stimulus for adaptation and progression. Repeat for 7 consecutive bouts. The whole workout takes 21 minutes and should be plenty to produce a training effect. Just make sure you really go for it in the 60 second work time.
- Total duration of sessions. To start off with, stick to 20 minutes. Most researches will tell you that 20 minutes of tough intervals is the equivalent to 90 minutes steady state exercise. For the really fit, or the later stages when you're feeling super fit; as much as 40 minutes can be done, but it's not all that necessary for most people.
- Frequency of sessions. HIIT can be effective when used twice per week. three or four sessions per week is absolutely fine but no extra benefit is experience when doing more that five sessions vs a solid four. So aim for between 2 and 4 sessions per week depending on your level of fitness, time allowance and exercise preferences.
- Progressions. The beauty of intervals is that you can vary the stimulus in many ways.
- Reduce rest period by 5 seconds each week
- Increase work period be 5 seconds each week
- Work harder by increasing resistance, incline or speed by a little bit each week.
- Add more volume, i.e. do more bouts
- Combinations of the above
Stress and Cardio
The little issue of cortisol, the stress hormone I mentioned earlier, needs a little extra mention in this article, largely because your body will start to release cortisol after 20 minutes of steady state cardio. This is one of the major reasons why HIIT is superior to steady state and its even more pertinent to new mums.
Higher cortisol levels mean the body is interpreting you activities as a stress. You may well already be experiencing elevated stress from lack of sleep, new challenges and all the other things that go with having a newborn, whether it is your first child or not. There really is no point in unnecessarily stressing the body at this stage of life.
You will reap higher rewards, need less time to train and experience less down sides with HIIT than you will with steady state cardio.