The Strongmom Comeback
The Strongmom Comeback
By Julia Holthaus and Gina Melnik
The transition from pregnancy to birth to post-partum is one of the most significant, life changing events a woman can experience. You’ve brought a human into the world and it’s a wonderful thing but…it’s also really hard work — which you will have to do with not enough hours in the day and on not enough sleep. Add getting back to strongman training into the mix, and you have a whole new set of challenges. But fear not, ladies. As with every situation in life, there is someone out there who has walked this road before you, and might have some insight that will just make it all better. Well, maybe not all better, but at least easier.
Here are some of our best pieces of advice and wisdom based on our own experience to help make your strongmom comeback a little smoother.
- Understand that your body is going to be different. Most women don’t bounce back to their pre-pregnancy state immediately after childbirth. Actually, it takes a lot of women upwards of a year to lose the baby weight, regain lost strength and adjust to life with a new (or another) baby. Recognize that you just brought a human into the world. And that human living inside of you for 9 months definitely changed your body, inside and out. Aside from just looking different, perhaps your post-partum body is going to feel and function differently as well. Listen to what your body tells you. Rest when you need it. Push it when it feels okay. And accept that it’s possible strength gains are going to be slow.
- Consider seeing a physical therapist that specializes in helping women with issues related to birth. A lot of women probably don’t recognize how much of a big deal this can be. There can be all sorts of issues – everything from diastasis recti (abdominal separation) to weak pelvic floors (which can cause “leaking” while training among other issues) to helping to heal up post C-section. It’s worth it to take care of yourself by seeing a women’s health PT within 6 weeks postpartum or as soon after that as possible. (Find one here.) And if you really can’t get to see someone then at the very least, use one of the online articles available to make sure your diastasis recti (which most women get to at least some extent) is healing up and that you’re not making it worse. A great resource for this is http://jessiemundell.com/.
- Some of the lifts you performed before, comfortably and with somewhat ease, may now seem foreign and unfamiliar. Like most pregnant women, you’ve probably taken off time from training certain strongman movements. Most likely you weren’t lifting atlas stones during your sixth month of pregnancy, nor were you doing yoke walks up until your due date. Aside from just the time off, you might also be dealing with a new set of physical challenges. If you’re breastfeeding, then odds are your breasts are going to bigger and more sensitive than normal, not to mention filled with milk. This is going to make performing any sort of front carry or stone load uncomfortable for a while. Additionally, some women are left with residual pain from having an epidural or simply birthing their babies, and this can interfere with what lifts you can perform and how you can perform them. This won’t be forever, hopefully, and oftentimes you can find a way around training what feels uncomfortable.
- Start where you’re at. Part of that is accepting where you’re at with the weights. That doesn’t mean that you lose your drive to get better. It does mean that you don’t get down on yourself for working with numbers that are lower than what you used to do. Instead of focusing on the distance between where you used to be and where you are now (which for many people can lead to a negative mindset), try to focus on making gains and celebrate each new post-baby PR. If you keep on making new post-baby PRs, eventually you will get back to where you used to be and be much happier along the way. To do this, you first need to evaluate your current starting point (as opposed to where you wish it was or what it used to be). Then formulate a plan and work as hard and as smart as you can for this new you.
- Infrequent workouts are better than nothing. If you find yourself in a really challenging period, where you can’t achieve even a modest regular routine despite all your best efforts, then try not to throw your hands up and stop trying because eventually there will be an opportunity. Even if you can’t be consistent, something once in awhile is still worth doing for at least two reasons. First, even if you can’t build strength you can still benefit by doing enough to prevent or minimize muscle loss. And second, before your baby, remember how a good lift used to make you feel tons better even when things were still actually pretty stressful? That’s still true and blowing off some steam with the weights – even just once in awhile — can do a world of good for your mental health. So, however infrequent it may be, hitting the weights is always still useful and worth doing.
- You are probably going to have to make compromises and realize that when it comes to training, imperfect workouts are better than nothing. Sometimes when you can’t lift for as long as you’d like or with an insane intensity, there’s a tendency to feel like it doesn’t count so isn’t worth doing. But if you only train when you can do a “real” workout (i.e. up to your pre-baby standards), you may find yourself not lifting very much – at least in the early months and possibly for much longer. Would you rather be training for 2+ hours? Maybe. But if you have 30 or 45 minutes, then that’s what you have and you need to make the best of it. You may also need to switch to a different time of day, a different training environment—a closer gym or lifting at home—or maybe your group training now becomes solo training so you can get it done faster. As frustrating as these compromises may be, you have to let that go and focus on getting something done that moves you forward even if it’s imperfect or not how you like to do things.
“I hope to provide a good example for my children by showing them it is important to take care of their health and well being…and actions speak louder than words.” ~Lisa Pollari Kromer
- You are always going to be tired, and you need to learn to differentiate between when to push through and when to back off. If you think you can wait until you’re feeling refreshed to get in training, it will never happen. On the other hand, you need to take care of yourself. If someone without kids doesn’t get a good night of sleep and still gets up ungodly early to train, well, they can make up for it later. But if you have kids, you will never get that time back. EVER. Sometimes, you have to be willing to let training go if you are getting into a super severe sleep debt. Learn to tell the difference between when you need to suck it up and train tired versus when you need to show yourself some love and nap instead. If you need to sleep, do it without guilt. Sometimes, some extra rest proves more beneficial to your training regimen than actual training. (Note: If your kids are having significant sleep issues that rarely leave you the energy to lift, that needs fixed first. Get some general info on helping your kiddos sleep better here. And if you are really struggling a lot or simply want guidance tailored to your situation, know that there are sleep consultants who can help, know that there are sleep consultants who can help, e.g., here and here.)
- Try not to compare yourself to other mamas, but realize as mamas, we are all in this together. Everyone’s situation is very different. Some moms work, some stay home with their kids and some even work from home with their kids. Some moms have flexible work schedules. Some have family nearby to help out with their kids. Some moms have all the equipment they need at home, while some need to travel fairly lengthy distances to train strongman. Some moms are solo-parenting, and don’t get as much time away from their kids. And kids present their own set of challenges—how many there are, whether the kids are easy or there if there are extra challenges, like special needs, sleep troubles, major food allergies, separation anxiety, and so on. Each mom has a different set of challenges, and things going for her, and it’s just not fair to get into comparisons and feeling like you “should” be somewhere with your lifting because so-and-so is. Rather than tearing yourself or other moms down, seek common ground with fellow women who just may be going through a similar situation as you.
- Know that there are options when you are someday ready to compete again. Enter the Strongmom policy. Maybe you want a goal to help you focus your efforts, but aren’t quite able to fully train for a contest yet the way you want. Maybe you ARE going all out training, but you have a lot of ground to make up before you’re ready for open class weights again. Maybe you miss the camaraderie and community, but feel it would be too stressful to add contest prep to your life right now. This is where the Strongmom policy can come in handy. In any Strongman Corporation contest, you may compete as a novice despite previous placement for up to two years post-partum. You won’t be able to qualify for nationals, but you will still get the experience and confidence that will make the road back a bit easier (read more about Strongmom here and here). United States Strongman has a similar policy that also allows women to drop down to novice post-partum for as long as needed. And, of course, you can always compete in the open class still if you want to and you feel ready. It’s just important to know that you have options and can choose whatever option is going to best support you and your goals.
Nothing about motherhood is easy, but everything about it is worth it, especially working on becoming the strongest, happiest and healthiest mother you can be. You will find that the journey back to strength will be different now that you are a mother for the first, second, third, fourth or greater time. Along the way, though, you will also learn so much about yourself not only as a strongman competitor, but as a woman and a mother. When it seems like you’re not getting any stronger and workouts are not getting any easier, just remember that the early months and years of motherhood do not last forever. Eventually you will get stronger, faster and better, and before long, you will be one strong mother.
About the authors:
Julia Holthaus is a strongman competitor, freelance writer and stay-at-home-mom to 4 kids, ages 7 to 7 months. Her most recent work has been published on Starting Strongman and Elitefts.com. She last competed at the 2015 Battle of the Belles, where she placed 2nd in the middleweight open division. Julia plans on returning to the sport this summer.
Gina Melnik has two little ones, ages ~4 and 9 months. Her last contest was the 2015 Arnold Amateur World Championships — more on that season here. She’s easing back into the sport slowly and will use the SC Strongmom Policy to compete this summer at Granite State. Gina is a co-founder of the New England Women of Strength (N.E.W.S.). (Strongwomen can link up with N.E.W.S. here.)
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