Functional Training for Motherhood

Training specificity is an integral component of our Performance Training Approach.  In other words, we want to prepare our clients for the very specific demands of pregnancy, childbirth, and early motherhood – and a component of this is training women for the motherhood ADLs (activities of daily living) that they will be “thrown into” almost immediately after giving birth. Consider all the squatting, bending, carrying, lifting, pushing, pulling, getting up and down (etc) new moms have to do, and then remember they’ll be performing these activities while recovering from labor, exhausted, and holding a small fragile human (that eventually grows to a 25-30lb toddler). Begin training your clients on these movements during pregnancy, so proper movement becomes ingrained, and they’ll be able to more easily perform their ADLs with less risk of pain or injury when it counts.  Of course, even if you begin working with a woman in the postpartum period, it’s never too late to start!  Here are some of the most common ADLs.

Essential Programming Movements

1. Chair Getup

She’ll have to get up and down from a chair several times a day, but it gets much more challenging when you have to do this while holding a baby, or carrying an extra 25 – 35 lbs (or more) of body weight from pregnancy.  The Chair Getup not only trains her to carry out this movement with greater ease, but it’s also a perfect exercise to practice proper squat form — getting clients comfortable with sending their hips back to lower down.

2. Ground Getup

This is a big one!  Quite often, your client will be on the ground with her baby — playing, changing a diaper, etc — and now she and her baby have to get up off the ground.  Getting up with no hands is challenging enough, let alone trying to do this while holding a little (or not-so-little) one. So begin training your clients early on this movement.  Remember there is NOT one right way to get up off the ground. Each client will likely have a different strategy based on her own body and mobility. The important criteria are that she’s able to maintain neutral alignment and perform get up with no hands.  Once she masters unloaded, add weight to simulate a baby.

3. Ground Pickup

We all know how difficult it can be to train clients to hinge properly.  And just when you’re feeling victorious after your client finally masters a perfect deadlift, she leaves your session, drops her keys on the ground, then rounds forward at her spine to pick them up — as if she never learned a proper hinge pattern.  This is why we like teaching our clients the “Ground Pickup” so they associate proper hinge patterns with the actual movement they have to perform in real life.  Proper hinging is especially important for pre/postnatal women because of the sheer number of times per day a new mom has to pick something (or someone) up off the ground, combined with the weakness and fragility of her core muscles, which makes makes rounding at her spine that much more damaging.

4. Crib Reach

Picking things up off the ground isn’t the only time a new mom is forced to bend forward to pick something up.  Several times a day, she also has to bend forward to lower and lift her baby into and out of the crib.  The difference is this time, she has to hinge over a barrier, and the heavier her baby gets, the more strenuous this becomes.  Train your client to maintain neutral alignment and utilize her glutes for support by practicing the Crib Reach.

5. Bathtime Kneel

Bathtime can be a very strenuous activity for the core and lower back because mom is forced to bend forward, and hold the position while trying to control a slippery baby, who often wants to do anything but remain still.  Similar to the Crib Reach, it’s essential to train your client to position her body in a way that helps her maintain neutral alignment and utilize her glutes more to support her back.  Master the basic bathtime kneel first, then add variability in reaching patterns, base of support, resistance levels, and length of hold to simulate (at least somewhat) the often unpredictable experience of baby bathtime!

6. Open Door

Not only does this help you better open big heavy doors, but pulling movements like this are essential for expecting and new moms because their upper bodies tend to be pulled forward into a rounded position (from the weight of the growing breasts, followed by nursing and carrying). Pulling movements are a great way to counteract the rounded shoulders position many moms are in, but this single sided pull also adds in some great anti-rotation core work.  Progress it by adding in a balance, squat, or lunge with the movement.


As you likely know, neutral alignment is critical for reducing strain on the core muscles (especially important during pregnancy when these muscles have enough strain on them, and after pregnancy when they are weak and healing).  Unfortunately, all the one-sided carrying a mom is forced to do everyday (whether it’s the baby, car seat, diaper bag, heavy purse, etc) constantly pulls her body out of neutral — specifically into lateral flexion.  Anti-lateral flexion movements like Carries help train women to resist being pulled out of neutral.  You can perform these low, racked, or above the head.  Experiment with the many variations of this highly beneficial movement.

7. Baby Lifts

Being a mom takes a lot of upper body strength.  Often the endless hours spent rocking baby to sleep, or lifting baby high overhead to get those wonderful giggles can be highly enjoyable for baby, but exhausting (and potentially painful) for a mother who is not well trained.  Incorporate overhead lifts into your programming — making sure your client maintains neutral alignment with rib cage stacked over pelvis (no rib flaring).  Once your client masters this, add challenge by lifting one leg, combining with a squat or lunge, or even adding in the baby for some real-life training that’s fun for both mom and baby!

Have fun!

Once your client masters these movements individually, try combining them together, or even having your client incorporate her little one for some real-life training!  You can even combine multiple ADLs into a “flow.” Watch these two sample flows below.  Then get creative and develop your own.  ADLs can be a fun way to train your clients on critical skills that can make a huge difference in their strength and quality of life.