Anneke Cannon worked out her entire pregnancy. At 33 weeks, the powerlifting coach hit a lifetime PR, deadlifting 330 pounds. Three days before giving birth, she benched and deadlifted 80 percent of her max.
“I found that lifting kept me sane,” she said. “I was so used to lifting for strength or aesthetic goals but never lifting because it was something I actually liked or made me feel good. I found so much power in learning to listen to my body and moving and lifting because it felt good.”
After 22 hours of unmedicated labor, she gave birth to her son, Miles.
“I think training and staying active during pregnancy immensely helped with labor and delivery,” she said. “I think that lifting helped me maintain stamina both mentally and physically. I went into it knowing that I could do hard things.”
After having Miles, Anneke (pronounced: “Monica” without the “M”) thought she’d be able to return to training within weeks. She thought she’d bounce right back. But life after baby is a whole new world and Anneke faced some harsh realities.
Here is her story on returning to fitness.
The coach becomes the student
Once upon a time, Anneke’s fitness focused on very restrictive dieting and high cardio, but when her husband introduced her to powerlifting six years ago, she was hooked.
She spent the next few years learning as much as she could about the sport, including how to properly count macros. She earned certifications as a USPA powerlifting coach, an NASM coach, and she plans to pursue a master’s degree in human movement and diet psychology.
Now a coach and part-owner for Fitbliss Fitness, Anneke said she trained numerous women throughout their pregnancies and postpartum.
“[Coaching] gave me the confidence to know that I could trust myself and that my body would tell me when things were ok vs. when I needed to back off,” she said.
Able to lift throughout her pregnancy, Anneke planned to return to her clients just 10 days after giving birth.
“It was maybe a little too soon,” she said, adding that she returned to her own fitness 5 weeks after having her son. “Postpartum was much different than I was expecting as a first time mom. I think that I imagined I would just spring back without a missed step.”
Anneke said that despite being cleared by her midwife to do simple movements such as pelvic tilts and glute bridges just two days after having her son, she struggled.
“It was almost like I had to relearn how my body worked,” she said. “I had no awareness of my core and it felt so strange not having it be as strong as it once was.”
Instead of pushing too hard, too fast, Anneke said she used the tools she gives her postpartum clients.
“I think my biggest takeaway from the entire experience of returning to the gym was that it was okay to start slow and I needed to take a step back to relearn how to use my postpartum body.”
Back to fitness
To help clients (and ultimately herself), Anneke takes a purposeful approach in helping women return to postpartum fitness.
“Many women want to focus most of their attention on weight loss (I know I was eager to get my body back), but I think it’s really important to focus on performance goals and finding balance,” she said. “Sometimes people find it frustrating to not lift the weights that they did in the past but it’s also an exciting time where you can literally get a postpartum PR every single session at the gym.”
Anneke said she recommends postpartum clients return to the gym after the lochia phase clears. She also advises that they begin with easy movements — pelvic tilts, kegels, and glute bridges — to help prevent Diastisis Recti from worsening.
“I do think that a lot of the time a woman’s body will tell her what is okay and what is not okay,” she said. “I also think that [a new mom has] to understand that this is a very different and new part of a woman’s life. Even though her body may be “ready” to exercise, she still may be adjusting to her life as a new mother.”
Once a client is ready to return to the gym, Anneke said she focuses on basic exercises to regain balance, stability, and strength. She also works with clients on setting performance goals and setting realistic expectations for dropping the baby weight.
“If people are consistent with training and nutrition, their bodies will come back, but they have to be patient with their bodies and with themselves,” she said. “Being frustrated or self-loathing will never be conducive to progress or growth.”
To new moms struggling with their postpartum selves, Anneke offered this advice:
“Just be patient and love yourself every step of the journey. You just grew a new human, which is more badass and exciting than any PR I’ve ever hit at the gym.”
Disclaimer: Andrea Signor is a writer. She does not have any medical background or fitness certifications. She is a former journalist with an interest in weightlifting. Any woman interested in exercising and lifting in her pregnancy should consult with her medical team and fitness coaches.
Want more? Check out our series on postpartum lifting.