Pregnancy and CrossFit


"CrossFit is for everyone. Pregnancy and Postpartum are no exception."


There are a lot of different scenarios you could be coming from. You might have been doing CrossFit for a while and are going through your first pregnancy. You might be the partner of someone who is working out while pregnant and wanting to know if what they’re doing is helpful. You might be pregnant and wanting to continue working out safely. You might be a seasoned mom who’s gone through multiple pregnancies while CrossFitting. You might be wanting to have a baby in the future and wondering how that would mesh with your current fit lifestyle. Or you might have had a baby years ago and still feel the effects of it (postpartum is forever, right?). 


So many view points, but one thing is true, CrossFit is for everyone. Pregnancy and Postpartum are no exception. 


Across our lifespan our bodies are constantly changing. That could be natural physiological changes or unexpected injuries. The beauty of practicing a lifestyle of fitness that prepares us for the unknown and unknowable, is that, no matter the change, we are mentally and physically prepared to walk down that path. CrossFit gives us the tools to do this with it’s scalability, mental strengthening, and of course the community it allows us to surround ourselves with. Pregnancy is one of these changes that a woman might be experiencing and can seem a little scary, especially for the first time mother. People are constantly bombarding women with frightening scenarios and things that they are potentially doing wrong while they are pregnant. 


Let’s not forget that a women’s body was physiologically made to be able to create life. That’s not scary. Thats awesome! 


So, as women and men and coaches and friends, how to we best navigate this stage of life? Let’s be informed and have the right tools, know how to listen to our bodies, and always keep our eyes focused on the big picture. 


Some physical changes are obvious during pregnancy and some are not. One huge change that we cannot see is a huge shift in hormones (no I’m not just talking about the emotional ones). You know, those little chemicals in your body that basically tell everything what to do? They change to help our bodies accommodate growing a human. One of the results is slightly looser ligaments and joints. We need to keep that in mind as we’re used to jumping and running and moving quickly. Obviously, a huge muscle group impacted by a growing baby is the core. When we talk about the core, we’re talking all the way from the top to bottom (think of a can). So, core includes diaphragm, abdominal wall muscles and connective tissues, and the pelvic floor muscles. When a pregnant women works out they should be keeping all of these changes in mind. Yes, you CAN do what you’ve been doing, but how is it serving your long-term function and athletic performance? 


That brings us to our next, and probably most important point, mindset and listening to your body. At any time in your life, when approaching your fitness, you should be looking at the big picture. It’s not so much about what you do but how you are doing it. This matters exponentially more in pregnancy and postpartum. It requires a huge mindset shift. Athletes are generally programmed to push through certain levels of discomfort and this serves them well most of the time. When pregnant, we need to tune into that little voice of doubt or question in our head and learn to really listen our bodies. There are obvious signs that we should stop doing certain things like hip/tailbone/back pain, leaking urine (incontinence), pelvic pain/pressure, coning of the abdomen, breath holding, pulling/sharp pain in the pelvis, or nausea/weakness. Aside from these, we can develop our ability to tune into what our body needs by paying careful attention to how we feel day-to-day (yes, it changes daily). Pregnant women are no longer in their “normal” state so body awareness is very valuable during this and the postpartum period. If your pregnant, start asking yourself questions like, “WHY am I wanting to do this movement?” and “Is the risk worth the reward?”. Are you just wanting to keep doing kipping pull-ups or maxing out on olympic lifts for your own ego or is it benefitting your overall pregnancy and future athletic performance? Each day, you need to be able to take an honest assessment of where you’re at and how you’re feeling then go from there. 


So, now that you’re a little more aware of what’s going on during pregnancy, let’s talk about some practical application for CrossFit. Of course, having a knowledgable doctor who is aware of and supportive of your fitness goals is very important. We’ve also talked about the guiding factor, altering our mindset and listening to our bodies. This is most helpful in knowing when to alter movement patterns. You know your body the best. In general, throughout pregnancy, loads decrease and strict movements are done more often. How you breath while lifting and in your day-today life also impacts your body from the inside out. Holding your breath can predispose you to incontenence, prolapse, and diastasis recti. Learning to breath effectively and using a “ribs over hips” positioning throughout the day are simple ways to correct many movement patterns. 


There is little to no change during the first trimester then throughout the second and third trimester we generally feel the need to slightly decrease our weight (a good general guideline is to be around 70% of what you normally do) and scale certain movements like pull-ups, toes to bar, handstand push-ups, burpees, and sit-ups. Most women notice a change in their bar pathway during olympic lifts as their baby and belly grow. You can easily switch to dumbbell work and not have to worry about going around or possibly hitting your belly. Don’t worry, your incredible muscle memory in your brain will hang on to the way it was trained to olympic lift even if you take a few months off from it. As you scale these movements, we want you to preserve the intended stimulus of the workout (still feel like you’re getting a great workout) but not necessarily at the same intensity level that you were used to pre-pregnancy. That’s going to mean that you pay attention to how you feel during the workout and keep an intensity level relative to your current stage of pregnancy and athleticism. 


This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many things to learn about CrossFit during pregnancy and we all want to constantly be learning and improving together. This period of time in a woman’s life demands that she train with intention. What she does and doesn’t do during this chapter will have lasting effects. The more knowledge we can obtain and apply to our fitness, the better our long-term function and athletic performance will be. 

- Lydia Ryan (Coach at CrossFit Thelo, Mother of 6, & Pregnant)


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