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Disclaimer: This post is not intended as medical advice. I am a doctor, but I am not your doctor! I have personally had a healthy pregnancy and was active in CrossFit for about four years before getting pregnant. Every situation and pregnancy is different so please consult your doctor for guidance whenever starting an exercise program.
There is SO much misinformation out there about what women are able to do during pregnancy. What upsets me the most are the views that pregnant women should be sitting on the couch eating a tub of ice cream and resting, instead of preparing their bodies for the hardest task they will likely ever face – birthing a child and becoming a mother. In my opinion it is irresponsible to use pregnancy as an excuse to sit around and do nothing but eat cheeseburgers for 9 months. It is our job to provide our baby with the best environment possible. This includes a healthy diet, exercise, adequate hydration, and rest.
According to the American Academy of Obstetrics and Gynecology, it is completely safe to continue your pre-pregnancy workout regimen as long as your doctor gives you the okay. Some medical reasons they may not want you to exercise would be placenta previa, cervical insufficiency, or a twin pregnancy. ACOG recommends all women with uncomplicated pregnancies aim for 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week. It is advised to avoid anything that may cause abdominal trauma (i.e. horseback riding or downhill skiing) and scuba diving is off-limits due to pressure changes that may affect your baby.
According to the ACOG website:
“Twenty years ago, very little research was done on the effects of exercise on the pregnant woman and fetus. Therefore, doctors erred on the side of caution and recommended a sedentary lifestyle for pregnant women.
Now, numerous scientific studies have shown no correlation between moderate or even vigorous exercise and miscarriage or pregnancy-related complications. In fact, ACOG says if a woman is accustomed to vigorous exercise, she can continue to do it as long as she feels okay.”
What is CrossFit?
“Our program delivers a fitness that is, by design, broad, general, and inclusive … The Crossfit program is designed for universal scalability making it the perfect application for any committed individual regardless of experience … We’ve used our same routines for elderly individuals with heart conditions and cage fighters one month out from televised bouts. We scale load and intensity; we don’t change programs … The needs of Olympic athletes and our grandparents differ by degree not kind.” -from CrossFit.com
CrossFit is defined as performing ‘functional movements that are constantly varied at high intensity’. The goal is to optimize physical competence in 10 recognized fitness domains. These include:
- Cardiovascular and respiratory endurance
Looking at the list above, all of these things are SO important for a mama! Balance and coordination are necessary for carrying a car seat in one hand and groceries in the other. Speed and stamina allow you to chase your little one around the house and help you be an active, engaged parent. Flexibility lets you squat down to scoop your little one up from his play mat after tummy time is over. Obviously, these are all skills that come in handy every single day and are not just important for CrossFit Games athletes.
Programming is also meant to be scaled and suitable for all ages and physical conditions. CrossFIt is meant to work for everyone from Olympic skiers and professional athletes to grandparents, weekend warriors, and disabled populations.
At a traditional gym, you walk in to a sea of cardio machines, free weights, and cable machines. There is no one instructing you on how to use them, coaching you thorough a workout, cheering you on, and monitoring your form. How is this considered safer and more acceptable for a pregnant woman than working out while supervised at CrossFit?
Throughout my four years participating in CrossFit, I have had some of the most engaged and inspirational coaches. Growing up, I was a track athlete, and any time I spent in the weight room was for gossiping with my girls, not gaining strength. Heaven forbid I get ‘big’!! The idea of CrossFit was pretty intimidating to me because it was so different from anything I had done before.
When I first joined UTE CrossFit, I was coached by two of the strongest and most beautiful women EVER, Taylor Richards-Lindsay and Mandi Janowitz, and my outlook was forever changed. This skinny girl who barely picked up a 10lb weight for a bicep curl now wanted to do Snatches, Clean and Jerks and Deadlifts! Taylor also happened to become a mama to her second beautiful girl while I was at the gym, which was so inspirational. I can’t forget a shout out to my Olympic lifting coach Dave Chiu, who always gave me as much attention, critique, and support as the lifters around me who were lifting 5x as much weight.
This kind of coaching is beyond anything I have ever seen in a traditional gym, not to mention the supportive community that is formed among the gym members. Who knows, you might even meet your husband there like I did!
How to Safely Participate in CrossFit While Preggo
After moving from Salt Lake City, I have been SO BEYOND LUCKY and have the most incredible coaches at my new gym, Crossfit 460. Our owner, and coach extraordinaire, Velvet Minnick, has been overwhelmingly supportive of our pregnant ladies. I think there are 5 of us! She created a group on Google for us and each week she sends out the WODs (workout of the day) along with scaling recommendations. This has been fantastic because it allows you to think about your workout and how you are going to adapt it for your stage of pregnancy ahead of time. We are also able to send suggestions to each other and just check in and see how everyone’s pregnancies are going. Aside from finding a gym with solid coaches, here are my recommendations for safely doing CrossFit in pregnancy:
For me, not much changed in the first trimester. I was still able to perform all of the movements comfortably, including running, burpees, sit-ups and bench press. I did keep in mind that now I was working out to maintain my fitness, not to set any personal records or gain substantial strength. I kept my intensity level to around a 7/10 and instead of aiming for one rep max lifts when they were in a workout, I would do two or three repetitions at a slightly lower weight. Morning sickness may be something that you are dealing with at this point, and it is important to listen to your body, especially if you are feeling nauseated or haven’t been able to eat much.
During the second trimester you may feel a huge burst of energy compared to the first trimester! Take advantage of this! After about 20 weeks you will want to avoid any exercises that involve lying on your back for a prolonged period of time. This is because your uterus can compress certain blood vessels and restrict blood supply to you and the baby. Listen to your body, and if you feel light-headed after getting up from an exercise such as bench press, consider it a sign that you should be modifying that movement.
Sit-ups and kipping should be limited because they can increase your risk of diastasis recti (separation of your abs). Anything that involves a risk of falling should be avoided. This will be very personal based on your comfort level and may or may not include box jumps, inversions, and rope climbs. You may also be extra flexible due to the release of the hormone relaxin. Be mindful of your range of motion and try not to go below parallel with squats and Olympic movements. Use a med ball for guidance if necessary. Change weight load, reps, and intensity based on how you are feeling!
Here it will be more of the same from the second trimester. Most important is adjusting intensity as needed. Modify or substitute movements that are no longer comfortable for you. Be proud that you are moving your body, and don’t feel like you have to match your pre-pregnancy or earlier trimester efforts. Don’t forget that you are wearing a ‘weight vest’ every day at this point!
Some sample modifications:
- Push-ups – Elevated push-ups to a box or bar in a squat rack
- Burpees – Air squat to a push-up on a raised surface such a s a box or bar in a squat rack
- Toes to bar – Hanging knee raise, bird dog
- Bench press – Strict press, push-up
- Handstand push-ups – Seated strict press
- Sit up – Hollow rock, plank, side plank, bird dog
- Deadlift – Modify to Sumo deadlift or use kettlebells
- Snatch/Clean – Hang clean instead of pulling from the floor and use dumbbells once the belly is in the way – you don’t want to modify your bar path to go around your belly because your body will remember this after the baby is born and your form will suffer!
- Box jumps – Lower box, box step ups
- Thrusters/Wall Ball – Separate movements into squats and presses so you remain controlled throughout the movements
- Pull ups – Perform strict (no kipping), use a band, ring rows
- Wall Ball – Lower the depth of your squat and use a lighter weight
- Running – Substitute rowing or Assault Bike
- Heavy or max effort lifts – Keep your lifts to about 70% of your max and do more reps if necessary
- Squats – Use a med ball as a guide for depth or squat until you are sitting on a box and stand up from there
You can find a great guide for scaling in pregnancy from the CrossFit Journal here.
Listen to your body
You may be feeling nauseous, dizzy, have a headache, or you might be just plain exhausted from growing a human. In these cases, take a day off! Some days you may feel like you have superhuman strength, use it to your advantage. One thing I have learned throughout pregnancy is you can never predict how you are going to feel on any given day, so you have to give up some control and go with the flow.
Eat Well and Stay Hydrated
Dehydration can lead to preterm uterine contractions or at worst, preterm labor. You also have to be eating enough to support yourself, your growing baby, and your workouts. You should be drinking about 10 cups of water a day while pregnant, and this does not take into account any physical activity. So be sure you aren’t feeling thirsty throughout the day and your urine is colorless to light yellow. Drink frequently throughout exercise and have a snack afterwards.
Check your ego at the door
Now is not the time to learn how to do a rope climb or to try to aim for a personal best on your deadlift. This can lead to injury to you or your baby. Ask yourself if it’s worth it. My guess is that it’s not. Now more than ever it is important to make sure you are doing movements with perfect form (though this should always be a goal!), staying within reasonable limits for intensity, and giving yourself enough rest. Your body and your baby will thank you for it!
Don’t hurt yourself!
Preventing injury to yourself and your baby is the number 1 goal. Use low enough weights to maintain good form, avoid exercises where you may injure yourself (rope climbs, handstand push-ups, box jumps), and be aware of people lifting around you. Know yourself and your body well. Some people my feel 100% comfortable performing box jumps well into pregnancy while others may want to switch to box step ups much earlier. If there is any doubt, make a modification.
I have two weeks to go in my pregnancy and truly believe continuing CrossFit has allowed me to remain pain-free (literally NO back, hip, or pelvic pain!), get better sleep, keep my mood and energy levels up, and maintain a healthy weight. Exercise also reduces the risk of gestational diabetes and hypertension and can make labor easier. That’s not to say these last few weeks haven’t been tough, but I can’t imagine how much harder they would have been if I spent the past 9 months parked on the couch eating ice cream!