Pregnant CrossFit: Tips for Athletes and Coaches

Author: Lily Cosgrove   Date Posted:24 October 2013 

It amazes and annoys me that I still see mainstream media and faceless internet haters attacking pregnant CrossFitting women.

I guess it shows that we need to do more as a community to reinforce our driving tenet of “Mechanics Consistency and then Intensity”.

Yes we do Constantly Varied Functional Movements at High Intensity, but we understand and ensure that intensity is relative to our physical and psychological tolerances.

At 37 weeks pregnant I did the workout of the day (or “WOD”), but my WOD was scaled down and modified and the intensity matched my hefty size!  Here’s a newsflash; pregnancy is not an illness! It is a very natural state of being and a perfect time to continue to do constantly varied, functional movements at relatively high intensity.  Every time I went to see my obstetrician during my pregnancy she praised me and told me I needed to help her write a book about exercising during pregnancy. She was so sick of unhealthy, unfit and overweight women coming into her office, it made her mad.

I did CrossFit before I was pregnant. I was very fit. My pregnancy was low risk so I continued to do CrossFit during my pregnancy, gradually reducing intensity as time went on. As a CrossFit coach, I would be hesitant to take on a new pregnant client. However, I would be very happy to keep coaching a healthy woman who had been CrossFitting before her pregnancy and whose pregnancy was not “high risk”. Coaching CrossFitters requires us to develop relationships, teach good movement, correct movement errors and help people achieve their fitness goals. Coaching a pregnant woman is no different, but I do understand how it can leave coaches uncertain if they’re not confident in giving advice.

 Here are some quick tips for coaches, CrossFitting women and their training partners for navigating CrossFit while pregnant.

1. Ensure that her pregnancy is low risk and she has her doctor’s consent to continue exercising during her pregnancy. Ladies, if you don’t like your doctor’s response to your questions about exercising while pregnant, maybe you could find a new doctor.

2. Encourage her to do her own research and become her own expert. The CrossFit journal has many articles and there are many stories within this community about how women have continued to exercise while pregnant. In the broader fitness community there are many blogs, articles, books, magazines etc that discuss this topic.

3. Help her to make her own choices about scaling by giving her lots of different options. I like to give women options and advice, but let them listen to their own bodies when it comes to picking modifications and scaling options.

4. Know your clients. Is she a woman who always pushes beyond her limits in workouts and overestimates her abilities? Does she always play it safe? Does it depend on the WOD? If you know your clients and anticipate how they attack workouts, it will help you find the right scaling and coach them appropriately.

Ladies, listen to your body. I don’t believe any pregnant woman would be intentionally reckless when it comes to her unborn baby. I have found that women will naturally reduce intensity as their pregnancy progresses.  Coaches are there to give useful guidance.

There are obvious physical changes in the body when a woman is pregnant. Here are a few to consider and some advice on how these changes might direct choices about scaling workouts.

1. She has more blood circulating around her body and her core body temperature will rise more quickly than the rest of us. It is important to avoid overheating when working out while pregnant. As a coach, how can we help? Common sense should prevail here, don’t do crazy WODs outside in the hot sun.

2. Her belly will grow. It is recommended that from the second trimester she avoid lying on her back because as her uterus grows, its weight can compress the blood vessels leading to her heart, potentially depriving her developing baby of oxygen. Therefore abmat situps are out. Potential substitutions are hanging knee raises, but I personally don’t like these for reasons I’ll discuss below.

3. Her abdominal muscles may separate. This can happen during pregnancy as the body makes space for baby.  You can tell if there is separation if you see a ridge down the middle of the belly during or after pregnancy when a woman is “crunching” her stomach. Avoid any movement that causes the ridge to be visible. For me, any hollow body position (think pullup, toes to bar, knee raise, pushup) caused the ridge, so I avoided these movements. The ridge demonstrates that the muscles are pulling apart. There is potential to do damage to the abdominals by pushing through movements that promote separation. There are exercises that can be done during pregnancy and post-partum to promote strength in the deep transversus abdominis which will help to bring the abdominal muscles back together post pregnancy. A YouTube search will give lots of examples of exercises to help. Also, wearing a post-pregnancy support wrap can help support the core for the first few weeks. I got mine here

4. She might get a little clumsy. The belly brings new dimensions that she may not be used to. It might be wise to avoid movements where there is a fall risk. Personally I did not feel comfortable doing pullups or box jumps. I did lots of ring rows and step ups though!

5. During pregnancy a woman’s uterus expands from the size of a tennis ball to the size of a beach ball. Relaxin is the hormone that helps her body do this amazing thing. Relaxin also makes her whole body a little more flexible and “loose” feeling. There is a greater risk of injury when the joints are loose and relaxed. As a result, weights should get a little lighter as the pregnancy progresses. For me, I eased off heavy squatting from about 25 weeks as my hips felt loose and not stable under load. I still did air squats and used light weight while squatting in met-cons. I continued to deadlift, but again, the weights got progressively lighter. I continued to press overhead and bench press (with my feet on the bench, you’re only lying for a short time so the risks mentioned in point 1 above are minimal).  In the third trimester Olympic weightlifting is fairly tricky because the bar-path is so compromised!

6. Pelvic floor control is imperative. It’s a good idea to start doing pelvic floor exercises during pregnancy. Post-partum women should give themselves some time to get these muscles strong again before they start jumping around like maniacs. As a guide, I did no high impact (jumping, running, explosive lifting) until I was 20 weeks post-partum. Now my pelvic floor muscles feel stronger than ever and I don’t feel like peeing when I do double unders – winning!

7. Post-partum it will take a little bit of time for many women to regain midline stability. Again, use Mechanics, Consistency and then Intensity as your guiding light when it comes to coaching the returning mum. If she is rounding her back in an air squat because she has forgotten how to brace and maintain stability, don’t load her up. Over time when she starts to regain core strength, increment the weight up slowly – simple. She’ll be kicking ass again before you know it.

Being a CrossFitter meant I was very fit and healthy before, during and after my pregnancy. I’m certain that the confidence, inner strength and fitness I have gained from CrossFit contributed to the complication-free birth of my baby Max last year. At my 6 week post-partum check-up my doctor was again singing my praises and trying to arrange a book deal.

My baby Max, is now 1 year old! I cannot believe how quickly the time has flown by. While I was pregnant and in the early days post pregnancy, I found it tricky to believe I’d ever be as fit again as I was pre-baby. This was just negative self-talk on my part. When you’re in the middle of it, it seems like a long road, but really it’s not. I will CrossFit for my whole life. There are ages and stages. My Fran time is going to go up and down with those ages and stages and I am totally okay with that. Please encourage yourself and your athletes to keep some perspective, have fun with their exercise and be smart with training while pregnant.

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