My Crossfit Pregnancy: Workout Modifications

Every pregnant mama is different!

What many don’t realize about Crossfit is that it is possible to modify any workout!  I learned this first hand when I continued to Crossfit while pregnant with my daughter.  This post is pretty technical and specific to Crossfit, so it won’t interest everyone, but I wanted to follow up my previous post on why Crossfit during pregnancy was right for me, with some more details on my workout modifications.  It’s hard to find authoritative information on what’s safe and what’s not.  I can’t claim to have an expert opinion, but I want to share my experience.  In this post I’ll break down what I did, and what I modified or eliminated, in each trimester of my pregnancy.   Crossfit mamas, read on!

THE PREGNANCY WORKOUT MODIFICATIONS SCOUTING REPORT

I should start by saying that everyone is different!  Some mamas may make similar changes, and others will do twice what I did.  Or half.  It’s okay!  The key is knowing your body and finding what works for you.  I should also add that while it *looked* like I was doing super hardcore workouts, I wasn’t!  More than once I arrived at the gym, stretched, did a few light squats, and went back home.  Staying active is the key!

I am also not a medical or fitness professional, so please consult your midwife and/or doctor, and coaches, for professional advice!

FIRST TRIMESTER WORKOUT MODIFICATIONS

Author doing clean and jerk.
In the first trimester I didn’t really modify too much.

During the first trimester, I didn’t really eliminate any exercises.  My bump was still nonexistent or towards the end, tiny, and thus not affecting my form or balance.  I did reduce the intensity a bit, both in terms of weight used for WODs and the extent to which I pushed myself.  Other than  my coaches, most people at the gym didn’t know I was pregnant until about 12 weeks.

Towards the end of the first trimester I started modifying my burpees by putting first one, then two, ABMATs down in front of me.  I would get down on my knees, bump my chest on the ABMATS, without squishing my belly, and jump up.  Per my maternity chiropractor’s recommendation, I also stopped doing lunges, and 20-inch box step-ups, as soon as I started showing.  Her reason for this was that split-leg movements put uneven pressure on the pelvis and can cause the uterus to twist — not something you want!

SECOND TRIMESTER WORKOUT MODIFICATIONS

As my bump started to grow, I started to eliminate more and more exercises.  In the second trimester, these included toes to bar and ABMAT sit-ups, double unders, 20-inch box jumps, and snatches.

One reason for several of these was what I call “the cone.”  I have also seen it called a “tent” or “bulge.”  If you’re not familiar with what I mean, see this article for some pictures.  As my abs started to separate, I found that any exercise that put pressure on my core caused my bump to try to bulge forward between my abs.  I was not comfortable with this as I didn’t want to put any additional strain on my core.  During the second trimester, the “cone” eliminated toes to bar and ABMAT sit-ups, but as you’ll see, in the third trimester, it eliminated a lot more. I usually subbed kettle bell swings for T2Bs or sit-ups.

As I have rehabbed my core postpartum, I really want to emphasize the importance of watching for the “cone” and avoiding any activity that causes it. My abs are mostly back together now, but if I don’t pay attention I do still get a little “cone” trying to come through.  You want to avoid this at all costs!

In addition, double unders caused my heart rate to spike higher than I felt comfortable with, but I continued to do single unders throughout.  20-inch box jumps were uncomfortable, but I was able to do 12-inch jumps without issue.  The bump was in the way for snatches, and I usually subbed clean & jerk.  We did some short, high intensity sprints when I was about 25 weeks, and while they felt fine, the next day my maternity chiropractor asked “what on earth have you been doing?!”.  So we stopped sprints there, though I continued to run throughout my pregnancy.

THIRD TRIMESTER WORKOUT MODIFICATIONS

Maternity belt.
Loved wearing this during the third trimester and postpartum.

In the third trimester, I was honestly doing a rotation of a very limited number of exercises.  In addition to the above, I also stopped doing:  rowing, kipping pull-ups, ball slams, burpees, and back squats.  Rowing, kipping pull-ups, and ball slams all fell victim to the “cone.”  I usually subbed the assault bike, straight pull-ups with a band, and kettle bell swings, respectively.  Towards the end I stopped all pull-ups because the band and the bump didn’t get along, doing push press instead.  I also reached a point where burpees just weren’t going to happen anymore!  Back squats were fine for a long time, but at one point I almost lost my balance.  I stuck with front squats from then on to ensure I didn’t fall forward!

At about seven months I started wearing a maternity belt to work out.  I believe this helped by reducing some of the jiggling that happens when you move a lot.  But the key is that you don’t use the brace to do exercises you shouldn’t be doing!

EXERCISES I CONTINUED THROUGHOUT MY PREGNANCY

Pregnant author on stand up paddle board.
Stand-up paddle boarding at 36 weeks!

According to my notes, I continued to do the following throughout my pregnancy:  overhead squats, kettle bell swings, front squats, deadlifts, box jumps at 12 inches, cleans and clean & jerk, single unders, wall ball shots, assault bike, push press, goblet squats, and light running.  I was also able to stay active in other ways, including light hiking and a couple times, stand-up paddle boarding!

In retrospect I probably should have stopped doing single unders and all box jumps towards the end to protect my pelvic floor.  I should also point out that I used very light weights, especially in the third trimester.

A couple of other notes — first, the kettle bell is your friend.  I expected that kettle bell swings would cause my stomach to “cone” after a while, but they didn’t.  This allowed me to do some core work in addition to my core-specific exercises (see below).  It’s also useful for goblet squats, which are great.  Finally, I continued to do deadlifts much more often than they were programmed.  Deadlifts didn’t bother me, my bump didn’t really affect my form, and they’re great for your lower back.  I feel strongly that doing deadlifts helped me avoid back pain during my pregnancy.

KEEP YOUR CORE STRONG!!

The other thing I continued to do throughout my pregnancy was core exercises aimed at the transverse abdominals.  Keeping your core as strong as possible is crucial for so many things, including your posture and preventing back pain.  I learned of these exercises, designed by Olympic Trials 1500m runner Sarah Brown during her pregnancy, when I was 30 weeks.  I immediately started doing them six days a week with a few modifications — I never did planks while pregnant, for example.  My maternity chiropractor was extremely impressed every single week with how well my core was able to handle the increasing stress of the bump.  I truly believe these exercises were a crucial part of being able to stay active throughout my pregnancy and recover well after baby was born!

Let’s help each other!  What pregnancy workout modifications did you find most helpful?  Post in the comments.

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