“Is That Safe?” — Why Crossfit During Pregnancy Was Right for Me

Author doing overhead squat while pregnant
Doing Crossfit at approximately 25 weeks pregnant.

“Is that safe?”  Every time I mentioned Crossfit during pregnancy or posted a picture, a well-meaning friend would inquire as to whether such activity was acceptable.  It’s an understandable question.  For me, I believe it was.

While exercise during pregnancy was discouraged long ago, today doctors generally agree that it is beneficial to both mother and baby, and should be encouraged in uncomplicated pregnancies.  The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) states that “regular physical activity during pregnancy improves or maintains physical fitness, helps with weight management, reduces the risk of gestational diabetes in obese women, and enhances psychologic well-being.”

Okay.  But what about intense exercise like Crossfit?

THE “CROSSFIT DURING PREGNANCY” SCOUTING REPORT

Crossfit during pregnancy is a controversial topic that causes a firestorm on the internet every few months, usually when a new photo surfaces of a heavily pregnant woman lifting heavy weights.  It is not my intention to cause a new storm.  But I did continue to do Crossfit throughout my second pregnancy, and I believe, now seven months postpartum, that it was the right decision for me.  The following are the six reasons why I believe Crossfit during pregnancy was safe and beneficial in my case.

Please also allow me to say that I am not a medical or fitness professional, so please talk to your midwife and/or doctor, and coaches for tailored professional advice!

1) My midwife, and maternity chiropractor, approved Crossfit during pregnancy.

The baby’s health, and your health, are most important.  Be honest with what you’re doing.  We talked about it at every appointment, not because they were worried but because I wanted to be sure it was okay.  And it was.

2) My pregnancy was not high risk.

Some women with high risk pregnancies may not be able to exercise — it depends on the reason for being high risk.  Again, it’s important to be honest with your doctor as to what you’re doing.  I was fortunate enough that I had no complications or serious concerns, so continuing the exercise I was doing prior to pregnancy, with appropriate modifications, was appropriate and encouraged.

3) I had previous experience with Crossfit.

I wouldn’t say this is vital, as I do know of moms who started Crossfit during pregnancy.  However, doctors often discourage starting new activities during pregnancy, and for good reason.  It’s difficult to learn Crossfit movements from scratch when your core isn’t at it’s strongest.  It’s also important to listen to your body, and having some background in Crossfit allows you to do that more successfully.

4) I was able to listen to my body and modify workouts appropriately.

Author holding baby
Baby and mama’s health are the most important things! I gave birth to a healthy and beautiful baby girl in September.

This is incredibly important.  I was NOT doing normal Crossfit workouts! By the second trimester, I was doing a fraction of the weight I was capable of prior to pregnancy.  The list of exercises that were in my rotation also grew smaller and smaller as my pregnancy continued.  To some extent, it may vary by individual as to what is okay and what isn’t.  But there are some exercises that should be avoided by all pregnant moms.  My maternity chiropractor pointed out, for example, that any split leg movements, such as lunges, even without weight, are contraindicated during pregnancy.

I also avoided like the plague any exercise that causes my bump to “make a cone” as I called it.  This criteria eliminated a lot of exercises in the third trimester, but I didn’t want to put any additional strain on the ligaments (barely) holding my abs together.  I also reduced the intensity considerably.  Often, I was doing a completely separate workout from everyone else.  And that’s totally okay!

5) I was able to put aside my competitiveness.

I wouldn’t say I always handled it well.  There were definitely tears on bad days, as I watched the women I usually work out with flying by me.  But I was able to look at the big picture and realize that A) the baby’s health, as well as my own, were the most important things, B) working out, especially while pregnant, is a privilege, and C) that consistency was the key to staying semi-fit throughout my pregnancy.

6) I continued to do pregnancy-safe core exercises.

This one is huge.  Pregnancy is really, really tough on your core, and Crossfit requires a strong core to do exercises properly.  Of course, at the same time, most doctors correctly prohibit core exercises such as crunches after the first trimester.  However, continuing to exercise and strengthen the transverse abdominals in particular is incredibly important in preventing ailments like back pain, keeping posture as strong as possible, and helping facilitate a reasonably quick postpartum bounce-back.  I started by doing breathing exercises to activate these muscles.  Once I learned about the program Olympic Trials 1500m runner Sarah Brown developed to train through her pregnancy, I switched over to her exercises.  I even had to modify a few of these — for example, I never did planks while pregnant.  But I believe that  these exercises were hugely important in my ability  to continue Crossfit throughout my pregnancy.

HINDSIGHT IS 20/20

Admittedly, I should have focused a LOT more on my pelvic floor during my pregnancy.  Sarah’s exercises address this, but I was too focused on my transverse abs because I didn’t have any pelvic floor issues during my first pregnancy.  Thus I focused my postpartum rehab largely on the pelvic floor because I had neglected this area during my pregnancy.  It should be noted that one indicator for pelvic floor weakness is heavy lifting.

Speaking of which, rehabilitating your core after pregnancy is also absolutely vital before any return to exercise, particularly intense exercise like Crossfit.  More on that in a later post!

Participating in the 2017 Crossfit Open at six months postpartum.

Now seven months postpartum, I still believe that Crossfit was beneficial for me, and safe for both baby and me.  It helped me maintain a baseline level of fitness and strength.  It helped me keep my weight gain within the recommended range.  And it helped me stay sane by providing stress relief and an outlet for any frustrations and anxieties, pregnancy-related or otherwise.  Finally, it allowed me to come back to intense exercise at about three months postpartum, after six weeks of rest and six weeks of core rehabilitation and light exercise, ready to get back in shape.

RESOURCES FOR SAFE PREGNANCY EXERCISE

In terms of resources, I found very little that addressed more intense exercise during pregnancy — something aimed at athletes.  There are a number of blogs and stories that address Crossfit during pregnancy, but nothing authoritative.  I found the book “The Pregnant Athlete: How to Stay in Your Best Shape Ever–Before, During, and After Pregnancy,” by Brandi and Steven Dion, to be of limited usefulness.  It is unique in that it is aimed at women who were athletes before pregnancy.  It does addresses some of the challenges these women face, which most other books do not.  But a lot of the content, such as the nutritional advice, is parroted information from mainstream sources — easily found on Google — and somewhat lacking.  I also believe that the authors encourage exercises that pregnant women should ideally avoid, and do not place enough focus on protecting the abdominals or pelvic floor.  More pregnancy resources here.

In future posts I’ll address my pregnancy modifications, avoiding stretch marks, and Crossfit after baby, so like us on Facebook or Instagram!

SOURCES

“Getting Down to the CORE of it!” BTeamRunning — https://bteamrunning.com/2016/04/28/getting-down-to-the-core-of-it/

“Committee Opinion on Physical Activity and Exercise During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period,” American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists — http://www.acog.org/Resources-And-Publications/Committee-Opinions/Committee-on-Obstetric-Practice/Physical-Activity-and-Exercise-During-Pregnancy-and-the-Postpartum-Period

“How Much Should You Exercise While Pregnant?” Shape Magazine — http://www.shape.com/blogs/working-it-out/how-much-exercise-should-you-do-while-pregnant

This post contain affiliate links.  Please read my disclaimer and affiliate links policy here.