This is a controversial topic, not only because CrossFit (CF) is generally a controversial topic but because doing CrossFit while pregnant brings out even more opinions about what is safe and unsafe during pregnancy. Much of this controversy has been fueled by women who are very pregnant posting pictures of themselves doing Crossfit typical moves such as an overhead squat.
I am not intending for this blog to fuel any controversy but simply want to discuss the topic since CF continues to be a huge trend in fitness.
I did not CrossFit through my pregnancy. I did not start CrossFitting until about 4 months after I had Caleb when one of my former employees opened his own CrossFit gym. I had been working out since a few weeks after having Caleb, building a base and strength again. I first went to support him but then really enjoyed it. I can see why people hate CrossFit, I can also see why people love it. I do love the workouts but I only go 2 maybe 3 times at most during the week. I like the intensity, I like the camaraderie and I like the competitiveness. I work harder than I do on my own. I like being coached in a small group setting. I do not want to go 5 days a week as I personally think it would be too hard on my body. I also like too many other forms of exercise. I want to be able to take and teach group exercise classes, do yoga, ride and run outside and lift on my own. I personally would never recommend anyone going 5 days a week, just as I would not tell anyone to go to hot yoga 5 days a week. I think a mix of activities is best for your mind and body.
I hope to continue CrossFit through my next pregnancy but am a little worried due to the intensity and competitiveness. Pregnancy is not the time to be competitive and I am scared I will have a hard time scaling the workouts. If you do not know how CF works, the workouts are generally fairly short (8-30 minutes and very intense.) Workouts are varied and include anything from typical weightlifting to running or rowing to plyometrics to core work. Athletes post their name on the board and will have their time or score recorded for the day. This not only allows to see your progress but fuels competitiveness of the workout. It might make some people anxious at first to have their score posted but most get used to it and I think end up liking it. I asked one of my best friends Jianna about her experience doing CF while pregnant. Jianna did CF about 3x week and up until about 20 weeks. She would have continued but moved away from her CF gym. She mentioned that she went “slow and low” meaning that she moved through the workouts at a slower pace and dropped the weight. Jianna also said that she had an amazing coach that she trusted 100% who helped her with alternate and safe moves. Having a coach or trainer that you trust is very important.
Because I have only been doing CF for a little over a year and did not do it through my pregnancy, I wanted to interview one of my other very good friends and former co-workers Jocelyn for this blog. Jocelyn is a is a National Strength Conditioning Association Certified Personal Trainer, Level 1 Certified CrossFit Coach, CrossFit Kids Coach, CrossFit Olympic Weightlifting Certified, AFAA Group Exercise Instructor and USA Weightlifting Level 1 Sports Performance Coach. Jocelyn and her husband own CrossFit Generation in Horsham, PA. Jocelyn is also the mother of a beautiful 18 month old girl.
- Did you continue CrossFit once you found out you were pregnant? Yes, since I had been doing CF for about 5 years it was my routine form of exercise and therefore I stayed with my program. I worked out my entire pregnancy except for a 6 week stint where I had to stop due to an ultrasound that came back showing there was a possibility I had placenta previa. We had to wait a few weeks to confirm and in that period of time I was instructed not to workout, so I didn’t. Once I was cleared from the placenta previa, I started working out again.
- What modifications did you make? Did these change for each trimester? I definitely made modifications. In the first trimester I was out of breath pretty easily so I decreased my intensity. I also made sure I was hydrated and my nutrition was planned out for pre and post workouts. I somehow lucked out and had no morning sickness so it made it easy to continue on. In the second trimester I stopped doing anything on my back and put a little bit more emphasis on my core stabilization and kegel exercises. If I felt good, then I’d push myself, if not, I didn’t. That was always kind of my motto and it would change day to day. One day I’d run a little bit and then next day it wouldn’t feel comfortable and maybe the next week it would. Listening and responding to my body was key. Towards the end I was modifying pretty much everything. But working out at a basic level made me feel “normal” and gave me something to do and I knew it was so important for me and the baby. It not only helped me pass the time, but kept me grounded. I walked a lot too. My 3rd trimester was during the summer time so I really had to be mindful of my body temp and hydration. I knew if I was hot, my baby was even more hot, so I monitored that pretty seriously. Other specific modifications included not putting my name on the board and not looking at the clock so I did not have to worry about posting a good score, I went quite a bit lighter with the weights too. Once running was uncomfortable I walked. Once box jumps were uncomfortable, I did step-ups, ring rows instead of pull-ups. I also started doing many of the strength training moves from a hang position and then on boxes once I had a belly in the way.
- As a coach, what do you advise your athletes when they tell you they are pregnant? First and foremost they must listen to their doctor and work with their care team with their exercise plan. Second, (for my more intense CrossFitters) the concept of working out for THEIR BABY and not THEM comes into conversation. The emphasis needs to shift from setting personal bests in workouts to working out for baby and what’s best for their changing body. It’s a mindset shift that we work through. Finally, but just as important, we talk about listening to the body and trusting feelings. They make the rules, I help to guide them… so what they say goes. There are times when I have to step in as a coach though and make some decisions for them if they aren’t wanting to make them on their own (for example, I had a client who felt she could continue to do handstand pushups while well into her pregnancy to which I had to step in and say no).
- What would you tell those who think doing CrossFit is unsafe during pregnancy? Every individual is different and everyone has a different fitness background. If someone has been doing a style of workout prior to pregnancy and they make the appropriate changes as they progress through the pregnancy and are feeling good and their doctor visits are showing a healthy pregnancy, I see nothing wrong with it. It’s easy to judge a person based on a picture you see or a story you hear, but until you get the full details you simply shouldn’t judge the situation.
- What do you feel about the pictures circulating on social media of very pregnant women performing typical CF moves such as overhead squat etc.? My thoughts are two-fold. Initially, I was shocked. But, after digging deeper, I find it hard to judge someone based on a snapshot of their life. A picture is a moment in time. The woman who posted a picture of herself doing the OHS was blasted for doing that. But what wasn’t posted was that was a fraction of her max – it was super light for her. So, I can’t say confidently it was right or wrong. For some it may be dangerous, but for her, a trained professional, it may not have been that wrong. As you progress with pregnancy I do think you have to modify movements. That I know for sure, but I believe she did that. I also saw a picture of a woman who ran a marathon while pregnant. While I was initially thinking this wasn’t a good choice, I dug a little deeper to find out that this woman was an ultramarathon runner, so a marathon was not a big distance for her. So was that wrong of her? I’ve learned for me, I can’t say “I’ll never do this… or I’ll never do that” or judge someone else’s situation when I’m not sure of all the facts. I choose to focus on my own life, my own clients and give my responsibilities my best. I can’t get caught up with judging others.
- Did you resume CF after having your baby? When did you start again? I did not jump right back into CF. I started walking first a few weeks after the baby. After a few weeks of walking I started doing very basic bootcamp style workouts on my own while focusing on my core. So much of my workouts rely on a strong core, so I knew I had to build back that foundation before jumping back into CrossFit. I felt pretty defeated because it felt like I was starting over again with exercise. It was hard to start back up again, but I had to remind myself that it was okay and it was going to be a process. Once (again) my mindset was right, I knew I could start “CrossFitting” again. I think it was about 4 months maybe post pregnancy I started doing CF classes again. I didn’t log workouts or record scores, I just worked out. Some days were good, some were bad. Either way, I had to appreciate the fact that I was working out and was just happy to be sweating! It must have been about 6 months post baby I started to feel like I was back with my routine.
- Do you think by doing CF while pregnant, you were able to regain your strength and lose the baby weight faster? Yes! Absolutely. It helped SO MUCH. Mentally and physically. It helped with my weight throughout pregnancy, post pregnancy and recovery from delivery. My weight settled back down very soon post pregnancy but my composition was still very off. It took a few months to feel myself again. I didn’t put a lot of pressure on myself though and I think that was important. My baby came first, but also my own health was a priority. Balancing the two was sometimes hard, but I managed to find a good balance.
- Did you have to make any modifications when coming back after having your baby? I started with just walking. The weather was nice so Emma and I walked together. I then went on my own to the gym to do some light weight training and core training. I had to build back a foundation as so much of CrossFit is core driven, multi-joint movements. I couldn’t jump right back in without a solid base back. So I spent time doing that first, then started CrossFit again.
Coach Jocelyn and Emma (8 weeks old) walking around the track.
I would love to hear your experiences of doing CrossFit while pregnant or after pregnancy or your thoughts on this subject!