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My Experience with Crossfit During Pregnancy

I am currently in the final weeks of my 2nd pregnancy, in which I have been able to maintain a steady Crossfit program and am astonished by some of the comparisons between my experience with my 1st pregnancy, in which I followed the standard and vague advice of "taking it easy", and the more confident approach I've had this time around, of continuing with Crossfit and adapting it within the boundaries of my Pregnant body. 

When I found out we were expecting our first baby, I was what I'd have called fit at the time. I had 9 years of competitive national level rowing behind me and a couple of half-marathons recently completed. Being a qualified Personal Trainer I was quick off the mark to put into action my very own pregnancy training plan that was strictly within all the recommended guidelines. This included wearing a heart rate monitor and dropping the intensity of my workouts to no more than 140 bpm, (I later discovered by reading Andrea Nitz’s article in the Crossfit Journal that...."Until 1994, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology did recommend keeping the heart rate at or below 140 bpm during exercise, in order to maintain a safe core temperature. They revised this guideline when they discovered no evidence of correlation between the two. It turns out that the heart rate doesn’t have anything to do with core temperature, as originally thought. Besides, the real risk factor turns out to be intensity specifically, high enough intensity to subject the baby to oxygen deprivation—and 140 bpm is not as intense as it sounds. A pregnant mother has an increased blood volume that gives her a higher relative bpm in all activities, rest included. So she may hit  140 pretty quickly, without much exertion as normal. She even may hit 150 —but if she isn’t gasping for air at that point, her baby probably isn’t either.") meaning I was restricted to walking, swimming laps and lifting a few easy weights - not too bad one may think, but for a competitive person like myself who had trained at a high intensity for years I found this regime tedious, but I unwillingly chugged through it anyhow, all the while yearning for the surge of energy that comes from a burst of moderate- high level intensity exercise. 

I was fortunate enough to have a complication-free birth and a beautiful, healthy baby girl. However, I did feel like a piece of the puzzle was missing; and that was my fitness level. Once I had the all-clear from my midwife, I started running and doing 'erg sessions' again on the rowing machine in order to 'increase my base fitness'. This style of training, just like it did in my pre- pregnancy days, was a way to start to the day nicely by getting some fresh air in my lungs and my blood pumping but that's where it stopped. Physically, I was drained for the remainder of the day, craving carbohydrates and in dire need of a nap by the time 2pm rolled around, there HAD to be a a better way of exercising! I now had a young baby to look after. It wasn't practical for me to constantly feel like this. 

Then, everything changed. I joined my local Crossfit affiliate, Crossfit Birkenhead. The first few weeks I was sore after each workout, as I expected, but as the weeks passed and the soreness eased it’s way out of my muscles I became aware of my consistent gains across all 10 of the Crossfit Principles: strength, endurance, power, flexibility, balance, agility, accuracy, stamina, co-ordination and speed. More importantly though I felt full of energy for the remainder of the day following an early Crossfit class and able to keep up with the demands of being a Mother. 

Four months later..... just as my Husband, Dave and myself became complete Crossfit converts we find out that we are expecting a little brother or sister for Jacinda! and oh, how my perspective on exercise during pregnancy had changed. There was absolutely no way I was going to go 9 months without doing what I believe to be, one of the best things I've ever done for my heath and fitness. I quickly jumped online and searched for information from respected sources about Crossfit or moderate-high intensity training during pregnancy but apart from a few personal blogs there was very little information to form an opinion from. So, I decided to trust both my knowledge and my body's signals and continue on with my Crossfit program while following a single ‘Golden Rule’: That I would only do what felt comfortable and either stop or scale if any discomfort arose. 

Initially, not a lot changed. Being such early days I wasn’t sure if I should tell Paul (my coach) about my pregnancy, but after he tried to talk me into breaking my PR on a heavy back squat I though it was best to! and I’m now glad I did because he then did a brilliant job of helping me keep my ‘Golden Rule’ by ensuring I formed the habit of taking some deep breaths between sets, had my water bottle within reach, reminded me to take my eyes OFF the clock as well as a few sneaky ‘talk tests’ in there! 

Around week six I encountered the first challenge of pregnancy, the dreaded Morning Sickness. It was intense and threw all my good intentions of following a Paleo style diet out the window. I resorted to eating whatever would stay down (even if it was something that would usually make me cringe!) Unfortunately, the nausea lasted longer than average for me and It wasn’t until late into the 2nd trimester that I could handle eating meat and vegetables again, although on a positive note, my absence from Paleo did re-enforce just how amazing it makes me feel! 

Entering the 2nd trimester I could start to feel my belly grow and this marked the start of scaling my WOD’s. I absolutely hated it at first! not only was my name slipping off the board for the strength exercises but that ‘RX’ I knew I could nail would have to wait for now because.... 
● Sit-up’s, toe to bars and knee to elbows changed to Press-ups or Kettlebell swings, 
● Cleans and Snatches now started in the hang position, 
● Squats lost their depth, 
● Thrusters changed to push-presses and 
● GHD back extensions changed to Good Mornings 
More importantly though, the intensity of my nausea was easing, I was feeling strong and my Midwife was extremely happy with baby’s growth, my unchanged blood pressure and the results of my routine blood tests. 
It is now 8 weeks out from the arrival of our baby and despite a few ‘fat jokes’ from fellow crossfitters I am still able to maintain my Crossfit program at a comfortable level of intensity. However, the list of exercises that break my ‘Golden Rule’ is rapidly growing at the same rate as 
my belly. Depending on the WOD.... 
● Snatches have changed to Power Cleans, 
● Box Jumps have changed to Box Step Ups and 
● Running & Double Unders changed to rowing for awhile but have now defaulted to Box Step Ups also (when baby arrives I never want to do another box step up again!) 
and of course my weights are at a comfortable level that challenges my muscles without discomfort. 

A couple of weeks ago I watched an interview with Tanya Wagner, 2009 Crossfit Games Champion, on and found it reassuring to hear that she had an almost identical approach when it came to training through her pregnancy. It re-enforced to me how being in tune with your body and knowing how to read it’s signals is such an important skill to have, not only in pregnancy but at all times because it gives you a sense of control over your health and wellbeing. This skill can only be mastered by consistently engaging in high intensity exercise, and learning what your limitations are. 

What I have learnt the most from continuing with Crossfit throughout this pregnancy is that there is no reason why (providing there is no complications and you are conditioned to the demands of Crossfit) you cannot reap the benefits of a moderate-high intensity Crossfit program that follows the ‘Golden Rule’: ‘Only do what feels comfortable’. 


Gloria Fretz Baker said...

Hi Emma! I am newly pregnant (5 weeks) and also love crossfit. I have been crossfitting daily since June 2011. My doc told me "no more than 25 lbs" and now I'm freaked out. I keep going back and forth now. Do you think it is OK to keep up intensity in such an early stage? I know that everyone says you can't cause miscarriage, it happens because there was something wrong, but I still am scared. I didn't think I would be scared but I am. I don't want to do anything that could compromise my pregnancy. I have a few questions: is it true I shouldn't do below 90 squats and deadlifts or is that later in the pregnancy? Can I still do double unders and box jumps? Any additional words of wisdom would be much appreciated.

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whopper said...

This was really helpful - thanks!

Anonymous said...

I am 22 weeks pregnant and love crossfit! I do it 4-5 times a week, of course scaling my workouts big time! I can still do all movements except sit ups, sprinting', burpees, and box jumps! I listened to my body and stopped box jumps when I felt too much pressure' I do step ups on 24" box with 35 lb kettle bell or weighted vest! Burpees are done with paralettes! And I do knees to elbows instead of sit ups' which are great! Wall balls,rowing, and anything with weights are still very comfortable for me without adjusting my weight. I haven't tried to make any pr's while pregnant just maintain my strength, and endurance! My doc told me to keep it up until I give birth, for an easier labor and leaving hospital in my pre pregnancy jeans. Haha(we'll see)Crossfit mom is very helpful too, I looked at a lot of those workouts! I plan to do crossfit as long as I can, even if I keep peeing myself a little along the way! The coaches are amazing and they know what I should and should not be doing, but also told me to do what I feel comfortable with!

Sky said...

Thank-you for posting content on your own experience. Very helpful!