Written by Sophie Rees
I’m pregnant, how will this affect my training? Can I still CrossFit?
Excitement. Fear. Happiness. Oh shit. Common thoughts and feelings of anyone who finds out they are pregnant. But what about, ‘how will this affect my training?’
It is more common than you may think these days. Gone are the days of enforced bedrest throughout pregnancy and polite euphemisms of ‘expecting’ or ‘with child’. Here dawns a new era of training as close to your due date as possible and flaunting pictures and videos of your bump whilst doing so. Continuing to remain active and exercise during pregnancy is encouraged and recognised to have benefits to both mum and baby and whilst this is more commonly accepted these days, what remains a grey area is what movements are considered safe and at what intensity.
I have no intention of answering that question and directing anyone’s training as I am not appropriately skilled or trained to do so. Furthermore, this my first pregnancy and that by no means qualifies me as an expert. But I do appreciate that there are many CrossFitters who may be in a similar scenario to myself and may find the literature lacking or confusing. I know I did.
So, the purpose of this blog is purely my reflections on being pregnant and continuing to train. I hope that it may provide some information on a basic level to anyone who is active and pregnant with a similar training background or thinking about having a baby. But as I’ve said please do not consider this as gospel.
Surely you will have to stop training now?
My pregnancy wasn’t unplanned: my husband and I had both agreed to start trying after regionals 2017 and I was fortunate to fall pregnant within a few months. Having been trying and monitoring my cycles, I knew early on that I was pregnant, and so I started to think about my training by researching as much as I could to give myself knowledge about how to adjust. This is where the first hurdle can be found: There is information out there but there is not much specific CrossFit/weightlifting related guidance. Certainly, a common theme at work was ‘have you stopped training then?’ My answer-hell no!
Planning for the unknown
The first 16 weeks were physically hard as I was constantly feeling drained and having bouts of nausea and uncomfortable bloating. Finding the energy and motivation to train was just as hard as the actual training session. Perhaps in a way this worked quite well: had I been feeling normal I may have been tempted to carry on training to the same intensity and strength as before. This may not have been a bad thing at this early stage, but what I did find out was that If I pushed too hard in a workout I would feel sick to the point of throwing up-a new concept for me: my iron stomach normally refuses to ever let anything come BACK up, but I would literally find myself gagging in workouts. Training to exhaustion was off the menu…even if my menu now only included a simple starter!
Whist I could still lift the same weights and percentages, I found my stamina massively reduced, perhaps due to my depleted energy levels. Movements and repetition sets I normally would have breezed through became physically impossible…..a distant memory. I could almost sense my husband’s disbelief when I would say I couldn’t perform those repetitions or that I had reduced it by a whole round as I was just too tired to finish. Or my favourite guilty pleasure-I had a nap instead.
What I really struggled with was the tiredness and feeling too exhausted to train, and what it ultimately required was listening to my body and mind. If that meant having an additional rest day then so be it, the fact that I made it through a day of work became enough of an achievement-even if I may have been on par with a zombie…..actually considering the walking dead Zombies can be quite active…….ok on par with a corpse may be more accurate. Alternatively sometimes I knew I felt knackered and couldn’t be bothered to train but that I would feel better for moving gently for 30 minutes with an EMOM…..and that ultimately I would be a nicer person to be around.
Be prepared to Scale and adjust.
Further into the second trimester I began to feel more energised and my training reflected this, I was no longer struggling to motivate myself to train at least three times a week. Equally my bump started to show and I had to become more inventive with my training, no longer able to continue weightlifting without affecting my bar path….or hitting a bump/obstacle. Goodbye Snatch. Hello kettlebells and dumbbells.
As bump became more prominent I also became more aware of ‘coning’ in certain movements, in particular for me rowing and any movement involving hanging from a bar. Good bye pull ups and toes to bar. Hello assault bike and ski-erg….so much assault bike and ski erg! I often asked the coaches to monitor my bump for coning-but it wasn’t something they were automatically familiar with. I would spend a lot of time filming myself training ultimately to monitor bump for coning and to look at my form in general. As bump got bigger I could feel it more when this happened, but equally there are times I didn’t feel it but I pick up on it from my film footage.
It was at 20 weeks that I became a bit despondent with my training, it seemed like there was a lot I couldn’t or shouldn’t be doing and my programme that I had been following and adjusting just seemed too far-fetched now. I began to get a bit fed up of my husband recommending I sub chest to bar with double the number of ring rows. Do you know how hard ring rows are?? And funnily enough they never got any easier as the pregnancy progressed!
It was at this point I really re-evaluated my training, writing down a list of the movements I was no longer doing, either due to bump or coning and then comparatively writing down a list of the movements I could do as well as what my scaling options were for the movements I was no longer doing.
At the beginning of the week I would write a list of the movements I wanted to include so that I was still incorporating variety and different strength and lifting elements. I would then always write up my sessions before going to train, or if I was going to attend a class I would analyse the WOD and have my scaling options already planned so I was prepared, and the scaling was specific for me.
A slightly different perspective of my aims of training whilst pregnant alongside the support and words of encouragement from other members of the box encouraged me to keep training regardless of not being able to lift heavy or rep out movements.
Don’t assume your CrossFit coach will know everything there is to know about exercising in pregnancy.
What it helps to realise is every pregnancy and pregnant body is different and what might work as a scale option for one may not work for another, which is why filming yourself doing movements and having someone watch you can be really useful. The term ‘listen to your body’ gets thrown around a lot, however sometimes we are not in tune with this new song and you might continue to do a movement thinking it feels fine, but its only until you watch yourself back that you notice an issue.
Equally just because a movement does feel good, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should be doing it considering what the body goes through during pregnancy. I really found BirthFit a useful source here in gathering knowledge and changing my mindset to really appreciate that this pregnant state is temporary but post-partem is permanent and awareness in protecting our pregnant self so we can return to full health post-pregnancy is paramount.
Be flexible in your training and mindset
Don’t be too hard on yourself: you may not be training 5x a week anymore because you’re knackered, or you may feel great and able to continue as before with ease. I must admit I found it mentally hard to not be training at the same high intensity, that feeling of extreme exhaustion and endorphin high after an epically hard work out is hard to beat. I envied that sweaty person crumpled in a heap on the gym floor whilst I waddled around…or went back to my 200 ring rows…..or 500 calories on the assault bike (ok these are slight exaggerations). Looking at the bigger picture, it’s a massive achievement to continue any form of exercise whilst growing that little human or humans. And think of all the PBs once you’re back! But first: It’s the countdown to possibly the longest and hardest workout of anyone’s life-giving birth!
I would just like to add one final point. This was wrote a couple of weeks prior to giving birth to our beautiful baby girl Hazel! Mother and baby are doing just fine. Good luck to any future pregnant mothers out there with their own journey.