CrossFit Modifications for Pregnancy

“Can I do CrossFit while pregnant?”

First, let me say that if you have not been doing CrossFit before pregnancy, now is definitely not the time to start. Also, you should always check with your doctor before beginning/continuing any exercise program while pregnant.

If you have been doing CrossFit leading up to pregnancy, your general health is in a good place, and you are not at risk for any complications, I don’t see why you couldn’t continue, if it’s something that you want to do. Having said that, there are some things to be mindful of, and modifications that you can make to take care of your body during this time:

  1. Mindset – CrossFit is known for its intensity and competitive nature. Regardless of your experience or level of fitness, pregnancy is not the time to compete. For the more competitive athletes, it might be hard to turn off the “athlete brain” of wanting to push the limits and potentially ignore discomfort. We have to be mindful that just because we *can* do something, doesn’t necessarily mean we *should*. Always weigh the risk vs. reward of doing a particular movement, and if you are questioning whether or not to continue something, you probably already have your answer.
  2. Intensity – When and how to adjust your intensity will vary with each person, depending on your experience and how you’re feeling. Some people may be able to train at higher intensities than others, and some days may feel easier than other days. This is where “listening to your body” can actually work, because you don’t want to push your training if you’re feeling sick or exhausted. Some ways to lower the intensity of your training include: decreasing the load (weight) lifted, increasing rest periods between exercises, decreasing sets and/or repetitions, and pacing yourself (as opposed to getting it done as fast as you can). I do not recommend maximum lift attempts or breaking any PR’s intentionally.
  3. Exercises to avoid – There are only a few things that should probably be avoided during pregnancy, and that includes anything that poses a risk for falling. This includes rope climbs, box jumps, muscle ups, and handstand walks. I also recommend backing off of kipping exercises, as our joints can be more unstable during pregnancy due to hormonal changes.
  4. High impact exercises – As pregnancy progresses, it is important to consider the increasing stress on the pelvic floor. Even if no symptoms are apparent (leaking, bulging, pressure, etc.) that doesn’t mean the pelvic floor is not being stressed. Things like running, jumping rope, burpees, and plyometrics can be modified, or temporarily replaced with lower impact exercises such as rowing, biking, Farmer’s carries, sled pushes, ball slams, etc.
  5. Abdominal exercises – One of the biggest changes that occurs during pregnancy is our growing belly, which is accommodated by shifting abdominal muscles. Since our abs are not moving in the same way as before pregnancy, it is important to consider training them differently. After a certain point (which will be different for each person), we should modify, and eventually eliminate, exercises that put excessive pressure through the midline (such as sit-ups, toes to bar, regular planks). We can still train the core through stabilizing exercises, and focusing on breath work & deep abdominal engagement. (I will have a follow-up post on specific pregnancy-friendly core exercises)
  6. Barbell movements – Olympic lifts and other barbell exercises are some of the core movements in CrossFit. I recommend that whenever your belly starts to get in the way of proper form, that is the time to switch to different exercises (if not sooner). Even if the exercise itself feels fine, it’s not worth training with compromised form. Barbell snatches & cleans can be replaced with dumbbell versions of the same movements, and sumo deadlifts can take the place of traditional deadlifts if and when they become uncomfortable.
  7. Overhead movements – Overhead pressing and pull-ups can put extra strain on the midline of the abs, especially as our bellies grow and it becomes harder to engage our abs. My recommendation is that when it becomes too difficult to do any movement while maintaining abdominal engagement, that is the time to scale back on the load, and/or change the movement. Pull-ups can be modified by adding a band for assistance to decrease the load, or replaced with banded pull-downs or any rowing exercise (ring rows, dumbbell rows, barbell rows, etc). Dynamic overhead presses (such as push presses and jerks) can be replaced by strict presses, and barbell presses can be replaced with dumbbell presses. Also, pressing seated instead of standing can take some stress off of the core.

Final thoughts: Pregnancy can be challenging in that we feel like we can no longer do some of the things that we used to be able to do. Just remember that this is all temporary, and you will be able to do those things again someday. I like to think of pregnancy as a time to learn different things, and also a great opportunity to build a stronger foundation by slowing down and connecting more with our bodies. If you need guidance and/or reassurance, please reach out, I am here for you!

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