Friday, December 30, 2011

Maintaining Fitness During Pregnancy

Staying Active During Pregnancy

While I am definitely slowing down now at week 39, I wanted to share that many CrossFitting women can continue working out all the way to due date or at least as long as feels good with their body--like I did until just a couple of weeks ago.

Although the third trimester brought back a bit of fatigue like I felt in the first, I still CrossFitted and did work around the house and yard up until about the 37th week.

My CrossFit Modifications

For CrossFit, here were some of my modifications:
  • lifting lighter weights and working technique instead of trying to set new PRs, 
  • using knee raises hanging on the pull-up bar instead of sit-ups (ideally these would be knees to elbows or knees to armpits, but I can't get that tucked anymore) and transitioning to shoulder press towards the end for midline stability work,
  • using ring rows instead of pull-ups (the bands don't feel comfy hitting my bulging belly and kipping feels too violent and heavy), 

  • performing hollow rock holds while hanging from a bar instead of the ground, 
  • stepping boxes instead of jumping, 
  • rowing and biking instead of running, 
  • using parallettes for push-ups and burpees (adding knees on the ground for high reps/speed), 
  • not squatting with weight at very high speed (i.e. no full squat snatches or cleans) since I have heard of women having ligament issues with that during pregnancy.  However, I did do weighted front squats, back squats, overhead squats, and snatches and cleans landing in the power position. And I transitioned to using dumbbells instead of the barbell once I realized I was arching the barbell way out to get it past my belly and returning it was belly-skimming sketchy. 
  • and finally scaling down to stretching in the final weeks when opening, softness, and readying the body for birth is the goal (setting aside my CrossFit brain for a time to not be concerned with weight, reps, or time--which is really hard!). 

Lessons Learned

What I have found through personal experience:
  • Rapid hip opening leads to round ligament pain in me so intense I have to stop and wait it out before continuing to straighten.  That happens when I try to get up too fast (I need to slowly transition from the rower or just from sitting to standing), bear crawl then try to stand, or when I open and close my hips with too much intensity and repetition--like long, hard rowing.  To avoid it, I know I can row a 250 with intensity, so that is my distance of choice, or I can go long and slow if I want to stick out a 500 or 1k, but I have to be really slow getting off the rower and stand up slooooowly.  And to note: round ligament pain is completely normal when you belly is quadrupling in size and latched in place by just a few ligaments. 
  • Holding my breath is a no-no (it makes me dizzy and isn't good for the baby), so no more slow, heavy lifting.  I can go lighter and move quicker while holding tight and breathing at the beginning and end of the movement or breathing while holding tight during the movement if I stabilize tightly.
  • I have to lift things off the floor with wide leg position and row with bowed legs too--which makes me laugh since I feel like a pot-bellied heavy lifter.
Listen to Your Body

Overall, I surprise myself with what I can still do and how it makes me feel--I love it.  Even though I am not CrossFitting now, I can still walk and lift and move things around the house that are reasonable.  I just learned to take the intensity down a notch to not get seriously winded and I feel out the movement--if I get ligament pains, I slow down or stop if necessary and wait them out to continue.  A lot of it is just feeling it out and using common sense.  Like with eating when I'm hungry and trying to provide my body with fuel not junk--I listen to my body. 

For the yard projects, in my third trimester I helped haul concrete chunks from the cracked slab we removed from our backyard, spent hours spreading mulch from our landscaping project, and helped shovel 4 cubic yards of granite base rock for the new patio, which my husband put in with the help of our friends on a weekend.  I single-handedly moved a woodpile across the yard--just me and the wheelbarrow.  Who says pregnancy needs to be a time of rest?

Pregnancy Side-effects

I am so lucky to have not had the quintessential pregnancy back pain.  I credit my level of fitness obtained over years of getting expert CrossFit coaching at CrossFit Santa Cruz to help drill midline stability and make lifting with a straight back second nature.  I am careful lifting to not go too heavy and strain my back that already has such a load to support on a daily basis.  But I certainly still lift--it's functional and necessary to life.  I love shocking the check-out clerks at the grocery store as I string multiple bags from my body like a Sherpa--"Nope, I don't need any help out today, thanks!"

I have also noticed that my recovery during pregnancy is truly amazing and much more accelerated.  The speed at which I recover when I do feel a little sore and how rare soreness is for me now is truly remarkable.  Another wonder of pregnancy!  I continued taking 5g of omega-3 fish oil a day for most of my pregnancy, but started to decrease that to just over 1g by the end so that I don't overly bleed during delivery and recovery (fish oil thins the blood and I have found that especially true with my body).  My soreness now in the final weeks is mostly upper back strain counterbalancing that medball-sized 50# weight in front and leg numbness/cramping, which is just my uterus squishing nerves in there.  Normal, but annoying.

But I must admit: at week 39 and 3 days I am getting more and more uncomfortable, which is a good thing.  I have LOVED being pregnant and have felt wistful about losing the amazing feeling of having my little one so close and squirming and hiccuping inside.  I already feel like I will miss that intimacy, the happy cocktail of hormones that have made me feel amazing and literally glowing, and the mental time-off from caring about body image.  But as the end approaches, I am happy to be about ready to leave behind my amazing pregnancy and embark on a whole new journey of discovery and wonder at my little one.  I can't wait to meet him and share the world with him! 

So the moral is: basically eating healthy, home-cooked foods and exercising using functional movements really does help a pregnancy go smoothly and become a wonderful, fun experience?  Go figure!


  1. You look amazing - healthy and happy! It is reassuring to hear of your round ligament woes, I have the same sharp pains every time I get out of bed, up from my desk chair or an erg. At 34 weeks I'm still strength training 2x a week and Crossfitting 1x. I expect to start backing off my squat weight and/or cutting depth soon, but thus far my deadlift form has miraculously been unaffected. WODs are slow-going which I have to say is really quite enjoyable.

    Best of luck with labor, I hope it goes as smoothly as the rest of your pregnancy! Wish we lived closer together so our little bone broth and Crossfit-bred boys could meet. ;)

  2. Thanks, Bethany! That is great to hear you are strength training and CrossFitting and both are working for you well into your third trimester! I would say that was my frequency too--about three days a week, but even though I LOVE lifting, I started to sub out something more mildly metabolic on heavy days. And yes, it does feel good to take a break from any obsession over weights/times/reps or how I look in lulus :)

  3. Just came across your blog, and wanted to say good luck on your labor ma'am! I'm really interested in reading more of your blog, and can't wait for you to come back :)

  4. What can I say other than "Wow - I am suitably impressed". I have heard of exercising while pregnant, but not doing crossfit. Does your doctor know about this? If so, what did he say?

  5. Hi Sally,
    Thanks for the feedback! Yes, my midwife knew I was doing CrossFit and CrossFit is safe for pregnant women as long as it is modified to meet their needs. Since CrossFit is infinitely scalable, a pregnant woman and her coaches can choose safe alternatives to some exercises and reduce intensity, but she can still workout with a class. That is what makes CrossFit special--anyone can participate from grandparents, children, college athletes, soccer moms, to pregnant woman and even the handicapped. It is as intense as you make it! And I was certainly not as badass as many other mothers-to-be--I listened to my body and scaled appropriately to meet my needs. It was fun to stay fit and now the road back is a long one, but again, I can scale until I can attempt workouts as Rxed. The journey will be worth it!

  6. Wonderful post since nowadays pregnancy most affects the immature and they need to many advice to overcome this sticky periods. Some times exercise can harm pregnant ladies, if they don't know the kind of exercise they are doing. this blog has given detailed explanation about all the changes and problems body get in pregnancy time.

  7. Hey, this is an amazing post, THANK YOU! I am in my third month of pregnancy now and I started to miss the exercises I was able to do before. I used to do the BeachBody workouts (, but they are much too intense for "women in our condition" :)). So thank you again for these tips! K.

  8. A lot of women think that they won't look as good after pregnancy however, if you work out while you're pregnant than it's easier for you to bounce back from it and lose that baby weight. Hopefully some other future moms can see your accomplishments and know that it's possible to look great after pregnancy!

  9. Really helpful post but i wanna know is it safe for a woman who is in the last month of her pregnancy??

  10. Thanks for all the feedback! As for safety, the consensus says not to start a new exercise routine during pregnancy, but if you've been working out and you don't have any complications, continue appropriately by listening to your body for its limitations and to your medical team. I started stretching more and just walking in the final weeks of my pregnancy since it became uncomfortable to continue weight training and i felt like the emphasis shifted from maintaining fitness to readying for birth. Listen to your body--there's no one size fits all plan! :)

  11. You are fantastic! You are amazing. She should be the inspiritaion for those people who think pregnancy equals with lying for 9 months. My cousin got pregnant, she is in the 7th week and she already gets nervous if she has to move something or carry a bag.