CrossFit in Pregnancy

Outside of specific medical conditions where your provider may deem restrictions necessary, exercising during pregnancy is not only safe, but beneficial for both you and your baby. What about CrossFit in pregnancy? Is it still safe? Let’s take a look.

Can you do CrossFit while pregnant?

Yes! One of the great things about CrossFit is that it is infinitely scalable, making it easy to adjust to the needs of your changing body during pregnancy.

Most CrossFit WODs offer an Rx and a scaled option, but the scaled option doesn’t necessarily mean that it is scaled appropriately for pregnancy. During pregnancy, it typically matters more HOW you do the exercise rather than what exercise you do. However, there are certain exercises, symptoms, and modifications that you will need to make throughout your pregnancy in order to protect not only your baby but also reduce the risk of complications that would affect your long term athleticism.

What exercises should you avoid during pregnancy?

While most exercises can be made appropriate during pregnancy, there are some activities generally considered unsafe to perform during pregnancy. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Activities with an increased risk of falling (rope climbs, bar muscle ups, etc)
  • Contact sports
  • Activities that may raise your core body temperature

If you’re doing CrossFit in pregnancy in the heat of the summer, make sure to take precautions to hydrate and stay cool as needed.

What symptoms are red flags during pregnancy?

While you may have been used to listening to your body before, training while pregnant can present an entirely new and complex set of symptoms that you may find hard to tell if they are normal or not in your new body. The following are lists of symptoms of varying degrees that are considered abnormal during your pregnancy.

Please note that due to the nature of pregnancy, these lists are not all encompassing of every symptom that could arise. If you are concerned at any time, please contact your medical provider.

When to stop exercise and call your provider:

  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Increase shortness of breath
  • Painful uterine contractions
  • Fluid leaking or gushing from your vagina
  • Calf swelling

Your core, pelvic floor, and CrossFit

You can’t 100% prevent core and pelvic floor disorders like diastasis recti, incontinence, and pelvic organ prolapse, but you can make changes in your exercise selection and your intention with each exercise in order to reduce your risk of complications and help to set yourself up for a strong return to exercise postpartum.

When it comes to your core and pelvic floor during pregnancy, you’re looking to reduce pressure into the linea alba (the tissue that separates your rectus “six pack ab muscles”) and down into the pelvic floor. You may notice excess pressure in terms of symptoms such as leaking any amount of urine, gas, or stool, pelvic pain, increased pelvic pressure (feeling like you have a tampon falling out), or coning along the middle of your abdomen.

How to Reduce Intra-abdominal Pressure

We reduce intra-abdominal pressure and help to reduce the risk to your core and pelvic floor through breathing pattern changes, exercise selection, and small adjustments to form.

For breathing and bracing, pregnancy is a time to ditch the weight belt, reduce effort in your lifts, and opt for diaphragmatic breathing instead of the valsalva maneuver. With diaphragmatic breathing, you can help to spread pressure evenly across your core while exhaling either through the entire movement or during exertion to help reduce pressure even further and reduce your risk of bearing down into your pelvic floor.

Exercise selection also plays an important role in your core and pelvic floor health during pregnancy. For example, burpees, box jumps, and kipping pull ups could be performed during pregnancy, but we don’t recommend them. Those movements place too much pressure on an already strained core and pelvic floor system. Instead, opt for modifications like pregnant burpees, step-ups, and ring rows. You’ll be able to get the desired intent of each exercise while helping to support your core and pelvic floor.

With small adjustments to form, you may be able to continue performing an exercise that was once making you symptomatic. For example, a popular pregnancy substitution for running in WODs is rowing. If you notice your stomach coning as you lean back in the rower, first play around with your breathing patterns to help reduce pressure. Second, don’t lean back so far. Sitting a bit more upright in the rower and finishing your pull short is going to allow you to have less tension and pressure on your core while still getting excellent cardio benefits.

Modifying other CrossFit exercises during pregnancy

When to Ditch the Barbell

Exercises like deadlifts and squats may be able to be performed throughout your entire pregnancy depending on your comfort level, but Olympic lifts like the clean and the snatch should be switched to dumbbells as soon as your belly is showing, typically in the 2nd trimester. While there isn’t as much of a risk of you hitting your bump with the barbell, the concern comes with altering your bar path. You will naturally move the barbell further away from your body in these lifts to avoid hitting your belly. That can take a long time postpartum to relearn.

Eliminate Inverted Movements

During the second trimester, you’re going to want to eliminate inverted movements such as handstand walks and handstand pushups. Not only do these movements have an increased risk of falling, but they also put a lot of excess strain on your core. Try dumbbell overhead presses instead. 

Core Exercises During Pregnancy

You want to keep training your core during pregnancy, but you’ll probably want to ditch the sit-ups at the start of the second trimester. When doing sit-ups during pregnancy, it can be difficult to maintain proper tension in your core and pelvic floor leading to coning in the abdomen and bearing down into the pelvic floor. Try pallof presses, bird dogs, or elevated planks instead. 

Impact Exercises

Pregnancy itself places added pressure on the pelvic floor. You’ll likely want to modify impact exercises like double unders and running during your second trimester as well in order to reduce further pressure and impact on your pelvic floor. Try substituting rowing or sled pushes instead.

Overhead or Hanging Exercises

Overhead presses, kettlebell swings, and pull-ups can be continued throughout your pregnancy as long as they remain comfortable, but pay attention to excess pressure in your core. Because of changes in posture due to your expanding bump, overhead exercises can have an increased risk of coning which can increase your risk of diastasis recti postpartum. Try switching to Russian kettlebell swings in the second trimester and single arm dumbbell presses and straight arm banded pull downs in the third trimester.

While you can’t control everything with pregnancy and delivery, control what you can. Genetics and delivery may be out of your control, but the way you exercise and the way you approach scaling isn’t. Pregnancy is a short and temporary phase in your training journey, adjust now to be able to train the way you want later.Want more detailed info on modifying by trimester PLUS exercise substitution ideas? Download our free E-Book: How to Adjust Exercise During Pregnancy.

Read More: How to Return to Exercise Postpartum

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