An Overview of Modifications for the Pregnant Athlete

It’s no secret that we think Crossfit is the best program for gaining strength and improving your overall fitness. But, Crossfit isn’t just incredible for elite athletes and those wanting to compete, but for us everyday people too. Young or old, fit or new to fitness, Crossfit can be scaled and adapted no matter your needs. 

This is especially true for all things pregnancy and postpartum. Crossfit is the perfect way to continue to build muscle mass, improve your endurance, and keep you fit through each and every phase of pregnancy. It also provides you with an awesome network of support as you journey through each stage of pregnancy. Below are a few modifications to talk to your coach about in order to get your fit pregnancy off to a great start!

Before we dive in, as always, listen to your doctor first and foremost and be sure that you are cleared to start exercising (if you are new to a fitness regime) and talk through any pre-existing health conditions that you may need to take into consideration. Be sure to also discuss what your doctor recommends with your Crossfit coach–our coaches at Fireside are experts at modifying workouts so that you can come into a normal class with your fellow athletes and get a great workout in.

Mindset Shift:

Perhaps the most important modification to make once you are pregnant is to understand that your top priority is the health of you and your baby, not how much weight you are putting on the bar. While that may seem obvious, it can be really tough turning the “athlete brain” off. For the longest time you have been pushing yourself to the limits, seeing just how far you can go and just how hard you can work, and now we must shift that into prioritizing a healthy pregnancy so that you can return in the best way possible to fitness postpartum. 

This mindset shift includes being mentally prepared for your changing body, understanding that your nutrition may need to look different than it has in the past, being okay with not pushing yourself to your limits, and most importantly being okay with just taking some rest. 

It’s important to begin to understand that fitness will look different for the next 9 months as baby develops and for a year after giving birth as your body heals and recovers. Fitness may never look the same again, and that’s okay! Understanding that mindset shift will help set-up your fitness journey to be as fun, joyful and realistic as possible throughout your journey into motherhood. 

With that, let’s get into some modifications to consider throughout each trimester. The following is in no way an extensive list, but a great way to get started. 

1st Trimester: 

In the first trimester many women experience nausea, fatigue, trouble sleeping, breast tenderness and shortness of breath (to name a few) so it is extremely important to allow yourself to get the rest that you need and pay attention to how your body is feeling. As always, if you feel like coming into the gym you absolutely should, but on days when you aren’t feeling your best be sure to dial it back both in the weight you load onto your barbell and your intensity. 

When it comes to nutrition, it’s important to stick to what you know and do your best when nausea hits. When you can, focus on eating lots of lean protein, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and nutrient dense carbs (sweet potatoes, white potatoes, whole grain bread, brown rice, oatmeal, root vegetables and squash). But sometimes, simply eating what you can stomach is perfectly fine and totally normal. Do your best and know that the 2nd trimester will most likely feel much better! 

When it comes to training in your 1st trimester there doesn’t need to be any significant modifications other than making sure that you aren’t going to your maximum effort. We like to use the perceived effort scale of 1-10. Throughout your entire pregnancy your goal should be to stay under a 7, or at a level where you could carry on a conversation pretty easily. 

In your 1st trimester you may also experience some pelvic discomfort as the ligaments in your pelvis loosen in order to accommodate growing baby. Things like squatting to a box, limiting single leg movements or wearing a support belt are great things to try out to help alleviate any pelvic pain. 

Your 1st trimester is also a great time to start strengthening your upper back, posterior chain, and glutes. You are about to become significantly front loaded, so working on strengthening those muscle groups will help alleviate pain and discomfort. Mobility exercises are also always encouraged, particularly the hips, upper back and shoulders. All three will help prepare you for labor and life after baby. 

2nd Trimester:

Many women in their 2nd trimester experience better energy and less nausea, so it is likely that training will feel great! During this trimester there will most likely be more weight gain and changes in how your body feels, so be sure to tune into that. We have seen that most women automatically scale workouts and weights on their own because of the added weight they are carrying around and because it just doesn’t feel great. This is perfect! Listening to your body is always number one priority.

During the second trimester we recommend lowering weights that you would commonly use in order to lessen the strain on both your pelvic floor and diastasis recti. Reducing any added tension in both areas will help recovery go much smoother. Limiting jumping, valsalva breathing (holding your breath and bearing down in a lift), and any ab specific exercises (crunches, toes to bar) is also encouraged. At this time you shouldn’t be performing any lifting within the 1-3 rep range and keep weights lighter with more volume. 

It’s also important to be careful with your balance. The added weight can throw off your center of gravity, so being mindful when you are doing single-leg exercises, box step-ups, or even going up the stairs will be important.

3rd Trimester:

Throughout the 3rd trimester you will experience rapid growth and weight gain. With that, it is important to continue to monitor pelvic floor pressure and coning (when the organs/baby create a concave dome coming out of the belly). If you notice yourself coning, it’s time to eliminate that exercise or modify to take that coning away. An example would be moving from strict pull-ups to floor assisted pull-ups or ring rows. Same thing goes for your pelvic floor. If you are experiencing leaking of any kind or added pressure during a movement (like a weighted back squat) it is time to scale back. 

One quick note to add is that diastasis recti (the separating of the abs) occurs in 100% of women. Our bodies are designed to allow for baby to grow! It is nothing to be concerned about, but the goal is to reduce as much added pressure as we can so that recovery can be as optimal as possible. Hence, modifying when coning of the abdomen occurs.

In addition to keeping intensity at a 7 or lower and modifying movements that cause additional pelvic or abdominal pressure, we recommend discontinuing the use of the barbell during the 3rd trimester. The reasoning is that baby is now in the way of the barbell path that you have trained to keep nice and close to your body, and we don’t want to get into the habit of swinging the barbell away from our body. Switching to dumbbells is a great way to still practice the barbell movement but without having to change your bar path. 

When it comes to being a pregnant Crossfit athlete it’s important to remember that you can get back to what you used to do, but for now it’s time to focus on keeping you and baby healthy. Keeping these modifications in mind will help set you up for a successful fitness journey throughout your pregnancy, and most importantly set you up to recover well so you can get back to doing what you love!