CrossFit is one of the fastest growing exercise activities in Australia. After arriving in Australian shores in 2006, CrossFit continues to find new territory to open its warehouse-like gyms called “Boxes”. Presently, Australia together with Europe and Canada account for 23.1% of all licensed CrossFit boxes in the world. 72% of the boxes are located in the United States where the sport originated. More and more women are doing CrossFit. The demographic of CrossFit participants is evenly divided between men and women. However, is CrossFit during pregnancy safe?
CrossFit is a fitness program that was created by Americans Greg Glassman and Lauren Jenai. Glassman, a former gymnast, wanted to come up with a sport that would answer the question, “Who is the fittest person in the world?”
Glassman had an idea that the sport should cover all the qualities of fitness namely: strength, power, endurance, mobility, flexibility, agility, athleticism, and speed among others.
Thus, CrossFit became an amalgamation of different exercise modalities: Olympic weightlifting, gymnastics, Powerlifting, Strongman, running, cycling, obstacle course, and bodyweight training.
A CrossFit workout would consist of any combination of these modalities. These programs are called “Workout of the Day” or WOD. CrossFit WODs change all the time.
A participant could be doing 10 reps each of popular CrossFit exercises such as Air Squats, Burpees, and Ring Pull-ups on Monday. Then on Wednesday, he/she could be doing one rep each of Powerlifting – style Squats, Bench Press, and Deadlifts followed by a 400m run for five intervals.
The popularity of CrossFit hit an all-time high after Australia’s own Tia Claire- Toomey, a member of the 2016 Australian weightlifting team that competed in Rio, won the prestigious Reebok CrossFit Games in 2017. Toomey repeated as champion in 2018.
The person who wins the CrossFit title is widely referred to as the “Fittest Person on Earth”.
The success of Toomey and another Australian, Kara Webb who placed second to Toomey in 2017, has inspired more women to take up CrossFit. One look at the physiques of Toomey and Webb will tell you why CrossFit has become more popular than aerobics.
Toomey and Webb possess fat-free bodies that are stacked with well-proportioned, beautifully toned-muscle with clearly defined 6-pack abs. They are fast, athletic, strong, and powerful.
CrossFit routines for women can get them the body they’ve always dreamed of with workouts that are challenging but fun to do. Many can’t get enough of it. Apparently, a lot of women do CrossFit while pregnant.
When Lea- Ann Ellison posted a picture of herself doing one of the more popular CrossFit exercises, the one-arm kettlebell snatch while two weeks away from giving birth, the Internet went into beast mode. People called her “irresponsible”, “sickening”, and “vile” for putting the health of her baby at risk.
Despite the social media backlash, Ellison continued to do CrossFit. She gave birth to a healthy baby boy and was back in the gym doing CrossFit just three weeks after.
Is Elllison an example of CrossFit’s safety for pregnant women? Or was she an exemption to the rule of pregnant women doing vigorous exercise?
Obstetricians will always advise women to exercise during pregnancy. Constant physical activity keeps the muscles, joints, and connective tissue strong, mobile, and flexible which allows an easy and safe delivery.
Exercise during pregnancy also cuts down the risk of both mother and baby acquiring life-threatening conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure. This is why you typically see pregnant moms taking long walks around the park, swimming a few laps or participating in low-impact dance classes.
CrossFit is seen in a different light because it is synonymous with High Intensity Training (HIT) exercise. It is a common sight to see CrossFit participants sprawled on the sweat-drenched floor of the Box.
What critics of CrossFit don’t know is that its programming is scalable. You can customize a WOD to fit your own needs. All you have to do is pick among the large list of popular CrossFit exercises. Are you unsure of doing burpees while pregnant? Then don’t add it to your WOD.
As mentioned, CrossFit integrates movements identified with skill-specific sports such as Olympic Weightlifting, Powerlifting, Strongman, and gymnastics. If your form and technique on the Snatch, Deadlift, Atlas Stone Carry, and Wall Handstand are not perfect, scratch them off the list of WOD exercises as well.
Another rule to keep in mind for pregnant women is that if you haven’t done CrossFit before, don’t start now. In the case of Ellison, she was doing CrossFit three years before she gave birth to her first baby. Her son, Skylar, is her third baby.
Despite the abundance of CrossFit videos on YouTube, don’t try to learn the movements on your own.
If you want to do CrossFit while pregnant, make sure your performance is under the supervision and guidance of a certified Personal Fitness Trainer or CrossFit Coach.
CrossFit superstars such as Katrin Davidsdottir, Sara Sigmundsdottir, Tia Claire-Toomey, and Kara Webb have coaches for each specific event. Again, Toomey is a world class Olympic weightlifter who had been doing snatches and clean and jerks for years.
Lastly, before doing CrossFit during pregnancy, get the approval of your Obstetrician.
Your doctor will continually run tests to make sure you and your baby are in great health throughout the pregnancy. He/she can lend professional advice on which popular Crossfit exercises you can include in your WOD.
Your CrossFit routines or WODs would be influenced by stage of your pregnancy. Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind on how to perform CrossFit in every trimester.
CrossFit is an activity that pushes people to get better in every workout. However, in your first trimester of pregnancy, your focus should be to maintain your health, and current levels of fitness and strength.
Instead of pursuing maximum effort attempts in the Powerlifts of Squat, Bench Press, and Deadlift, you should change your program to incorporate sets of 5 to 8 reps equivalent to 80% of your one-rep max (1RM).
For example, if your best pre-pregnancy Squat is 90kgs, reduce the weight to 75kgs and do 3 to 4 sets of 5 repetitions.
You should also scale down on the intensity. CrossFit Coaches will ask you to exercise at a level whereby you can still carry a conversation. If you can’t answer a question without taking 2 to 3 deep breaths, you are working too hard.
Exercises that require you to lie on your back should be avoided. This is because the size of your uterus may have grown large enough to restrict the flow of blood supply to you and baby. Among the exercises you should avoid are the Bench Press, sit-ups, and Inverse Pull-Ups.
Likewise, you should not perform exercises where the risk of falling is quite high. These risky, high-level exercises include Kipping Pull-Ups, Box Jumps, and Rope Climbing.
During the second trimester, you should take down the intensity level another notch. You can either reduce the amount of weight you are lifting or decrease the number of sets you plan to perform.
You can still perform the WODs from the second trimester. However, you have to scale down the intensity level again. In the third trimester, you might find yourself short of energy and tired more often.
That is to be expected when the due date is near. Always keep in mind that the focus of doing CrossFit while pregnant is to maintain, not improve, fitness. Don’t push yourself when you are not feeling well. Listen to your body. When in doubt, see your doctor.
At this stage of the pregnancy, any form of exercise will be welcome. It will help you get through the physical, mental, and emotional difficulties of delivery.
One of the primary reasons why CrossFit has continued to grow in popularity is its sense of community. Drop by any CrossFit box and be inspired by the group’s camaraderie.
Although the WODs are set up to encourage competition, no one wants the other to succeed than another member of the community. Everyone looks out for one another.
Therefore, when pregnant it is advisable to do CrossFit in a box where the owners and other people can look out for your health, safety, and well-being.