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Motherhood & Fitness: Part 1 – Pregnancy

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Written by Samantha Chapman, CrossFit Coach and new mom to baby Austin
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It’s 9am. Some time in mid-April, this I remember clearly since I’d been on my honeymoon only a week prior. I soon discover, my class may know something I don’t know…

Our 9am class is largely frequented by moms who, in addition to exercise, enjoy class as a break in their busy schedules and as a social gathering. With the chaotic nature that accompanies motherhood, a phenomenon I had yet to experience, they always have plenty to talk about and share. However, today they are not discussing soccer games, parent/teacher conferences, stomach bugs or “mom stuff”. Today they are huddled in the corner, speaking quietly and secretively. As I move a little closer I hear “Ok, she’s either enjoying the married life and packing on the pounds, or she’s totally…. oh, HI Sam!  You’re glowing today! Did you do something with your hair?”  I don’t know whether to be angry (hmmm, now that I think about it, today’s WOD screams for more burpees), hurt (women can cruel sometimes), or amused. By default, I reply with sarcasm and a smile, saying “It’s ok ladies. Open mouth, insert foot!”. But as I send them on their warm up – an 800 meter run followed by those burpees I threatened – I’m deep in thought. Why was I suddenly looking so thick around the middle and in the jowls? Could it just be my mid-30’s catching up to me? Stress from planning the wedding? I don’t know… my stomach has been in knots for the last couple weeks… Must have been the food, water and honeymoon over-indulging in Puerto Rico.
Wait a second… when was my last period?!
I stewed over this for the remainder of my classes and as lunch time rolled around – during which I took 2 bites of the cheesy gordita crunch from Taco Bell I’d been craving since 6am immediately wanting to hurl – I decided to take a pregnancy test, or 3… The class’s suspicions were confirmed, their humble coach was indeed pregnant!

So naturally, as a gazillion other thoughts ran through my head, I thought about coaching. What were our athletes or new members going to think? It’s only a matter of time before EVERYONE starts noticing! I wondered how I was going to break the news, specifically to Emily, our head coach… would she be happy, or perhaps not? Would I still be able to coach? I then thought about my own fitness. Ok, so handstands, rope climbs, box jumps/jump-overs and burpees were obviously gonna be out for a little while… but what else? How can I show someone who’s brand new how to do a burpee if I can’t even demo it myself? I spent an entire afternoon that week Googling and YouTubing (yes, those are verbs!) “crossfit and pregnancy”, “pre-natal crossfit”, “exercise and pregnancy” and to my dismay discovered that there really were no guidelines, no written workouts, no user’s manuals – just a bunch of online forums where people voiced their opinions on whether or not pregnant women should even exercise at all. Really? Then there were images of these hardcore Crossfit gals who were 7+ months doing WODs consisting of 150 lb back squats (my 1 Rep Max BEFORE pregnancy!!) and muscle ups (ok, can’t even do those now). It looked like this really would be all about trial and (hopefully not too much) error for me.  3, 2, 1  WAIT… I’ve gotta pee!

IMG_0382Fast-forward to week 12. My bump had made its debut and there was no mistaking it – even when I wore my husband’s hoodies over my Lulu’s (which were now starting to cut off my circulation) there it was! Some of our athletes started asking me why I scaled my workouts certain ways and eventually the braver ones just came out and asked. The cat was officially out of the bag! Head Coach Emily was thrilled for me and definitely did not restrict me to assisting or front desk duty. She was more than happy to offer suggestions on how to scale exercises as my body continued to change nearly every week. Stark contrast to the midwife who told me at my 18 week check-up that I should NOT be exercising at all – I wanted to strangle her! (Doctors and nurses had very mixed advice on this topic as well). Our athletes were also over-the-moon excited for me and I really felt the “family” aspect of our community.  Some were very protective – mostly the working dads who frequent the 6am class – and gladly stepped in to demonstrate the more complicated exercises for our newbies and put away the heavy equipment for me. My beloved moms at 9am had plenty of advice for me, everything from child birth to breastfeeding to actual child rearing. One even loaded me up with hand-me-downs! Our entire community was super supportive and anxiously anticipated the arrival of our newest member right along with me.
We even held my baby shower at the Box!

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Now, what you’ve been waiting for… my nitty-gritty advice for those of you who plan on staying active throughout pregnancy! Once that test comes back positive, DON’T PANIC! Your fitness as you know it is far from over. If you were active before, you’ll still be able to exercise, as a matter of fact it’s quite encouraged to keep you feeling good and staying healthy throughout your pregnancy. Not to mention, it just might make labor, delivery and RECOVERY much easier for you. A few things to keep in mind going forward… You’ll want to proceed with caution because there really are no rules. There is no magic number regarding weight you can lift and there is no magic timeline that says at what week you need to stop doing exercises x, y, and z (though you should educate yourself on the changes your body will experience in each trimester). Doctors, nurses and midwives will give you mixed advice, guidelines and warnings regarding exercises. My evenings spent Googling (while devouring a pint of double fudge ice cream, of course)led me to wonder whether or not there was much conclusive research as to what is good and bad for pregnant women who enjoy also enjoy fitness. So the only guideline I hadwas my activity level BEFORE pregnancy. If you weren’t into CrossFit or any other program before you became pregnant, then pregnancy may not be the best time to start. Similarly, it also may not be a good time to decide try running a marathon if you never ran consistently. However, if you were exercising 5+ days a week and thriving, that’s great and you probably still can. A good rule of thumb is to base your exercise off of whatever it was you were doing pre-pregnancy… spinning, boot camp, yoga, running, P90X, Insanity, CrossFit, etc and scale down from there. Which brings me to my next point…

As the early weeks turn into months and eventually TRIMESTERS of your pregnancy, your body, hormones, and energy levels will begin to change drastically. It’s very important to pay attention to and respect these changes. If something doesn’t feel right, your body WILL let you know so listen carefully! Remember those “max efforts”, AMRAPs and WODs “for time”? Well, it might be time to shift the focus and SLOW IT DOWN, because your body is working over-time as it is! A good way to tell if you’re overdoing it? Have a workout buddy along with you. If you can still hold a conversation, you’re in the clear but anything more strenuous and you may over doing it a bit, both for yourself and your baby. Forget the 1 Rep Maxes too. At least for me, this was not the time for ‘gains’. There’s plenty of time for that after your baby is born. Besides, if you do hurt yourself, muscle relaxers and pain killers are off limits so it’s not worth the risk! I personally liked EMOM’s best (Every Minute on the Minute) since the rest period allowed me to regain my energy for the next round. Remember that from conception, to pregnancy, to childbirth and on breastfeeding if you choose to do so, your body becomes your baby’s… NOT yours. So dial back the intensity, have fun, enjoy the experience and let how you feel guide you!

You might be thinking “what exercises CAN I do while I’m pregnant?”  First it’s important to know that about halfway through your pregnancy, your body releases a hormone called Relaxin which significantly affects your coordination and flexibility (anyone else find it ironic that it’s called RELAXin?). Beyond that, there really is no right or wrong answer and it’s very individual. Doctors will warn you that over-exerting yourself and lifting too heavy can place strain on your placenta, which is true and something to be mindful of. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t lift! In the beginning of my pregnancy, I cut out all jumping, hanging, upside-down (not my favorite to begin with) and climbing exercises to avoid falling/dropping. Anyone who’s bailed on a box jump knows that the initial sting of skinning your shin is one thing, falling from a height while pregnant is another. I switched from burpees to up-downs so I wasn’t teetering on my big belly and by the time I entered my second trimester sit-ups, hollow rocks, toes-to-bar, knees-to-elbow and eventually kipping pull-ups just didn’t feel right. Plank, pushup-to-down-dog and modified Man Makers were great alternatives to keep my core activated as much as it could be. Whether pregnant or not, CrossFit is awesome for its ultimate scalability… I substituted step-ups for box jumps (with or without weight- again depending on how I felt), Farmer’s Walks for running (which just felt wrong by 18 weeks) and swapped opted for Snatch Balances over Snatches as my belly began to impede the barbell path. While always my downfall pre-pregnancy, I found that that the Overhead Squat was the only weighted squat that was comfortable with my ever-growing belly! Back Squats only pushed my center of gravity forward more than it already was and Front Squats killed my upper back. I was never a fan of OHS before but learned to have fun with them, for a change.

Bottom line is that different exercises will work for different women at all stages of pregnancies. Everyone is different, every pregnancy is different, so the exercises that worked for me may not work for you. Exercise was my saving grace during my first trimester when I had zero energy and left me feeling refreshed. I had a blast re-creating the WODs to fit the changing needs of my body and posted my scales so that our athletes could learn from my experience. Our younger female athletes, interested in starting families themselves eventually, were grateful and asked plenty of questions during the process. By week 35, the doctors strongly recommended I dial it down and by that time I was more than happy to comply. I coached until week 38, when I decided it was in the best interest of our athletes that I not go into labor before, during or after a class (although they did come up with game plans to get me to the hospital safely in the event that it did happen).

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So, to boil it down… take a step back, plan your workouts ahead, find what works best for you and run (or waddle) with it – assuming you don’t run into any complications during your pregnancy and your doctor is on board with your plan. Most of all, enjoy every moment of the experience!

Stay tuned for more on delivery and recovery, getting back in shape, family stuff and the importance of VERY supportive workout clothing!