I learned about high-intensity WODs from my brother in 2011. When I got pregnant, my whole family encouraged me to continue them, but I was too chicken. As a first-time mom, I lived with one goal: keep my baby safe, healthy, and bring him into this world unharmed. There were too many fears in my head about high-intensity WODs: My heart rate shouldn’t be above 140 BPM, I didn’t want to over-heat, jumping and “slamming” my body around (burpees, jump rope, box jumps) was too dangerous, and I was not supposed to lift anything over 25 pounds. All of these concerns were out of fear that I would injure my baby.

While my baby was delivered (and still is) healthy and happy, my body and self-confidence struggled to get back to normal. I suffered from lower back and excruciating shoulder pain from constantly holding and carrying my infant son. I finally decided that I could not live in pain anymore. About eight months after my son was born, I started the WOD Foundations Course so I could get a good base and ensure I was doing the movements with correct form. I quickly realized that I should have been doing these types of workouts my whole life, especially throughout my first pregnancy.

While I was super excited to be working out again, getting stronger, seeing results in my body, my mood, and my lifestyle, I had this lingering question: Could I be pregnant and safely continue my WODs? Well, I recently became pregnant again and have gone through my first trimester. I am thrilled that I am still working out. I scoured the Internet for resources on high-intensity workouts during pregnancy, but I did not find many out there. All of the old medical standards and warnings (heart rate, lifting too much weight) still seem to be the norm from most physicians. And with the backlash from Lea-Ann Ellison’s picture showing her weightlifting at eight months pregnant, even more information (and unfortunately misinformation) exists regarding what a pregnant woman’s body can truly handle. Fortunately, I discovered I am not alone in my quest for greater fitness throughout my pregnancy, and I compiled some great testimonials, blogs, and other resources on high-intensity workouts during pregnancy that are disproving the old methods.

Just to clarify: I am not a doctor, and I have no medical experience or expertise. I do not write to give advice; I write only to share my personal experience of continuing my high-intensity workouts through pregnancy to encourage other mommies to do the same (at their own level of course). I am not classified as a high-risk pregnancy and have been doing high-intensity WODs for six months prior to becoming pregnant.

The Guidelines

There are so many rules about exercise during pregnancy. With my first pregnancy, I was scared to do anything more than walk at a moderate pace. Now, I realize I can do more, safely, and be healthier and have a more comfortable pregnancy. A healthy mom makes a healthy baby. Here are some points that I take into consideration:

  • Take the intensity down during pregnancy. This is important because your body is busy making more blood, which is putting your heart into overtime pumping it through, which makes it easy to get out of breath.
  • During the first trimester, you can probably continue to use your normal weights: however, maxing is not recommended.
  • During WODs, focus more on technique rather than time and weight. Rest more frequently in between each exercise and/or rounds, especially in the first and third trimesters.
  • Your joints become flexible due to the pregnancy hormones relaxin and progesterone, so keep this in mind during squats and box jumps. With added flexibility, emphasis should be put on stability. Learning how to stabilize your spine, hips, and shoulders during these movements is what we have been practicing all along in our WODs, so now make it the top priority.
  • I made the switch to step-ups around 10 weeks. You can also switch to a lower box.
  • Reduce weight when you feel it’s necessary. Stick to a 70 percent to 80 percent intensity rule of thumb when training. Your center of gravity changes significantly by 20 weeks, which will affect how you carry and lift weights. Instead of changing technique and putting your body in less than optimal positions, refrain from cleans, snatches, and burpees, especially as your belly grows and inhibits your bar path.
  • Low blood pressure is a common symptom of pregnancy. Be careful when doing movements that require you to go from high to low or low to high. Think burpees. I love these “pregnant burpees” that crossfitmom.com suggests: “Stand in front of a wall or elevated surface (such as a box or tire). Do a squat. At the top of the squat, do a push up against the wall or elevated surface. This equals one burpee.”
  • Listen to your body. You know yourself best and what you can and can’t handle. If you were not doing high-intensity workouts before pregnancy, you may want to concentrate on form and keep your weight light and manageable.

My Experiences

Motivation

Staying motivated throughout my first trimester was extremely challenging. Most mornings it was a challenge to get out of bed to workout. I experienced a lot of morning sickness and extreme fatigue; however I found these symptoms made me get up and work out. I actually felt better and wasn’t nauseous during workouts. Make a goal to workout two to three days a week and listen to your body.

Eating and Hydration

It is also more important now to stay hydrated. Drink water before, during, and after your workouts and do not allow yourself to overheat. Many of us work out in our garages and outside. Take extra precaution during the summer months, and again, listen to your body. Dehydration can lead to medical concerns for everyone, but especially a pregnant woman.

Remember to never workout on an empty stomach. I usually have a banana or granola bar before a workout. I find on workout days I am starving all day. This was challenging at the beginning because I had a lot of food aversions. I threw out my Paleo diet for the first trimester. The thought of meat made me sick, even if I just smelled it. To get the protein I needed, I relied on eggs and whey protein powder mixed with water. (There are some great whey protein recipes out there too if you’re into that.) I didn’t have the energy to cook or prepare anything more than a bowl of cereal or scramble some eggs.

Intensity

Almost immediately, I noticed a huge difference in my breathing. Your heart is hard at work pumping that extra blood your body is making. I had to take more breaks and remind myself to take down the intensity. And I was so thirsty. Drinking water before, during, and after my workouts was a must. This also forced me into breaks because I had to pee more frequently.

Weight

Personally, I did not feel the need to drop weight from my lifts or squats during my first trimester; however, I did not go for a personal record or max. I typically worked up to about 80 percent of my max. I did drop my kettle bell weight about 10 pounds because going from low to high and popping my hips with a lighter weight was more comfortable. I also continued to breathe throughout each movement and lift, and I did not hold my breath.

Jumping

Although a little slower, running and jumping rope continued as usual for the first 12 weeks. Box jumps were okay until about week 10 when I switched to step-ups so I didn’t risk falling into or off the box. For me, box jumps are such a mental game that I can easily lose concentration and slip. Step-ups have been working great, and I am actually faster at them.

Overall, I am happy to share that my workout regimen has remained the same, and I have easily scaled and modified the intensity and load to accommodate my growing and changing body. Be encouraged and know that continuing your workouts throughout your pregnancy is one of the best things you can do for you and your baby. 

Helpful Products

  • Zensah compression sleeves. Like many women, my body swells during pregnancy. These leg compression sleeves are incredibly helpful. I wear them at all different times: during my workouts, in the evenings, and even while I sleep.
  • Maternity support belt. This is super helpful for running as your belly grows. It helps a lot with the bouncing, especially on the bladder. It is also helpful during lifts because it acts like a little weight belt.
  • Tervis tumbler water bottle. Keeps my water nice and cold for hours.
  • Thick socks. Hiking socks like Thorlo comfort my swollen feet.
  • Reebok Nanos. Designed for high-intensity workouts, these shoes are lightweight, breathable, and similar to a minimalist shoe, but they have a little more support so you don’t feel totally barefoot. Question: should there be a reason why she likes these shoes? Seems odd that there isn’t an explanation as with the other products.

About the author

Aly Culp is a CrossFit Level 1 trainer in Frisco, Texas, and a co-owner of WODatHome.com, a site that provides high-intensity workouts, modifications and scaling options for all fitness levels, plus video instruction for athletes who work out at home with minimal equipment.

About Metcon

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