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Is CrossFit Safe When You’re Pregnant?

March 06, 2014

Over the past several years, ultra-intense exercise programs have become increasingly popular. From P90X to INSANITY to High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), it seems there’s no shortage of fitness gurus promoting the benefits of fast, high-intensity workouts designed to push your body to the limit.  Arguably, one program stands out among the rest as the most popular and most intense of the bunch: CrossFit. Once an underground fitness movement mostly practiced by elite military units and die-hard fitness fanatics, CrossFit is now a mainstream phenomenon that’s attracted hundreds of thousands of followers, from Hollywood A-listers to everyday working professionals. Increasingly, CrossFit has also become a trendy way for expecting women to stay in shape during their pregnancies. Unsurprisingly, it’s led many people to wonder if CrossFit and programs like it are safe for moms-to-be.

In this post, I’ll explain what CrossFit entails, and then we’ll look at our current medical understanding of the benefits of exercise for pregnant women. Finally, we’ll wrap up with some guidelines that pregnant women can apply to their workout routines.

What is CrossFit?

Officially, CrossFit is defined as “constantly varied, high-intensity, functional movement.” In practice, this means that CrossFit workouts are characterized by relatively brief, but intense, bouts of exercise that combine elements of weightlifting, gymnastics, and even track and field—often all in the same workout. For example, a typical CrossFit workout might include five sets of a 400-meter run, followed by 15 pull-ups and squats with a barbell (weight), with no rest between exercises or sets. As an added wrinkle, CrossFit workouts are usually completed in a group setting and are almost always timed, which tends to add a competitive element not typically found in other exercise programs. This combination of intense exercise and competition is potent, and often leaves CrossFit practitioners lying on the ground, completely winded by the end of their workouts.

Is any exercise safe for pregnant women?

It might be surprising, but not all that long ago women were advised to avoid exercising during pregnancy. That’s no longer the case, and these days, we understand that not only can women exercise during pregnancy, but they should exercise. As it turns out, exercise has many benefits for both mother and baby. For instance, compared to women who remain sedentary during their pregnancies, those who regularly participate in fitness activities tend to sleep better, have fewer backaches, and regain their pre-pregnancy bodies more quickly. There’s even some evidence that regular exercise may positively influence the baby’s weight and brain activity.

It’s important to point out that all of these positive benefits are available to women who regularly engage in moderate aerobic and resistance activities. In other words, pregnant women don’t need to engage in high intensity exercise programs like CrossFit in order to get all the great benefits that exercise affords mother and baby. That said, pregnant women who do want to engage in higher intensity exercise programs shouldn’t feel like they have to completely avoid it, either. Provided that you’re in good health and are willing to adhere to some basic guidelines, there’s nothing wrong with pushing a little harder in your workout.

Sensible Guidelines for Exercising While Pregnant

The body of a healthy pregnant woman can be surprisingly resilient, but there are limits. The reality is, a pregnant body simply doesn’t move or respond to exercise the way a non-pregnant body does, and pushing yourself too hard could lead to injury. Here are some sensible guidelines that will allow you to get your fitness fix without overdoing it.

#1 – Focus on maintaining, not improving. Pregnancy is not a good time to try to set a new personal best. Instead, focus on maintaining a base level of fitness.

#2 – Accept that your body will slow down. As your pregnancy progresses, you will naturally experience a decline in athletic ability. This is completely normal. Listen to your body and adjust your expectations accordingly.

#3 – Pay attention to your form. Pregnancy dramatically changes the way your body moves. For instance, during the second trimester, your center of gravity will shift as the curvature of your back adjusts to the weight of your uterus. If you plan to engage in weightlifting, you’ll need to be especially mindful of your form.

#4 – Don’t start a new training program. If you know you’re pregnant, you should avoid introducing any dramatically different elements, like marathon training or CrossFit, into your routine. Sedentary women are an important exception to this guideline. If you’ve been inactive during your pregnancy, but are otherwise healthy, you can start with a brisk daily walk.

Remember, exercise is healthy and encouraged for pregnant women. Provided you listen to your body and respect your limits, engaging in regular fitness activities can have fantastic benefits for you and your child.

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