Continuing CrossFit During Pregnancy Q&A

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For an active woman, the joyous news of being pregnant may also signal in their minds that it is time to shut down their active lifestyles completely. They may feel as if this important part of their lives has to come to a screeching halt; that for nine months they are unable, on any level, to still engage in any of their favorite activities. Certainly, the health of the mother and the baby is the utmost priority. However, does that mean that a woman who is pregnant is entirely unable to continue their active lives, even just through first several months?

We talked with two women, both members of Crossfit Clintonville since its opening, about their experiences of continuing to workout during their pregnancy and how they went about it in a safe manner.

Emily Knoppe (EK) is a 36 year-old resident from Columbus, OH who operates a successful real estate business with her husband. Jessica Dopkiss (JD) is a 31 year-old nurse at Nationwide Children’s Hospital who also resides in Columbus, OH.

Q: How important was it for you to maintain an active lifestyle during your pregnancy?

EK: Yeah, it was very important just because everything I’ve read and everything I’ve heard from people, and even talking with my doctor, they say it makes everything easier. So it’ll keep your energy level up, it makes the birth easier, it makes the recovery afterwards easier, and I’ve always been an incredibly active person so for me to just stop doing something, that just wasn’t an option for me. So I made sure to do the research and check with my doctor and make sure that it was something that I could continue to do and if so how I would continue to do it. 

JD: It is tremendously important. This is something that’s always been a part of my life and so I wasn’t willing to let it end when my husband and I decided to start a family. So, I had conversations early on with my doctor about what I’m allowed to do/what I’m not allowed to do and basically she said as long as your body is use to doing it keep on doing it and you know your body best so if you’re feeling tired or uncomfortable back off a little bit but there’s no reason that you can’t continue. So that really gave me the confidence to know I could continue, as long as I was healthy and the baby was healthy.

Q: Were there any concerns that continuing to workout would be too taxing or harmful during your pregnancy?

EK: Yeah, because you do a lot in Crossfit like landing on your stomach or even I learned you can’t be on your back for a very long time, which a lot of people don’t know about because [of] your vena cava, the baby can push on that and then it stops the blood flow to your body and to the baby. So there is a certain point where you can’t do certain things and they tell you there’s a certain point where things just aren’t effective anymore… so just trying to come up with different things to do to substitute, like when everybody else is doing something that I can’t do. But what I was completely unprepared for was the lack of breath, like how much it takes out of you. So, even in the early part of the pregnancy (probably like two months into, three months into it) I would get out of breath right away and I’d have to stop and slow myself down, and I’m not that kind of a person, I like to push myself as hard as I can. So I think that’s the hardest part for me in the beginning more than now was to take some time and slow down and gain my breath again and then start back over again.

JD: I think, you tell people that you do Crossfit and they look at you like “oh god”…they think the baby is going to fall out of you I think when you say you’re doing this. But, like my doctor had said, as long as your body is use to doing it pregnancy is not an excuse to stop. If anything, it is a reason to continue to do because inevitably you will be healthier, you can probably have a better and safer delivery, and your baby will be healthier. But again, modifying… I’m not getting pr’s [personal records] in this nine months, but I’m trying to maintain and just trying to create a healthy, good nine months for me and the baby

Q: How were you, your doctors, and the trainers at Crossfit Clintonville able to scale the workouts through your pregnancy?

EK: Mostly through communication. So I pulled Pat [Patrick Woods, co-owner of Crossfit Clintonville] and Corey [Corey Southers, trainer at Crossfit Clintonville] aside and told them probably eight weeks into it. And I had already been talking to my doctor and making sure it that it was ok that I continue to do it and he just said make sure that you tell your trainers and make sure that they’re aware of your condition and that they can help you make changes when you need to make them. So by telling them they would look at me or say something like ‘hey, don’t do that’ or ‘do this as a substitute.’

You can do a lot up until like even twelve or twenty weeks. Everybody’s different, everybody’s body’ different… you just have to listen to your body and know what’s important… It’s just recognizing your body but then being in constant communication with everybody.

...Again, it’s like listening to your body. At one point you’ll say to yourself ‘ok, that doesn’t feel right anymore.’ I think at like twelve weeks I wasn’t comfortable with being on my back anymore. And then anything on your stomach (like burpees, things like that) you can’t do anymore because you can’t hit the ground as hard. But there’s moderation to everything. I mean, you can do a pushup instead of dropping to the floor. If it was a sit-up or a crunch I would just hang from the bar and do things like that. Instead of swinging your legs all the way up, which eventually you can’t do, then you would just try to hit them at your elbows.

But weightlifting and things like that, I tried to continue to push myself. It’s only once your stomach gets really big that you’ll feel pressure and then you won’t want to lift as much as you maybe were before.

JD: We just talked about the things I was doing. I’m not allowed to do hot yoga anymore while I’m pregnant. That’s one thing that was taken off the board pretty much immediately-- something about raising your core temperature [which] you’re not allowed to do that. But when I said Crossfit, she [Jessica’s doctor] said that’s fine. She doesn’t want tremendously heavy squats or anything where you’re putting a big load on your back. She said pace yourself. And there’s this misnomer of you can’t let your heart rate get above like 140 and she said well if you’ve been constantly active leading up to this then that’s not a good workout for you so you know your body, trust yourself, and push yourself to where you feel comfortable.

And then when I was comfortable telling people I was pregnant, I told all the trainers so they know to watch me and we had discussions about ways to modify things when it was time and just take it one workout at a time…

I think with certain things you know you just can’t do. You can’t be doing burpees, like slamming your belly down onto the ground. You’re carrying this extra weight that your body’s not use to moving so it just makes some other things a little bit more challenging. But…when you’re doing it you know and think, “ok, maybe today I need to step it back a little bit.” But there hasn’t been really many things that I just cannot do which is reassuring and it’s nice. But I think every workout just kind of assessing it and seeing what changes I need to make if any. 

Q: Would you mind describing what your experience was like training while pregnant?

EK: So I always said just keep doing what I was doing. So in the beginning, I didn’t really change anything, nothing felt different for me. So, I just kept doing what I was doing. The only thing, like I said, changed for me was the breath and trying to catch my breath and be as active as I had been in the past. And then, sometimes doing running and things like that would get a little bit uncomfortable and the pressure would build up and you could tell, like you could feel it. I would say, towards the middle of the pregnancy was when the pressure would be more like something that would bother me and I would scale back…

But to me, if I didn’t do it I would be more tired, I would be less energetic, [and] and I would be more uncomfortable. I think it’s just helped me like have some sort of sanity throughout the whole thing. So, it’s been really important to me but it’s just a personal choice I think.

JD: Exercise always makes me feel happier after I do it… there’ll be days you don’t necessarily want to come and do it but afterwards you always feel better. I think it’s just helped me to continue to have a sense of normalcy. There’s a lot of changes that’s going to come our way in the next few months so this is one thing I’ve always done so continuing to do it helps…

No one here, not even the women interviewed, would ever suggest that any woman who is pregnant must continue to workout during their pregnancy or start an exercise routine. Obviously, that is a conversation that should be left between the woman and her doctor and then under the supervision of smart and diligent trainers. What should be taken away from these women’s experiences is that while many things are changing for a woman and her family while she is pregnant, she should not feel it’s absolutely necessary to sacrifice maintaining her fitness or pausing a part of her life that is normal for her.