By: Sarah Day
If you asked one hundred pregnant women to define what fitness during pregnancy should look like, you would probably get one hundred different answers. Some women continue to lift heavy weights throughout their pregnancy, while others prefer to focus on stretching, mobility or just simply walking, especially toward the end of gestation. What we would all agree on, though, is that physical activity is extremely beneficial during pregnancy for yourself, your baby, and in preparation for the greatest workout of your life – birth. As with anything related to pregnancy, getting clearance from your doctor is essential. Certain conditions such as preeclampsia, placenta previa, and anemia make exercise unsafe during pregnancy and should certainly be taken seriously. Be sure that no matter what you do during your unique pregnancy, you discuss everything with your healthcare provider. Once you are cleared to continue your fitness regimen, you may begin to wonder just what exactly that regimen will look like.
Ultimately, it’s important to listen to your own body. If something is uncomfortable or painful don’t do it. That said, a vast amount of research from the CDC shows the extensive health benefits of maintaining a physically active lifestyle during your pregnancy. It could be as simple as a brisk walk, raising your heartrate, or it could include more strength focused workouts like CrossFit. What most doctors will agree on is that heartrate is important when working out while pregnant. Yes, your heartrate should rise but not to a level where you are unable to maintain a conversation. Keeping yourself within that range will help you gauge whether or not your heartrate is reaching a level that could potentially be harmful. Similarly, if something feels strained or painful as you are lifting heavy weight, it’s best to listen to your body and lighten the weight or stop the movement all together. Give your body some credit! It’s usually pretty good at letting you know when something isn’t right, especially when you’re pregnant.
However, research from the American Pregnancy Association also shows that if you were actively performing at a certain level of physical fitness before becoming pregnant, you are safe to continue that physical activity while you are pregnant. For example, if you are a marathon runner and regularly run long distances, you would likely be safe to continue those long runs during pregnancy. Similarly, if you are a regular CrossFit athlete, barring any pregnancy complications, you can safely continue that activity once you are pregnant. This is important as you decide how far to push yourself or what activities would be best for you during your pregnancy. For some women, like this story of CrossFit athlete Emily Breeze Ross, maintaining intensity and weightlifting during pregnancy was no problem and even helped physically and emotionally prepare for delivery. Personally, the beginning of my pregnancy looked much different than the end. Initially, I was perfectly comfortable performing nearly at the same capacity that I had before I was pregnant (with the exception of inverted movements like handstand push-ups). At about 30 weeks, my body started to tell me that certain movements, particularly heavy barbell movements, were no longer comfortable and should probably be sidelined until after I gave birth. I focused on mobility and lightweight movements toward the end of my pregnancy simply because that was most comfortable for me. Every pregnancy and birth is categorically unique and many women are perfectly comfortable performing at a higher level of fitness until the day they go into labor! Just be sure you listen to your own body and let your comfort and instinct rule the day.
Regardless of what your fitness regime looks like, this physical activity will come in handy as you get closer to the big event of birth. It goes without saying that birth is difficult. Duh. That is the understatement of the century. No matter what your birthing journey looks like (cesarean section, induction, un-medicated, etc.) you are in for one of the greatest, most difficult yet rewarding workouts of your life. Whether your labor is a marathon or a sprint, you will need the skills you acquire in the gym to help you make it through your birthing experience. Without going into too much detail, having strength and cardiovascular endurance will give you a significant advantage in childbirth. You will find yourself using muscles you never knew you would need (my biceps were sore the next day – I don’t even know). My CrossFit background not only helped me maintain a healthy pregnancy, but it also helped me endure the pain, physical exertion, and emotionally draining process of giving birth (not to mention recovery). During my 24 hours of labor I used every bit of physical and mental fortitude I had in my arsenal and as a result of my physical fitness my body was ready and more capable to recover after my daughter was born.
I understand firsthand how difficult it can be to rally your pregnant self to get into the gym or go out for a walk. You’re exhausted, swollen, and hormonal and often the last thing you want to do is go exert more energy at the gym. I get it. I felt the same way, especially as my due date approached. Just remember that you’re not doing this just for yourself. You are doing it so that you and your little one can be strong for all of the exciting (and terrifying) things to come. Even if you’re just able to walk around the block or get a few air squats in before you collapse on the couch, focus on keeping your strong body ready for the greatest workout of your life! And when the day comes to meet your precious little one, take heart knowing that you’ve spent the last 9 months preparing for this and your body is strong and ready for this next big adventure!