Bad-Ass Mamas: How to CrossFit While Pregnant

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by ALISON L. McCONNELL
Michelle Piper Zwerner at Potomac CrossFit in Arlington, VA.

Michelle Piper Zwerner at Potomac CrossFit in Arlington, VA.

CrossFitter. Mom-to-be.

A glance around any established CrossFit box these days proves the terms aren’t mutually exclusive. Right there, in the middle of that scrum of women doing handstands? Throwing up a 150-lb jerk? Stepping up onto a 20-inch box?

Yup. Pregnant athlete.

There is more support than ever for women who maintain their CrossFit routines during pregnancy, including a growing number of medical professionals and midwives familiar with everyone’s favorite constantly varied functional fitness regime. And the pregnant population waves off naysayers who tell them to put their feet up.

Nina Falco Martire, an athlete at Potomac CrossFit in Arlington, Va., is due in mid-March. Her doctor encouraged her to continue doing activities she had been doing, but to use her head. She advised her to avoid intensity that made her lightheaded or raised her heart rate to the point that she had trouble catching her breath.

“I don’t know if I always adhered to that, but I take more breaks and go slower,” Martire said. “It’s a little bit of trial and error with scaling. Sometimes I’m done five minutes before everyone.”

Michelle Piper Zwerner, who joined Potomac in 2010 and is also due in March, said her doctor stressed the importance of hydration.

“She told me that I was only the second patient she’d had who does CrossFit. But she was fine with it.”

Except in cases of high-risk pregnancy, “whatever level of exercise you were able to tolerate and perform safely before pregnancy should be perfectly safe to continue during pregnancy,” said Erin Ozdogan, MSHS, PA-C, who works in emergency medicine at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Md.

Ozdogan said some examples of high-risk pregnancy factors include carrying multiples, being of advanced maternal age (over 35) at the time of delivery, prior existing medical conditions such as hypertension or diabetes, history of miscarriage or preterm labor, and complications such as bleeding, placental growth abnormalities or fetal growth abnormalities.

Use Your Resources

Use Your Resources

One of the most established homes for pregnant athletes on the Web is CrossFit Mom, where Andrea Nitz posts a daily WOD for beginner, intermediate and advanced athletes. The site also provides background information broken down by trimester, including a section on post-partum workouts.

Nitz started the site in 2008, when CrossFit was still gaining a foothold in the fitness world.

“A lot has changed,” Nitz said. “Annie Sakamoto was the only pregnant CrossFitter anyone knew of, so I talked to her, of course. However, we had several women at the gym become pregnant and they were not at a competitive level like Annie, so I decided I needed to get a pre/post natal certification to train these women safely.”

“The best thing a new CrossFitter can do when she becomes pregnant is talk to her coach.” –Andrea Nitz
Nitz said much of her programming was initially trial and error. She talked to as many pregnant athletes as she could and started training a few via email and video. Today she counts hundreds of women as past clients, and thousands use the CrossFit Mom programming each day.

“These days, most coaches have had a pregnant client,” Nitz said. “And the community is awesome. These women are really supportive of each other and are always sharing information and encouraging each other. They help each other find maternity workout clothes, midwives and help with nursing.”

Seasoned athletes know the ropes, but can benefit from experienced coaching, too.

“At this point, after three years, I know the movements and what parts of my body they’re supposed to hit, so I know how to sub and modify,” Martire said. “A good coach who has worked with lots of pregnant athletes can add a lot.”

Adjustment Phase

Martire and Zwerner said workouts helped them through morning sickness and low energy levels in their first trimesters.

“It was something that got the blood flowing and kept me from thinking about how tired I was or crummy I felt,” Martire said. “But it’s a bit tough when you’re doing all the same work and expecting the same type of results.”

“It has felt a lot less strange than I thought it would,” Zwerner said. “My body was so trained to do it that pregnancy isn’t a big of a deal as people on the outside think. It just feels normal. There have been days where it’s hard to show up, or I’m out of breath, but I never think I shouldn’t be doing this.”

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