I took an English class this semester and was asked for my final to write a 6-8 page paper about a research topic of my choosing. I chose to write about CrossFitting while pregnant and thought I’d share my findings and research with you here in hopes that something I learned might help someone else!
CrossFit While Pregnant
CrossFit is a training methodology that uses constantly varied, functional movements, executed at a high intensity to increase the capacity to do work across broad time and modal domains (Glassman). I found CrossFit a little over three years ago while looking for something that could help me to improve my self confidence and health. Through training CrossFit regularly, I have been able to become fitter, leaner, healthier, and happier. Through CrossFit, I also began coaching and helping other people to achieve their goals. One question I am asked fairly often is whether or not a woman should continue participating in CrossFit when she becomes pregnant or what exercise is best for pregnant women. Two months ago I found out that I am pregnant and this question of how I should proceed with exercise during my pregnancy has been at the forefront of my mind. As I’ve been doing this research, I have thought of all those who have been asking me this question and who I think might be asking this question in the future and chose to write this paper as the answer. I am of the opinion that women should continue with whatever exercise program they were doing prior to becoming pregnant, modifying as necessary to accommodate their new shape, weight and energy levels as those things change throughout pregnancy. I encourage all women to speak with their doctor as early as possible after finding out about pregnancy in case there are any concerns given their specific situation. In this paper, I will address some exercise related concerns as it pertains to pregnancy and go over some solutions and benefits as found in my research.
Excessive weight gain during pregnancy can lead to serious health problems for both mother and infant including gestational diabetes mellitus, hypertension, pre-eclampsia, etc. Regularly preformed physical activity can reduce the incidence of these concerns. While originally 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week was the general recommendation for low-risk pregnant women established by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, now many suggest that higher intensity vigorous exercise, can more effectively help to manage and reduce weight as well as build and maintain the muscle mass which is critical if one hopes to not suffer from a slowing metabolism. In a study reported in the Journal Of Physical Activity & Health in 2013, pregnancy practices associated with healthy weight gain were identified. This study concluded that regular exercise alone wasn’t necessarily associated with normal pregnancy weight gain, but that staying active during the day and following a healthy eating pattern had more of an association (Cohen, 1003). It has also been suggested that “the duration of labour is inversely associated with aerobic capacity” (Zavorsky, 347). Kat Grosshaupt, co-founder of www.birthfit.com, CrossFit coach, doula, and birthing instructor shared her thoughts on CrossFit during pregnancy in an article for the Huffington Post. She noted that the labor times for the CrossFit Moms she worked with were all extremely short and relatively easy. She went on to say, “In all the births I’ve attended I’ve noticed CrossFit Moms having a great deal of stamina, mental focus and endurance, and with all the squats we do- – shorter pushing times. Oh and let’s not forget recovery. CrossFit moms have shorter, easier recoveries.” (Grosshaupt) Women who would like to have a healthy pregnancy, shorter labor, and a quicker return to their pre-partum weight, participating in CrossFit, staying active during the day, and following a healthy pattern of eating would be critical for this to happen.
When I spoke with my doctor about exercise during pregnancy, she encouraged me to continue with the level of intensity I had been exercising at before becoming pregnant, but just to make sure I stayed well hydrated throughout the day and particularly so during and after exercise as well as to stop if anything felt uncomfortable. The research I have done supports this recommendation. According to the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology, doctors used to err on the side of caution for pregnant women because of the lack of research done. However, “numerous scientific studies have shown no correlation between moderate or even vigorous exercise and miscarriage or pregnancy-related complications. In fact, ACOG says if a woman is accustomed to vigorous exercise, she can continue to do it as long as she feels okay.” (as quoted by Grosshaupt)
One potential risk of exercise in pregnancy could be cardiac related. People who exercise regularly tend to have a lower baseline risk of heart attacks during exercise and the relative risk of sudden cardiac arrests during exercise only occurs once in approximately ever 565000 hours of exercise for people without known heart disease. In terms of cardiovascular health, even for previously sedentary pregnant women, the benefits of increasing physical activity outweigh the risks of myocardial infarction (Zavorsky 351).
Another potential risk of exercise training is low birth weight or higher risk of preterm birth. However, high intensity exercise during trimesters one and two does not affect birthweight but high intensity exercise during the third trimester could attribute to a 200-400g decrease in birthweight. (Zavorsky) A more recent study has come out to show that there is really no meaningful difference between infant birthweight for women who exercise and women who don’t. (Zavorsky) Regarding preterm birth, there have been several studies done that relate an actual decreased risk of preterm birth for women who do exercise (Zavorsky 352). One study in particular showed that physical activity was not associated with late preterm birth or hospitalizations and that it was associated with decreased odds of cesarean delivery (Tinly, e103). Another study concluded that the association between birth weight and metabolic disease is lost in physically fit individuals and that the association between low birth weight and metabolic syndrome is accentuated in unfit individuals. (Siebel) It also showed that exercise during pregnancy doesn’t adversely impact birth weight, but that it can help reduce the risk of abnormally low or high birth weight (Siebel, 948).
While women with high-risk pregnancies may sometimes be encouraged to remain inactive during their pregnancy, a study done three years ago proved that bed ridden pregnant women can still participate in an exercise program. This study used resistance bands as part of a supervised exercise program and there was no statistical difference in heart rate, blood pressure, or uterine contractions during or after exercise in comparison to the women who did not exercise during pregnancy. According to this study, women with high-risk pregnancies can engage in supervised exercise program and experience some physiological benefits with minimal risks to mother and baby (Brun, 582). These findings were interesting to me because the findings of these studies seem to consistently indicate that exercise is the answer and can actually help to avoid the concerns that previously people thought were linked to exercise.
A third risk of exercise is the association between exercise and fetal health. I heard a lot about this during my first couple weeks of pregnancy, how higher intensity exercise could potentially compromise the blood and nutrient flow to the uterus. There are many mechanisms in place to prevent this from happening. There may be modest changes in the uterine blood flow during and shortly after exercise but the body corrects that by 5 minutes after exercise (Zavorsky 352). That study would suggest that occasional high intensity exercise won’t hurt the baby as long as it is of moderate duration. This article didn’t specify what an acceptable duration would be, which leads me to go back to the advice from my doctor: if my body is used to it already, I can do it, but if something feels uncomfortable, back it off and make sure I am staying hydrated.
According to research preformed in 2013, in addition to the benefits already mentioned, exercise also helps pregnant women avoid low-back pain as well as depression during and after pregnancy. In the study referenced, only 14.6% of the participants actually followed the exercise recommendations during pregnancy. The study also found that the more educated a woman, the more exercise she performed during her pregnancy (Gjestland, 515). After reading this, as well as the other articles mentioned throughout this paper, I feel even more that it is important for me to share the information I’ve learned about exercising during pregnancy.
CrossFit during pregnancy is particularly beneficial because it is adaptable by nature. According to CrossFit.com, “The CrossFit program is designed for universal scalability making it the perfect application for any committed individual regardless of experience … We’ve used our same routines for elderly individuals with heart conditions and cage fighters one month out from televised bouts. We scale load and intensity; we don’t change programs … The needs of Olympic athletes and our grandparents differ by degree not kind.” (Glassman) A woman’s body will go through many changes during pregnancy and CrossFit is designed to be scaleable and adaptable in order to meet each individual’s needs. According to Grosshaupt, “This “issue” of whether CrossFit is safe or not if moms are harming their babies and putting them at risk has about 50 percent to do with exercise itself, but it also has to do with, in my very vocal opinion, trusting that women know what they are doing with regard to their bodies.” (Grosshaupt). Women who would like to have a healthy pregnancy should begin or continue a regular exercise program before becoming pregnant if possible. Ideally, CrossFit is an excellent program to start in order to ideally prepare the body for the demands of labor and delivery. Listen to your body and trust your instincts. Modify as necessary to accommodate your changing body. Rest when needed and drink plenty of water. If already pregnant and currently physically inactive, slowly increase your physical activity throughout the day and speak with your doctor about how best to begin an exercise program.
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