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CrossFit As Childbirth Prep

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A woman hears conflicting advice regarding exercising while pregnant.  Ultimately, she must decide for herself, based on her needs and the needs of her baby, how and how much to exercise.  I maintain that if she CrossFits prior to becoming pregnant, she can continue safely throughout her pregnancy… with modifications.  It just may be the best child-birthing preparation a woman can have!

I began paddling as a teenager and entered adulthood running waterfalls, challenging class V rapids and leading expeditions around the globe.  I kayaked personally and professionally for 24 years. When I became pregnant at age 39, I continued paddling, but modified my practice.  My soon-to-be-born daughter seemed to enjoy kayaking as much as I did.  Essentially, it was the movement that thrilled us both. The familiar exercise of paddling strengthened my body and grounded me in it, which served my daughter as well.

There are so many changes to the body during pregnancy, many of which are far from comfortable.  Discomfort disappeared for me when I was exercising. I paddled into my ninth month of pregnancy feeling comfortable, strong, and well-prepared for a home water-birth.

I bring this knowledge to my professional life as owner and trainer at Wine Country CrossFit. While I do not encourage a pregnant woman to start CrossFit, if she already CrossFits competently and has done so for at least six months prior to becoming pregnant, she will likely be well-served by continuing.  I believe that CrossFit helps a woman to maintain strength*, coordination, balance, and flexibility. These abilities will aid her greatly through the rigors of childbirth. 

The key to success is flexibility and willingness to scale…to modify.  My pregnant athletes and their trainers shift focus from met-con performance to flexibility, balance, and maintaining strength.  Our gym emphasizes Olympic lifts and as the belly grows we move from barbell to dumb-bells, leaving bar work for above the shoulders and below the waist.   

Each woman has her unique motivation for CrossFitting and continuing to CrossFit throughout her pregnancy.  Our trainers work with clients according to their individual capacities, health needs, and motivations.

Case Studies

Adrienne gave birth to her first child in a hospital, and was committed to a home birth with her second child.  Adrienne is a powerful, persistent woman, but had a tendency to “just give up” in the face of physical challenges. She looked to CrossFit to develop resiliency. Like everyone, she started with baby steps. Adrienne completed the OnRamp Program where she gained a command of the basic movements.   She then began attending classes and found a confidence in herself she hadn’t known before. She worked consistently; she no longer “just gave up.” Adrienne became pregnant nine months after starting CrossFit, and attended classes until her 34th week. She began labor feeling connected to her body and confident (unlike her first labor four years earlier).  Adrienne labored “all day,” and had the mental strength to stay at home and give birth in water. First time round she liked the idea of a natural birth, but she didn’t have confidence in herself, and no one had confidence in her since she was in a hospital. The first birth was terribly uncomfortable (even with an epidural), and because of that she was surprised the labor progressed so rapidly because she had remained so comfortable throughout.   but CrossFit prepared to have a birth she described as “perfect.”

Mary started CrossFit in 2010 to combat obesity, stress and poor health. She lost 50 pounds, gained energy, and loved being a model of healthy living for her family, staff and patients. In 2012 she became pregnant with her second child, and she committed to getting in the gym three times per week for the entire 40 weeks. She gained a total of 30 pounds, while in the first pregnancy she gained 60. Despite working 11 hours days she had energy to play and hike with her young son in the evenings. Toward the end when discomfort is rampant and Braxton Hicks contractions were constant, getting in the gym and moving ALWAYS made her feel better.

Everyday is different and she has to listen to her body. She might have planned to back squat and do 85% of her 1 rep max. And when she gets to 55% and it feels so heavy, she listens to her body instead of pushing forward. She CrossFits to maintain the strength that she has while her body is pumping 50% more blood, there is more fluid, and the body is getting ready to nourish a baby.

CrossFitting while pregnant is healthy.  As long as a woman has routinely and comfortably  trained for at least six months prior to pregnancy, she can continue to do so safely.  Movement is grounding and helps the pregnant woman to feel at home in her body. With CrossFit, she will grow the calm confidence that she is fit to handle the challenges of pregnancy, labor, and life with her new-born.. 

-Beth Rypins – As a stroke survivor who became three-time whitewater world champion, Beth understands overcoming challenges and how to modify around limitations. She earned a BA from UC Berkeley where she studied Soviet Politics and the Russian Language. She speaks Spanish, Italian and English, and as an aging athlete she knows that life, in fact, is a constant modification.