Going Upside Down In Pregnancy & Postpartum: CrossFit Open 19.3

Welcome back for week 3 of the CrossFit Open! If you’re new here, hi! And welcome. Each week I’m offering considerations, strategies, and modifications for the Open workouts for pregnant and postpartum athletes.

Open 19.3 - For Time:

  • 200-ft. dumbbell overhead lunge [Scaled: front-rack]

  • 50 dumbbell box step-ups [Scaled: same]

  • 50 strict handstand push-ups [Scaled: 5-in. elevated]

  • 200-ft. handstand walk [Scaled: bear crawl]

    • Time cap: 10 minutes

    • Men: 50-lb. dumbbell / 24-in. box

    • Women: 35-lb. dumbbell / 20-in. box

As in previous weeks, let’s break this down movement by movement!

Dumbbell Overhead Lunges

Considerations:

  • The main consideration with an overhead position while pregnant or postpartum is are you able to maintain core control to keep your ribs over your hips, without thrusting your rib cage up to the sky? Thrusting your rib cage puts extra tension on your core - of consideration if you’re healing a diastasis, or are pregnant and trying to keep avoid excess stretching. Second, thrusting your rib cage takes your diaphragm, core, and pelvic floor out of alignment, possibly meaning more strain on your pelvic floor than necessary.

  • If you’re experiencing pelvic pain like pubic symphysis (in the front) or SI joint (either side of your bum), lunges may be something that is aggravating to you at this point. Really, my only advice here is, if it hurts, don’t do it:)

Modifications:

  • Front rack carry, and/or reduced weight: could help to take away any rib thrusting, and will be kinder on your core and pelvic floor.

  • Squat instead of lunging for pelvic pain: Since the squats won’t move you forward, either pick a reasonable number to do that you can do with controlled form, or take a few steps forward after each squat.

Dumbbell Box Step-Ups

Considerations:

  • Hip movement: Pelvic pain or not, as we get bigger in pregnancy and adapt a “waddle”, there’s no need to exaggerate this movement with a step onto a 20” box. Try to pay attention to if you’re able to maintain control on the way up and down.

  • Again, if you’re experiencing pelvic pain like pubic symphysis (in the front) or SI joint (either side of your bum), step-ups may be aggravating. Same advice as above - if it hurts, don’t do it, or at least not as written:)

Modifications:

  • Lower box and/or reduced weight: Does a lower box or step help you better control the movement? Does it diminish your pelvic pain?

  • Hip thrust (shoulders elevated), with or without dumbbell on your hips. Alternate between right leg, left leg, and both legs for variation.

  • Consider reducing reps.

Handstand Push-Ups

Considerations:

  • Holy core pressure batman. Lol. I don’t even know what else to say. Hah! Read below under “Handstand Walk” for my take on doing these upside down movements. For the record - being upside down isn’t necessarily the issue - if you’re a gymnast or yogi and have been inverted for the last 5, 10, 20 years, your body is familiar with this position. What’s more the issue, is the core control required to do the movements while upside down - the push up or walking itself.

  • Plus the whole being upside down thing in pregnancy - nausea, dizziness, acid-reflux, all the blood rushing to your head.

Modifications:

  • 5-in. elevated: while this is the scaled option, I don’t particularly love it as a modification. It’s sort of like saying single skips are a modification for double-unders. Still a TON of core pressure here. Let’s maybe leave upside down for a little later.

  • Push-ups: From the floor - still core intense but not as much, or incline - getting better on the core pressure situation now.

  • Dumbbell Z Press: From a seated position this one is all upper body, and is a great alternative to HSPU. Not only that, you’re directly working on strength to eventually be able to do a HSPU, when the timing is right.

  • For any of the above, feel free to reduce reps as well. 50 is a LOT of one movement in a row, and form is likely to diminish no matter how strong your first 20 look.

Handstand Walk

Considerations:

  • Core pressure, core alignment - all of it! For fun, I googled “pregnant handstand walking” and found a number of videos that visually showed what I expected to see - a LOT of lumbar curve. Think about it - you’re walking on your hands, feet in the air, with a large belly throwing your centre of gravity off. Most women won’t have the strength (or balance) to maintain a neutral spine, so to compensate for the belly their belly is forward, while hands and feet are behind - resulting in a huge “C” shaped body. The resulting pressure on your outstretched belly is a lot, as you walk across the floor.

  • While postpartum doesn’t have a belly pulling you forward, I’d still caution being in this “C” shaped position and the strain it will place on your linea alba (abdominal muscles), particuarly if you are healing or managing diastasis.

  • Again, being upside down in pregnancy and dealing with nausea, dizziness, and/or acid-reflux. Not fun.

Modifications:

  • Bear crawl: If having your head down doesn’t make you dizzy or want to vomit, bear crawl is a much more core friendly movement.

  • Offset front rack kettlebell carry: If you’re later into pregnancy and being bent over in any way shape or form is just not happening, opt for an upright walk instead. You’re still working on a ton of core stabilization, plus you can walk the same distance as everyone else - just be sure to switch hands at the half-way point.

How did you modify your workout? Let me know below! I’ll be doing mine later today and will check in with you all after:)

Double-Unders and Toes-To-Bar in Pregnancy & Postpartum: CrossFit Open 19.2

Open 19.2

  • 8-min. AMRAP + bonus time:

  • 25 toes-to-bars

  • 50 double-unders

  • 15 squat cleans, 135/85

  • 25 toes-to-bars

  • 50 double-unders

  • 13 squat cleans, 185/115lb

My first thought when I saw this? "Well shit." Haha. Way to throw some of the least pregnancy and postpartum friendly movements in this week!

My toes-to-bar strength hasn't returned yet, nor has my pelvic floor stamina for that many double-unders at once. Ah well, modifications here I come:)

If you are new here, each week I'm doing a post on the Open workouts with considerations and modifications for pregnant and postpartum athletes. Postpartum can be any point in time from 4 months to 10 years postpartum. These considerations would also apply to anyone who hasn't had children, but who is experiencing pelvic floor or core dysfunction. Let's dive in.

Toes-To-Bar

Considerations:

  • Main consideration here is the core pressure that's created. While you may visually be able to see it on your abdomen with coning, what you may not also feel is the pressure on your pelvic floor.

  • [Edit] During pregnancy I would not recommend T2B, K2E, or hollow holds due to the core pressure they create.

Strategies:

  • Breath: You're going to see a common theme here week to week;) Test out what works for you - exhaling as you start your kip, or maybe a little bit later of an exhale as you raise your legs.

  • Core control: If you are coning or trenching, are you able to activate your abdominals to control the gap and pressure as you raise up? Practice first on the ground so you can get a solid feel for it, and then progress your way back up to the bar.

Modifications:

  • Knees to elbows: Can you better control your breath and core if the movement is shortened?

  • Ball slams: They'll keep the pace of your workout moving, again remember to breath with these!

  • Hollow body hold or repetitions: The hollow body position transfers to so many CrossFit movements. What do you notice? Are you better able to control your core with repetitions? Or with a steady hold? When you're steady holding, how long are you able to hold it before you feel your core engagement start to go?

  • Birddog: Seriously Nicole, birddog in the Open? Here's the thing. If you aren't at a point where you are able to control coning or pressure or your breathing, why chance taking a few steps backwards in your recovery for an Open workout? Yes, they are exciting, it feels like everyone is doing it, but remember you're in this for the long game. Is it worth the risk to push hard for a couple Open workouts, only to be a few steps behind in physio and recovery after? Be kind to yourself, and your healing or growing body. 

Double-Unders

Considerations:

  • Where do I start, lol. Double-unders are highly taxing on your pelvic floor. So are single skips while we're at it, just not quiiiite as much. If you experience leaking during skipping, I wouldn't recommend it. Leaking is a sign that your body is taxed - perhaps your pelvic floor is tight, perhaps it's weak - either way, leaking is a sign to back off of skipping.

  • If you are postpartum and aren’t experiencing leaking, I still would not recommend diving into skipping in your first year UNLESS you have built up to impact movements slowly, and with a ton of strength work in addition (like, a few months of strength work). If you’re only just starting to introduce skipping or impact work into your workouts again - 50 double-unders isn’t the way to introduce it;)

  • If you are pregnant, even if you're not experiencing leaking, I recommend to my clients to stop skipping after the first trimester, that is if they reeeeaaaally want to be skipping at all - if it’s not important to them, we’ll remove it right away. Again, where is your risk versus reward conversation taking you?

Strategies:

  • Alignment: Rib cage down, chest straight ahead, eyes forward.

  • Breathing: Breath naturally. Double-unders aren't a movement you'll be able to match breath to movement for, so just keep breathing, focusing on big breaths into your ribcage - avoiding breathing only into your chest (shallow breathing).

  • Relax your belly: This is probably one of the ones I see the most with clients - and to be honest with myself until I caught it and realized it was causing the majority of my problems with double-unders. Our mind says, "I'm jumping, I need to grip to keep from leaking and protect my pelvic floor" but our pelvic floor says, "hey, you're restricting my natural movement by squeezing me with a vice grip - lay off a little and let me do my job." [Side note: wouldn't it be seriously amazing if our pelvic floor could actually tell us what it needs? I mean, assuming we'd listen all the time?]

Modifications:

  • Single skips (if not pregnant, and if you’ve built up to skipping over a number of months): If the above strategies don't address leaking, try single skips. If that's enough of a change in stimulus that it stops leaking, carry on. If not, try the below.

  • Bike: The bike, like ball slams, will keep your workout moving if that is your goal. For 50 double-unders I'd probably sub around 10-15 cals on the bike, again depending how early postpartum, how late in pregnancy, or how exhausted you are from the previous night's (lack of) sleep.

Squat Cleans

Considerations:

  • Load: 85lb may be a doable weight for you, but the caution I would place here is that you have 15 reps in a row, in a competitive environment. Can you breath through each rep? Can you do each rep with proper form?

  • Exhaustion: You’re coming straight off of 75 reps before getting to your first round of squat cleans, meaning you’re already going to be out of breath and fatigued. The first two things that usually go in this case? Form, and breathing. Form is a consideration for anyone, regardless of pregnancy and postpartum. Breathing and not straining or holding your breath is going to be important for pelvic floor and core pressure.

  • Power movement: With any power movement, there is no slowing it down, unlike a squat or deadlift that you can really take your time on to pay attention to form and breath. It’s a dynamic movement requiring quick response by your whole body - brain, muscles, joints, and pelvic floor.

Modifications:

  • Dumbbell hang power clean: Particularly if you are pregnant and your belly is now in the way of the bar path, switch to dumbbell hang cleans instead. By continuing to train with a barbell you are undoing all your previous training to drill the correct bar path in. [Check my blog post here on this very topic].

  • Reduce load, reps, and range of motion: Perform with an empty barbell, cut the reps in half, reduce to a hang power clean - do any one of or combination of these to allow you to move with intention for each rep.

I am loving seeing your posts on how you are modifying your workouts!! Please keep tagging me and keep them coming. You are also a HUGE support to moms going through the same thing - it’s so helpful knowing you aren’t the only one wishing you could do it, and knowing that there are more like you out there who have long term health in mind over one season or competition. Big love to all of you who are taking care of yourselves, it’s not easy, but you are doing it.


Why the Crossfit Open Can Wait

Last year when the Crossfit Open kicked off I was 7 weeks postpartum, a whole week past that magical 6-week clearance from my doctor to resume activity.

I went to one of the Open events to watch and cheer, and was asked by someone as I held our 7-week old daughter, “are you competing today?” I thought the person was joking until I realized they weren’t, and while I think they were just trying to make polite conversation, I was baffled because I know this is the thought process of MANY in the athletic world. Six-week check up, mom was active, obviously she’s ready to hop back in, right?

Omg no.

I was struggling with anxiety hardcore at this time, and still incredibly sleep deprived. The importance of sleep cannot be emphasized enough - you cannot recover from workouts without sleep. Your central nervous system will not function properly without sleep. You cannot recover physically from childbirth - whether vaginal or c-section - without sleep. I’m not going to tell a mom, “sleep when baby sleeps” because I too was shooting daggers when I was told that, but I will say, if you aren’t getting adequate sleep yet - adequate uninterrupted sleep - holding off on strenuous activity, particular the Open, would my strong recommendation.

Sleep aside, let’s talk about the actual format of the Open. It’s exiting, it’s loud, it’s fun, you push yourself and find out what you’re capable of, because you can’t help but get caught up in the music blaring, friends and coaches cheering, and the adrenaline of the clock running. You can’t help but push outside of your comfort zone, and when you’re done the butterflies you went in with are replaced by a great feeling of accomplishment.

But, is your body ready? I don't doubt your mind is.

I don’t doubt you could go out there and do it all in the scaled division. Or muscle through some pretty ugly Rx reps. I don’t doubt you might “feel fine” doing it. I definitely don't doubt your athlete brain is ready to go. And yes, you do have that “doctor’s clearance” behind you.

But can we think about this for a second? Your body grew a human, another entire human being, for 40 weeks give or take. Your pelvic floor supported that little being, plus an entirely new organ your body made just for one purpose, plus 50% increased blood volume, plus still kept you alive (though perhaps not thriving), for those 40 weeks.

Then, you delivered that baby. I don’t care if you had the “easiest, no complications birth” ever - you GAVE BIRTH!! This isn’t like a little orthoscopic procedure where the doctor repaired a torn muscle or ligament - you delivered a human. And I’m sorry, but we got the short end of the evolution stick when it came to birth, because we don’t get to just dig up some sand, drop some eggs, and then hop back in the ocean and swim off like all we did was have a bowel movement. Sea turtles, I envy you a little. For us humans, childbirth is major on our body. Again, no matter the birth story.

If I had had ACL surgery and was on the couch with crutches, I would have been waited on hand and foot. But deliver a baby the size of a melon, and it’s like, “so you doing the Open?" (or for non-Crossfitters, replace "Open" with any other pre-pregnancy activity in full force).

Moms, I COMPLETELY get your desire to want to compete and get back to normalcy. Trust me, I get that so much. But the one thing I hold on to continuously is that I want to be active and healthy for YEARS to come. Not just this year, not just this season. If going out and proving I can do something today means putting my body at risk for longer-lasting injury or life-long conditions, then it’s not for me. Not right now at least.

This is not a “never do Crossfit again”, or “never run”, or "never compete”. This is my plea to you to hold off, just for now, for this short chapter, so that you can enjoy all those things well into your own real-life version of the Golden Girls, or Jerry’s parents in Florida (where my Seinfeld peeps at?). Is the reward of pushing too fast or doing too much now, worth the risk of long-term discomfort? For me, it's not.

This is also not a “be scared of working out.” You can absolutely work out. I encourage you to work out! But I know what type of people Crossfit attracts - because I am one. Lots of former varsity athletes, or currently competing athletes, or people who thrive on competition and want to be pushed. So I know that doing the Open is not “just working out”. It’s pushing, it’s testing, and it’s intense. And as much as you tell yourself, "I'll hold back and be cautious", my guess is you won't drop and do deadbugs instead of toes-to-bar when it comes your time to go, with music blaring and all the spectator eyes on you.

So, for the sake of your pelvic floor, your healing diastasis, your lax joints from the relaxin produced during pregnancy (which also hangs around until 3-6 months post breastfeeding), your exhausted sleep-deprived body - consider holding back, just this year. Build up your strength and conditioning slowly and steadily over the next 12 months, and then return. Return with confidence that YES, you have trained for this, YES, your body is ready for this, and YES you have strategies in place that will allow you to keep working out months beyond the Open.

While I'm 13 months postpartum now, time alone doesn't mean I'm ready. Because of a nagging knee injury that flared up in pregnancy and postpartum, plus finally getting a rotator cuff tear diagnosed (3 years later) my workouts have been incredibly few and far between, and I have not had the chance to build my base back up. And it really does need to be built back up, gradually and methodically.

You will get stronger. You will get your lungs back. Your pelvic floor will regain function so you can skip and box jump without fear of leaking. You’ll be able to kip without worrying about your shoulder joints that have been neglected for months, or worrying about your diastasis with every rep you pull up. You’ll be able to run without pelvic pain or heaviness. But you have to give your body the time it needs to heal, and you have to take the road of slowly and steadily increasing weight, reps, and intensity.

Be the mom getting cheered on by her 5 year old in a few years, not the one continuously in physio over and over again for preventable issues. Sidenote: some issues are not preventable, some are handed to us without choice. But, causing prolapse or separating your abs further from doing high volume, high load, high intensity? Preventable.

You’ll be back. And you’ll be stronger than ever. In becoming a mom, you’ve already become mentally stronger than you ever have been before in your life. Give your physical body the time and grace it deserves to come back to its strength as well.

2019 Edit: Over the next 5 weeks of the Open I’ll be hosting live chats weekly on Thursday nights @ 7pm MT on my IG page @rawfitnessyyc & on Facebook. Click here to add yourself to the FB event to get the reminders.

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