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:)

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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Let's Talk Peeing During Exercise

If the thought of skipping makes you worry about peeing your pants, you're not alone. Perhaps you avoid skipping - whether double-unders or singles, box jumps, going on the trampoline with your kids, or doing any sort of plyometric work, all out of fear of leaking. Maybe it's as simple as a cough or sneeze that causes an unwanted trickle. Or maybe it takes nothing at all.

"Okay, yup, been there. I only wear black pants on days with jumping. Where are you going with this?"

Good news - it doesn't need to stay like this for you forever. While very common, it's not normal for the human body to function this way. Common does not equal normal.

I first encountered stress urinary incontinence in University as a varsity athlete on the track & field team. For me, the "stress" part that caused it was the plyometric component of our training, and often during the bounding exercises I would get a little of that unwanted trickle. I assumed it was normal, and was too embarrassed to ask my coach.

Fast forward years later when I discovered Crossfit, and amoung fellow female class members we'd ask each other, "what's your number?" and know exactly what the other was talking about -  how many double-unders can you hit before you pee a little? The fact it's so common really does make you start to think it's normal, and that it just comes with the territory of being a female athlete.

Keep in mind - both the track bounding and the Crossfit double-under issues happened years before I ever got pregnant. I didn't really think it was normal before having kids, and I had always heard "it's a mom thing", so I have to admit I was a little worried about what would happen to me once I actually did have kids, if I was already experiencing it pre-babies. This is what led me to Heather at Lakeview Physiotherapy while pregnant. I wanted to learn more about pelvic health, and what I could specifically do for my own health.

For moms, there's definitely the "it comes with being a mom" reasoning, which is sad, because women are apparently walking around assuming this is normal, likely going to great lengths to avoid embarrassing moments, or missing out on potential fun social and energizing activities. Even seemingly innocent exercise like spin class too soon after having a baby can be too much, because let me tell you, there is no way doing anything with quick feet out of the saddle post-baby is an option until  strengthening of the pelvic floor has happened. When I took a spin class at about 2 months postpartum I let the instructor know that I'd be sitting during some songs because of where I was at with my healing process post-baby, and she openly told me she completely peed herself her first class back teaching after becoming a mom.

What I want female athletes and moms (either pregnant or postpartum) to know is this: leaking is not a sign of normal pelvic floor functioning, and there is specific treatment to help no matter if it's  been an issue for you for one week or a decade.

The best kept secret around that particularly every athlete and mom needs in their life is the pelvic health physiotherapist.

If you're wondering a) what & where your pelvic floor is and b) "there's physio for that?" - then stick around, you're in the right place. I'll dive into "what & where" your pelvic floor is another day, but for today, know that there are experts who can help if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms from the list below, taken directly from the Lakeview Physiotherapy website. And fellas, this isn't just for the ladies! Men can experience any of these symptoms as well, aside from prenatal and postpartum of course:

  • "Urinary problems such as incontinence (leaking), frequent peeing, urgency
  • Bowel problems such as incontinence (leaking) and constipation
  • Pelvic pain - inside and outside the pelvis
  • Painful or difficult intercourse
  • Prenatal and Postpartum
  • Before and after pelvic surgery."

If there is one thing I have changed in my life over the past few years, that's gotten me much more satisfactory results across the board, it's this: Go to the experts for whatever it is you are seeking.

Want a cupcake? Go to the bakery that sells cupcakes and maybe one or two other products - their cupcakes will far surpass a grocery store that caters to all food needs.

Have any sort of issues going on in and around your pelvis? Go to the pelvic health physio - this is their area of expertise! When asked about when woman should seek help, Heather's response was:

"When a woman should see a Pelvic Health Physiotherapist really depends on the client. If a woman feels that Pelvic Health Physio could be helpful for her, the Physiotherapist can do an assessment and develop a treatment plan. If a woman is uncertain, particularly during pregnancy, she could ask her physician or midwife if Pelvic Physiotherapy would be appropriate at that time." - Heather Enns, Lakeview Physiotherapy and Acupuncture

If any of the above sounds like you, I encourage you to book in with a Pelvic Health Physiotherapist. Heads up there will likely be an internal exam, however a consent form must be signed first so you are definitely able to skip the internal exam if you aren't comfortable with this. But keep in mind the information you can receive from an internal exam will be very beneficial to your treatment. The internal exam is a small portion of the appointments I have, with the majority of the time being spent on any one of the following: looking at my alignment, testing imbalances in muscle strength from side to side, treating imbalances (massage/release/dry needling), and working on breathing.

My goals are simple:

  • To provide resources to athletes of all levels, so we can wear grey pants again on workout days.

  • To make sneezing & coughing comfortable again for the female (and male) population.

  • To educate pregnant and postpartum moms on their bodies, the changes they will go through, and how to minimize damage done to allow for faster and better recovery.

  • To spread this info around like wildfire, so that women (and men) can get back to the things they love without pain, discomfort, or embarrassment.

11-14-17 Edit: I am so excited to announce this article was picked up by Impact Magazine, and am incredibly grateful that it has been featured in the November/December 2017 edition. To check out the digital version click here.

That feeling when "trusting the process" delivers your reward

You know when you make a decision and at the time it really sucks because it means giving up something you really want right that moment (instant gratification) in exchange for something way down the road, and even though you know the trade off will greatly trump all those little "need right now" moments it's still so hard to trust the process at the time? And every time you have to pass on that want, over and over, you question, "is it worth it?".

But then the day comes where your patience and months (perhaps years) of tough decision making rewards you. This applies to so many things in life. Today I got one of those long-awaited rewards after months of having to trust the process.

I am so excited that 8 months of trusting the process has led me to this moment. Eight months ago I knew I needed to change my mindset on workouts, based on my knowledge of pelvic floor health and diastasis recti. I was doing Crossfit 5x/week, and am, as my husband describes me "insanely competitive". The competitive streak is directed against myself - I'm not trying to beat anyone else in the gym, just myself, always wanting to learn new skills or improve my previous weights or sets. While the gym is a great place to unleash this, it is not a good combo when pregnant and long term health and fitness well into my senior years is the goal.

So I held back. I changed gyms. My pregnancy workouts felt more like my old warm ups did, but I trusted the process. Mentally it sucked a lot of days, trying to match logical brain to emotion-driven brain.

I cried numerous times. I felt like I'd lost a piece of my identity. I've identified as an athlete for years, and as a trainer since changing careers a few years ago. And now I hadn't run in months. Hadn't touched a barbell in as many. My workouts involved lots of seated isolated muscle exercises. I missed my old coaches, and the noon crew that pushed me (and heckled me) and provided me a space to mentally reset each day as well as provided a physical outlet.

I had melt downs when I wondered if I'd ever be able to do what I could pre-pregnancy again. But again, I committed to trusting the process. Some days I hated the process. I had to remind myself:  isn't being able to do 70% of what I could pre-pregnancy for the rest of my life way better than being able to do 100% of what I could pre-pregnancy but only for 2-5 years because of the damage and beating I'd do to myself by pushing for that extra 30%, just to "prove that I could"?

The smile on my face today is after a visit to my pelvic floor physio, where I received that long term reward of being smart these past 8 months instead of just going for it because I could day after day at the gym. I don't have any pelvic organ prolapse and my ab separation is in a good place for only 6 weeks postpartum and the tone feels like it should at this point. This might sound tiny to you, but the alternatives I hear way too many women talking about post partum because they just didn't know how to care for their pregnant and/or postpartum bodies makes me incredibly happy to be where I am right now.

This is just the first of a mini-series of blogs I'll be releasing, so be sure to check back if any of the below apply to you:

  • You like nerding out about body stuff.
  • You're an athlete who "leaks" (regardless of if you've had kids or not) - this was me in University when doing large amounts of bounding and plyometric workouts as a middle-distance sprinter. I just didn't know better.
  • You're currently pregnant.
  • You plan on being pregnant at any point in your life.
  • You've had kids.
  • You have someone in your life who fits the above and you want to help educate them about how to better care for their body.

Stay tuned:)