Navigating CrossFit postpartum can be tricky. There are many resources for trainers and athletes to help navigate CrossFit while pregnant, but when it comes to postpartum, often we forget or don’t recognize the importance of safe return to sport. Unfortunately there are no set rules or parameters, and postpartum care is often lacking for many women. Just like every pregnancy is different, every labor and delivery is different and every recovery is different. With every woman coming from a different athletic background, it’s nearly impossible to set specific standards for a return to the gym.
A postpartum OBGYN visit typically occurs between 4 and 6 weeks. At that point the doctor may release the woman for return to sex and normal activity. Women and their trainers alike are left wondering… what normal activity means, specifically to a CrossFit athlete! It’s very enticing for the new mom to jump back in to previous weights, gymnastics skills, and ab work to regain that pre-pregnancy body.
While there are no set timelines, standards, or rules there are a couple things trainers can recommend every postpartum CrossFit mom can do.
Seek out a physical therapist who specializes in women’s health or pelvic floor PT.
All 50 US states are direct access, meaning you can see a physical therapist without a referral from a doctor. Once there, the PT can evaluate pelvic floor strength, determine whether there is any diastasis recti, assess pelvic alignment, and make individual recommendations regarding return to sport. The PT will help guide the athlete through some specific pelvic floor and ab exercises that are safe and appropriate (and beyond kegels), as well as helping to establish good breath and posture, both of which will help the athlete return to CrossFit.
It’s important for the trainer and new mom to remember the psychological aspect of a return to CrossFit.
The postpartum body has just been through a tremendous change. The weeks following birth are HARD! Sleep deprivation, hormonal fluctuations, body changes, and adjusting to a new normal with a newborn is DIFFICULT!
For those moms who were able to workout through pregnancy, it will take time to rebuild core and pelvic floor strength, a potentially emotional process for the new mom. It’s important for trainers to be sensitive to this and help encourage the athlete, find small success to celebrate, and remind them patience is necessary!
Many new moms who jump back into group classes may get frustrated or discouraged at first comparing themselves to others or where they were pre-pregnancy. You can set them up for success by giving them pre-set scaling that will allow them to focus on form vs. weights or finish time. Slow increases in weights will help them feel and see progress. Turning workouts into AMRAPS, keeping the movements simple, and with a focus on form vs. intensity will help the new mom find success and enjoyment.
In the first couple of weeks, be sure to focus on rebuilding a good base of strength and form.
After birth, a woman’s abs, pelvic floor, breathing patterns, and even posture have all changed. It’s likely the athlete developed some compensatory movement patterns if she continued to CrossFit
throughout pregnancy due to a growing belly. Now is the time to refocus on moving well under lighter loads.
Remember that the pelvic floor and abdominals are weak and stretched, and if they are breastfeeding, the relastin hormone is still present making joints more mobile. These factors put these athletes are at risk for injury until core strength improves. The good news? Squats and deadlifting are a great way to strengthen your core!
It’s important to start light and gradually add load as the athlete tolerates. At the same time, adding in some accessory work to strengthen the glutes and hip abductors and adductors will help tremendously. Exercises like good mornings, GHD hip extensions, banded side stepping are a few to incorporate. The focus during this time is moving WELL, and adding intensity once they can consistently demonstrate good mechanics!
Keep an eye open for signs their bodies aren’t ready to handle specific exercises.
The things you can look for are coning or doming of the abdominals (a sign of diastasis), any leaking, or pain or pressure of pelvic floor, abs or incision site. There is no set timeline for reintroduction of exercises, but there are some exercises postpartum athletes may want to avoid for the first 12 weeks. Keep in mind these vary for each woman. Exercises that tend to stress the healing pelvic floor include anything with impact, or weightlifting that causes the new mom to strain or bear down. Exercises like box jumps, jump rope, running, plyometric warm ups, olympic lifts, and heavy weight lifting are best to avoid until a period of basic strength has been established.
Once ready, it’s important to gradually re-introduce those movements while paying specific attention to any symptoms.
Diastasis, or separating of the abdominals is normal during pregnancy, as well as during the period of postpartum. It can take up to a year for the abs to come back together, and while they heal there are certain exercises that may put too much strain on the abs post partum. Any exercise that involves a plank, like push ups and burpees may put too much strain on the new mom. Sit ups and leg raises such as an L sit or toes to bar, as well as any kipping motion can all pose a risk. Introduce these movements gradually, paying attention to any coning or symptoms of pressure.
Being cautious and mindful of the healing that is taking place the first 12 weeks (and for some longer) will pay off huge for your postpartum athletes. While planks, sit ups, impact and heavy lifting may be out, there are a ton of modifications you can provide for your athletes.
The bike or weighted sled pulls are great modifications for athletes experiencing symptoms while running. Burpees and push ups can be modified to a box or knees to lessen the stress on the core. GHD hip extensions can be a good sub for T2B, where the athlete still is getting flexion and extension about the hip joint…just working the posterior chain vs the anterior. For the new mom who is dying to work her abs, 1 arm farmers carry and side planks can be a great alternative to sit ups.
Remember that the most potent abdominal and core exercises are isometric in nature. That is when the abs need to resist movement of the spine while there is action at the hip. This is found in each of the 9 foundational movements we teach at the Level 1 seminar… as well as most exercises we see in CrossFit!
For all new and future mothers who may be reading this… remember every journey is different. Please don’t compare yourself to what you see on social media. You have done the most amazing thing, and that is to create life. Be patient with yourself and your progress. Enjoy the time with your newborn without stressing about getting back to your pre-baby body or weightlifting numbers. You will get there, but this time with your baby will pass much too quickly. Enjoy it, and remember you are doing amazing!