CrossFit during Pregnancy: First Trimester

Jessica Kohler - CrossFit Fringe - KB Pistol

6 weeks pregnant

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional, nor do I advocate my experience is right for everyone. Please consult a doctor before embarking on any new fitness regimen, especially during pregnancy. 

Yes. CrossFit during pregnancy. I’m sure those two words alone will set my blog up for SEO for quite a while (because you know, I totally care).

Surprisingly though, while I’m fortunate to have found quite a few resources on CrossFit during pregnancy, I feel like I’ve had to piece it together from about 20 different websites. Very few bloggers have covered it in-depth, and not surprisingly (and understandably), recommendations and experiences differ across the board. Some people maintain decent working weight and training frequency during their pregnancies, while others drop back quite a bit. Some also opt to scale movements fairly early, while others maintain them much longer.

Although several athletes in my gym have done CrossFit throughout pregnancy, even up until the day of delivery, I wager I’m the first CFL1 in my area who has. I consider this a special opportunity to not only become a better resource, but a better, more understanding coach in areas outside of CrossFit as well. Again, I’m not an expert, but it quickly became apparent to me how few and far between good resources are past random articles.

Jessica Kohler - CrossFit Fringe - HOA5 Competition

November 2013, 1 month prior to pregnancy

Background: My CrossFit before Pregnancy

It is important to first consider my level of activity before pregnancy as a reference to my experience during pregnancy. I have been CrossFitting for more than 2 1/2 years, and at the point of conception, was only a few weeks outside of a massive 5 month training cycle for a competition. I was in what I could consider the best shape of my life.

This is important to know because general medical opinion states that the level of activity you maintained prior to pregnancy can be maintained with reasonable accommodation and adjustment for demands and physical changes experienced. This last point is critical to CrossFit, as the movements and intensity will require scaling in some form no matter the experience of the athlete. 

CrossFit during First Trimester

I was very fortunate to have experienced a relatively easy 1st trimester. I dealt with nausea and fatigue, mostly at night, but I didn’t experience full-blown feelings of sickness. However, by 6 weeks, I definitely noticed feelings of reduced energy. I was able to maintain a fairly regular training schedule, and only scaled some weeks by a day for additional recovery time from a particularly taxing workout. Here are some tips and guidelines I followed:

Notifying Trainers

I notified my trainers early, at the 6-7 week mark. I did this no only for safety, but so they were aware of my condition and how to both encourage and coach me. As a trainer, it is so important that we know this information — so I would encourage anyone to do so as soon as possible.

Scaling Intensity

While the recommendation of not exceeding a heart rate of 140 bpm is not only outdated but somewhat unrealistic (go ahead and see how fast you can get there, it’s ridiculous what increased blood volume can do), scaling intensity immediately is recommended universally.

How do I gauge this? I maintain a pace that allows me to hold a conversation during my workout. While I definitely am breathing harder, I don’t train to the extent that I am not able to complete sentences without them being broken to the point of being incomprehensible. I literally talk to myself, or others throughout my workout. This amounts (in my case) to about a scale to 75% of my intensity, although I notice myself scaling quite a bit more for workouts that involve running.

Scaling Load

While I was able to maintain the same working load for many lifts, pregnancy is definitely not a time to prove what a badass you are. One-rep maxes and new PRs should not be attempted. It’s a time to maintain, but it’s also important to assess comfort with weight in movements that require the body to move around the bar in certain ways. For me, my working snatch weight dropped from 85 lbs to 65 lb simply because catapaulting the bar no longer felt good/safe at heavier weight.

Scaling Movements

As I mentioned above, scaling movements for comfort and safety might become a concern. There are movements, like GHD sit-ups that must cease immediately. However for the most part, most movements can be continued safely throughout the first trimester depending on the comfort level of individual athletes. For example, toward the end of my 1st trimester I found myself subbing knees-to-elbow for toes-to-bar. I could have still done them, but it wasn’t pretty and I was able to move more comfortably at the lower scale.

The great thing about CrossFit is that there is no end to scaling and alternate movement options, so ask your trainer, or feel free to message me for some that I have implemented into my own training. I will definitely be talking more about specific movement scales in my second trimester posts.

Hydration and Rest

One of the toughest parts about my first trimester was the fatigue. The need for hydration and additional recovery time to maintain my workouts definitely increased, and I definitely scaled back my training to make sure my body felt like it was getting the adequate amount of rest it needed. Take this in stride and realize that your body is doing some SERIOUS multi-tasking in the first trimester. It bears nothing on your motivation or dedication, and your skills are in no way less than they were.

This seems like such an obvious thing, but when you feel like you’re in the thick of it, sometimes nothing helps more than good reminder.

Jessica Kohler - CrossFit Fringe - Columbia MO

7 weeks pregnant

Conclusion

My experience with CrossFit in the first trimester was really good. As I’ve been doing it for 2.5+ years, I was able to maintain much of my normal routine with scaling in intensity to maintain conversation and weight and movement for my own personal comfort level. I emphasize again to talk with your coaches and make a plan. They know you best, and they may have recommendations or areas to consider on top of what any professional or CrossFit blogger could know for your individual circumstances.

9 Comments

  • Leah says:

    I’m obviously not a cross-fitter, but I did work out some during my first trimester. Recently has been tough — teaching is busy, and my thesis is due in two weeks, so most of my “working out” has just been walking.

    What I found is this — I did movements until/unless they hurt or felt strange. So, there’s some exercises I have for strengthening my back that just didn’t work pretty early on, because the stretching of those muscles just made the move hurt. Planking has been awesome for me, and walking feelings wonderful. I hadn’t been doing running or heavy weights in the 6 months before getting pregnant, so I chose not to do those at all. But I have done dumbbells just a pound o two lighter than normal.

    Kudos to you for keeping up with your workouts! I hope that translates to an easier labor for you. I’m hoping to scale up my walking (distance and frequency) after the thesis is turned in so that my shape is good near the end. I really would like to be an active mom.

    • Jessica says:

      You know, I’ve heard that it could go either way BECAUSE of my workouts. Some people say that mentally/physically it’s better, while others say it makes it harder. There’s no way to really know, so I’m just going into it with the idea that any work is better than none and the longer I can keep working in whatever capacity I’m able is only gravy on top of a good diet.

      Planking definitely is awesome, and I’ve been doing it a lot lately. There are still so many ways I can challenge myself that mentally it’s made having to scale back a lot easier. People have also told me to look up some pre-natal pilates dvds, so I might do that as well — can’t even imagine how they scale that lol.

  • Corrie Anne says:

    Thanks for sharing. I just finished my first trimester, and my experience was fairly similar. Can’t wait to read more!!!

  • Flan says:

    Did you end up withdrawing from the competition you had been training for prior to finding out you were pregnant? I’m almost 5 weeks and was hoping to retest my PRs (deadlift, bench, back squat) next week at 6 weeks.

  • MARIA BELLO says:

    HELLO, I LOVED YOUR POST, I’M FRON VENEZUELA AND HERE THE CROSSFIT IT’S RELATIVE YOUNG SO, YOU CAN IMAGINE WHEN I SAID THAT A PLAN TO CONTINUE DOING IT WHILE PREGNANCY. SO I WILL REALLY APPRECIATE IF YOU CAN GIVE ME A LIST OF MOVEMENT THAT I CAN CONTINUING DOING DURING MY FIRTS TRIMESTER. FOR EXAMPLE CAN I DO TOES TO BAR? OR PULL UPS? SIT UPS? DU’S? THOSE EXERCISES ARE THE ONES THAT I’M WORRY THE MOST.
    THANK YOUI VERY MUCH FOR YOUR HELP.
    P.S. I’VE BEEN DOING CROSSFIT FOR MORE THAN 2 YEARS
    MARY.

    • Jessica says:

      Hi Mary,

      Your best bet is to talk with your coach. Every woman’s pregnancy is SO different, that typically the coach that sees you every day, knows your background and the level of fitness you are entering pregnancy with is going to make the best recommendation. I also really recommend BirthFit, as they answered a lot of my questions based on information I gave them about how I was feeling!

  • Karla says:

    Hi Jessica,

    It’s really nice to read your post!
    I am 7 weeks pregnant (first pregnancy), and the inactivity has been messing with my self-esteem 🙁 But I’ve been super fatigued and low in energy.
    However, today I decided to go back to crossfit, scaling my workout and resting a lot between sets to catch my breath.
    I’ve only been doing crossfit for 2 months but I love it! Before that I’ve always been physically active in boxing, spinning, and weight training.
    It’s nice to read about someone who continues to do the exercise they love and everything was fine. I feel doctors’ advice is very dated and very conservative, though my doctor did say I could keep working out just not in the same intensity.
    I am also an occupational therapist, so that helps me gauge how to scale my movements, how to modify the exercise, and just to be aware and listen to my body.
    I will definitely keep reading your blog on this! 🙂

    Karla

  • Natalia Zago says:

    Hi,
    I have a question: can pregnant women do the level 1 crossfit course?
    I just found out im pregnant, and i applied to the course before i found out,

    • Jessica says:

      Hi Natalia,

      You could definitely still do the L1, just be sure to scale any workouts you do with the Seminar Staff or your fellow attendees!