Participating in the Open as a Pregnant or Postpartum Athlete

Photo Credit: Whitney Kono Cardenas

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Even with all the changes the Crossfit Open has undergone over the years, the appeal of pushing yourself each season surrounded by your friends and the greater CrossFit community remains. The Open connects you with others, pushes your mental and physical limits and is full of incredible moments.

One change that can be especially difficult to navigate is when you become a pregnant or postpartum CrossFitter who is used to competing in the Open. The Open makes you push the physical and mental limits.

The environment only has that effect, not just the training.

If you are looking to enter the Open as a pregnant or postpartum athlete, you need to truly understand the demands your body is currently handling (structural and hormonal changes, energy levels, core/pelvic health symptoms, long-term function and performance, etc. ).

Participation is great, and how you participate is key.

Five considerations for competing outdoors as a pregnant or postpartum athlete

  1. Manage your athlete brain:
    The athlete’s brain is the intrinsic motivation to do more, push limits, compete and achieve. Learning to harness these tendencies to support your evolving identity and endeavors during pregnancy and postpartum is just as important as exercise modifications and focus. If you find yourself wondering whether or not you should do a particular movement, load, or rep scheme, then stick with it. That is your signal to modify the particular movement or stimulus. Knowing your unique “athletic readiness” is incredibly important right now. Being able to decipher between can and should, and knowing when you are leading from ego versus adaptability will help you tremendously during this season.
  2. Pelvic Health Symptoms and Awareness If you experience or are currently managing any pelvic pain, feel pressure on your pelvic floor (vagina, rectum), or experience urine leakage…that’s a signal to scale back. These symptoms are common during pregnancy and postpartum, and you’re more likely to experience them due to the changing pressure on your central system during pregnancy, as well as the physiological changes experienced during labor and recovery. Reduce or eliminate movements that are high-impact, dynamic, or heavy (where you feel the need to lean in, push yourself through repetition, etc.).
  3. Monitor intra-abdominal pressure distribution If your abdomen feels like it’s pulling, bulging in the midline (taper), or if you hold your breath for each movement, that’s your cue to modify movement and focus with adjustments to position, breathing, exercise selection, and/or or range of motion. Your abs and your core system as a whole are structurally different during pregnancy and when rebuilding capacity postpartum, therefore training variables need to be adjusted to monitor and/or improve the integrity of that system.
  4. Own your preparation If you’re out of shape and haven’t yet trained or progressed to higher demands (every postpartum woman is in this spot), that’s your cue to tweak your output and efforts. Postpartum is a rebuilding phase, in which it takes months to develop athletic potential. Sleep, nutrition, lifestyle, the central system, infant feeding, and hormones all affect athletic preparation, performance, and potential. Give yourself grace, not rigid expectations and comparisons.
  1. Tune in.
    Please register with yourself before participating. Do you have a training strategy for both pregnancy and postpartum that promotes awareness of your core pelvic health function and performance? Does your participation complement that strategy?
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Your vagina, abs, baby, and long-term function and performance are more important than a specific spot on a leaderboard right now. It can be a frustrating change of focus, especially in the environment that Open facilitates, and it’s worth it. There will be plenty of opportunities to continue to pursue a life of athletics, even if this season looks a little different.

Now:

  • You can be an intentional athlete who is handling a baby in you or for you.
  • You are managing a body that is continually changing (pregnancy) or changed (postpartum).
  • You are managing a transitional season in life.
  • You are managing adjustments to your fitness, skills and preparation.
  • You are not less than you once were, even if it is different.
  • You are still amazing and strong when you tweak and adjust the focus and training variables.

This is encouraging and can also be applauded. While it can be tempting to prove something to yourself or others, whether it’s maintaining ability during pregnancy or coming back after delivery, it’s also satisfying to set a quality precedent for those who learn from your example and take ownership of the season in the one you are at this time. You can participate with directors who will guide you and prepare you for your life of athletics.

This is a different kind of challenge and variable for CrossFit’s open season. Enjoy the process, without attachment to any physical result.

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