7 Pregnant CrossFit Games Athletes Share How Their Training Has Changed
How do professional CrossFit athletes work out when they get pregnant? Here, what their training looks like now that they're expecting.
The internet loves to get fired up about whether pregnant women should be exercising or not. (FYI, the answer is yes.) And, since competitive female CrossFit athletes are some of the fittest humans on Earth, when they nail impressive fitness feats while simultaneously creating human life, it causes even more controversy.
But what does training really look like when you go from handstand laps and superheavy lifting to worrying about a baby in your belly? Here, we asked seven pregnant CrossFitters how their training has changed now that they're soon-to-be moms. While, yes, their training is still seriously impressive, their refreshing prenatal fitness philosophies will have you in awe of the female body.
(Friendly PSA: Check with your doctor and work with a trainer or coach to tailor a workout program that best fits your needs as a pregnant athlete.)
Kara Saunders, formerly known as Kara Webb, has been to the CrossFit Games every year since 2012 and took home the title Fittest Woman On Earth in 2018. Now, the Games-vet and her husband Matt Saunder are pregnant with a baby girl, due in May 2019.
Training pre-pregnancy: "It pretty hectic because I was preparing for The Games. I did some sort of physical activity every day, but two days a week were active recovery, like swimming. The other five days, I did two three-hour sessions. Every session included some skill work, strength, gymnastics, barbell, and endurance."
Prenatal training: "I've always coached that the goal of training is good health and fitness. That looks quite different along the stages of pregnancy and is different for each person. Now, I train for about an hour to ninety minutes a day. I go slower, focus on accessory work, and rest way more than pre-pregnancy.
I presented with coning of my belly at about the 18-week mark and needed to modify anything accordingly. Bar muscle-ups, pull-ups, and moves straining my midline were the first things I stopped doing. Lifting has felt comfortable for me, so I do most things but continue to decrease the weight as I get further along. My body tells me the intensity each day, but I don't feel the need to really exert myself; I can maintain a conversation while I'm exercising. It's okay for me if I temporarily lose fitness as long as my baby and my body are healthy." (Related: How to Modify Group Fitness Classes When You're Pregnant)
Emily Bridgers, who's been doing CrossFit for almost 9 years, is another OG athlete to the sport. She's competed in six straight CrossFit Games, with a 6th-place best finish. CrossFit led her to her husband, Ben Benson, who was her coach during all her years competing. Together, they opened CrossFit Terminus in Atlanta in 2013, and now they're pregnant with their first child, due in October 2019. (Related: Here's What Happens When You're Dating Your Workout Buddy and You Break Up).
Training pre-pregnancy: "Before I was pregnant, and when I was preparing for the Games, I was training three to four hours per day, six days a week, with one active recovery or rest day. Most of the time, this was broken up into two training sessions with some time to rest and refuel between sessions. I 'retired' from competition after the 2018 CrossFit Games, which ended with an ankle injury. So my training immediately went down in volume quite a bit to accommodate that injury. Since August, I've been doing our regular class programming: one hour per day, five days per week."
Prenatal training: "Since finding out I was pregnant not long ago, not much has changed. As of March 2019, I've been doing our regular class program, and haven't started modifying movements much at all. I've dialed back the intensity a bit and taken a few more days off due to feeling sick. The first trimester brought on quite a bit of sinus issues for me, so breathing was harder and I was constantly blowing my nose and fighting off a cold, but it looks like things will turn a corner in the second trimester, and I'm ready to modify as needed."
Amy Dracup started CrossFit in 2008, and what followed has been what she calls "a fantastic adventure of travel, competition, and connections formed with some amazing people." She's competed at six CrossFit Games and been coaching for over 10 years (currently, at CrossFit Queens in New York). Now, she and former Games teammate Ian Berger are expecting a child for the first time, with a baby boy due in July 2019.
Pre-pregnancy training: "I would train six days a week with most days having two parts, a mono-structural component (swim, bike, run) and then skill, weightlifting, and CrossFit specific conditioning in separate sessions. I followed programming from my coach and, depending on the time of the season, sessions would last two to four hours per day. I also put time and energy into recovery sessions, food prep and rest, which made training a full-time job. I took one full day off a week and had one other lighter day."
Prenatal training: "I've trained pregnant people before but there's nothing like going through it yourself. During the first trimester, I had some nausea and needed a nap each day but, for the most part, still felt capable enough to do my competitive program, with some small adjustments. In the second trimester, I've seen a lot more changes to movements and intensity-starting to gain a little bump and feel my little guy changed a lot for me.
Now that I'm showing, I decided to ditch the barbell and use dumbbells so that I don't feel like I'm making contact with my bump. Instead of kipping movements, I do strict. And while a lot of mums feel comfortable running right through their pregnancy, I've opted to use the bike instead. When it comes to weight, as a general rule, I take 80 percent of my previous max and base my percentage work off that number, and as I get further along in my pregnancy that percentage will continue to drop even further.
Some days I feel great and move with ease and have energy and other days I feel sluggish. What's been important for me is to remember that my goal is to have a healthy pregnancy and birth a strong baby boy. Training throughout my pregnancy has been so helpful mentally and also physically-even on those sluggish days when I move a little slower, I always feel better when I move! To-be mums need endorphins too!" (Here: Why Your Energy Levels Talk During Pregnancy and How To Get It Back)
Rachel Murphy (known as Rachel Martinez at the time she was competing) has been doing CrossFit since 2012. Between 2012 and 2017, she competed at the CrossFit Games four times-twice on a team and twice as an individual. She has since retired, began personal training, and is expecting a baby girl in August of 2019.
Pre-pregnancy training: "When I was competing, I trained six days a week (one of which was an active recovery day), multiple times a day for a total of four to five hours a day. Usually, those days consisted of a CrossFit Metcon and lifting, plus some accessory work to improve my weaknesses. On my recovery day, I'd run, row, bike, and/or swim. I didn't compete in 2018-I was 33 and getting married and also felt I was happy with what I had accomplished in my CrossFit career-so I had a year to transition to a more relaxed training style, taking one hour-long CrossFit class, which gave me the time and energy to focus more on my career."
Prenatal training: "After I found out I was pregnant in early December of 2018, I continued going to the gym and taking classes as I had been, but I let the coach know that I was pregnant so that they could help me scale the workout. (Related: Kayla Itsines Shares Why She Stopped Doing Leg Day Workouts During Pregnancy)
By listening to my body and with the help of my ob-gyn (who also does CrossFit) and my husband (who is a CrossFit trainer), I found a few rules that worked well for me during the first trimester: No going upside down (movements like handstands, handstand push-ups or handstand walking); keep heart rate to a talking pace (in CrossFit many workouts are about intensity so I had to tone that down); don't go too heavy (this is all relative to where I was pre-pregnancy meaning my "not heavy" may look heavy to outsiders); no kipping movements (kipping pull-ups, kipping toe to bar, muscle-ups, etc.); no double-unders or box jumps; stay away from movements that feel odd or painful in any way (only thing that I really felt this on was rowing, I just didn't like how my belly felt so I didn't do it).
A former collegiate heptathlete and pole vaulter turned rugby player turned competitive CrossFit athlete, Ingrid Kantola is the definition of an athlete. She found CrossFit in 2010, and between 2012 and 2016, she made it to the CrossFit Games three times. After the 2016 season, Kantola retired. Now, she's a trainer at CrossFit Queens and gave birth to her first child, baby Gunner, in January 2019.
Pre-pregnancy training: "After I retired, I found that training by myself was no longer as interesting to me as it once was, but I wanted to maintain a high level of fitness. So I started taking the hour-long daily CrossFit class at my box. Usually, I trained Monday through Saturday, with Saturday workout being a longer, endurance-based workout. I found that the class workouts were a great blend of skill, strength, and high-intensity that allowed me to maintain a lot of my strength and gymnastics skills while improving my overall metabolic conditioning."
Prenatal training: "Once I got pregnant, I kept going to class. I still worked out for one hour a day, but I relaxed my approach. Some days my workout looked like the rest of the class, but most days I altered most of the movements and even some of the rep schemes and time domains to fit my personal comfort level and needs.
I cut out movements that could impact my pelvic floor (such as running, jump rope, and box jumps), and movements that cause any coning-this can indicate diastasis recti, an abs separation along the midline fascia in your abdomen (such as planks, sit ups, pull ups, toes to bar, rowing, and even push-ups). Once my belly bump got in the way of the barbell path for Olympic lifting movements, I switched to dumbbell versions."
Postpartum training: "Currently, I am six weeks postpartum and I haven't returned to training yet. I had some complications post-delivery and my body just started feeling fully healed in the last 10 days. I may start the BIRTHFIT Postpartum Program or begin to modify workouts on my own. Everyone's body is going to respond differently to the changes of pregnancy and there is no one-size-fits-all program."
Emily Breeze Ross Watson
Emily Breeze competed at the CrossFit games in 2014 and 2015. As a personal trainer, CrossFit coach, and mom who's currently pregnant with her third child, Breeze has been a long-time advocate of athletes listening to their body while their pregnant. (See: CrossFit Athlete Emily Breeze On Why Workout-Shaming Pregnant Women Needs To Stop).
Pre-pregnancy training: "I don't follow a specific program but mix it up every day. I usually use my own program and mix it with workouts I write for personal training clients or even just jump in on whatever the gym I work out at has programmed for the day. Since having my first kid, I generally work out six days a week for about an hour, but it really depends on the day! I definitely mix up movements and get a good blend of cardio with longer runs, some weightlifting, gymnastic movements, and body weight exercises."
Prenatal training: "When I'm pregnant I don't follow a specific program or limit myself in any strict way. I really just take it one day at a time and listen to how my body is feeling that day. If something feels off or unusually uncomfortable, I'll substitute the movement. I just do my thing and turn down the intensity when my body tells me I need to, and I definitely slow down as my baby grows."
Eight-time individual CrossFit Games veteran Stacie Tovar has made more Games appearances than almost any other athlete, male or female. After a nine-year competitive career, Tovar retired. Now, she's busy running CrossFit Omaha and Go Far Fitness with her husband Dustin and awaiting the arrival of their first child in June 2019.
Pre-pregnancy training: "When I was competing, I would work out for close to six hours a day. I'd warm up, do some metabolic conditioning (like running or rowing), complete a strength component, and then do a Metcon. I'd take an hour-long lunch break and cheer on the lunch-time class at my box and eat. After, I'd come back and train from 1 PM to 3 PM, which included more Metcons followed by accessory work and maybe a swim in the pool. In 2017, I retired to focus on my box and began taking hour-long CrossFit classes."
Prenatal training: "During the first trimester of being pregnant, not much changed! I could still use the barbell, do ring muscle-ups, and most of the movements in the daily class workout. As my baby has been growing, my training has changed. During the second trimester, things started to tug and pull differently. Suddenly, sit-ups were not going to happen. Same with handstand push-ups. And as of recently, kipping movements don't feel comfortable. Right now, I'm still getting by with doing push-ups, barbell movements, and a modified burpee, but I know that probably won't be the case soon.
I'm not trying to be superwoman. So before every workout and movement, I ask myself what's best for my baby, my body, and what could extend postpartum recovery, and adjust accordingly. I'm having fun with it! Being pregnant has really given me the opportunity to play around with scaling." (Related: 4 Ways You Need to Change Your Workout When You Get Pregnant)