Crossfit during pregnancy?
“If you don’t know how strong a person is you could think they’re absolutely crazy for lifting while pregnant, and I know that anyone could have judged me in that way.” This pregnant Crossfitter is fully aware what the controversy is all about, but she made the choice to take things one day at a time, listen to her body, and to stick with her fitness journey.
For this Profile in Power I spoke to Shannon Zimmerman (who can be found on Instagram @shannonzim) only a few weeks after giving birth to her daughter. To say that Shannon is an intense athlete would be a gross understatement. She is a Crossfit coach and regional athlete, and has competed in Olympic weightlifting at the national level. When asked about her experiences during pregnancy, Shannon was more than happy to share. “If you try to look up any guidelines, you’ll find that opinions are all over the place.” And that’s just the thing. There is no one-size-fits-all model. However, Shannon was able to write her own pregnancy rulebook, and if her experiences resonate with even one pregnant athlete, then we’ve done our job.
Discalimer: This interview is not meant to replace medical advice. It is based on the experiences of one person with fitness in pregnancy and postpartum. Our position is that you should check with a doctor before beginning any fitness regimen – especially when pregnant.
How she got into crossfit
Have you ever had a wake-up call that completely changed your life? Shannon had a pretty extreme health scare that led her to take her wellness by the reins. In 2010 she learned that she had an autoimmune disease and was eventually diagnosed with thyroid cancer. “I felt like my health was getting out of control, and I wanted to fight back and to start living a healthier life.” She changed her diet, (gluten sensitivity actually attributed to many symptoms) and started crossfit while recovering from her surgeries.
“What took it to the next level was enjoying being healthy.” Shannon talks of crossfit’s “sickness-wellness-fitness continuum” philosophy. The further you can get towards fitness, the more protection you have against sickness. “Crossfit was a response to being sick for so long – I wanted the other extreme. Then I found out how much I liked it and that I could compete at a higher level – that was a bonus that I didn’t expect.”
(photo cred: Lauren Taitt)
How she wrote her own pregnancy rulebook
“There is no rulebook for pregnancy. There is on one-size-fits-all. No matter what you find out, there will always be someone saying the opposite. So sharing personal experience is the best way to go.”
Listening to your body while pregnant
It’s a phrase we hear a lot, but don’t really know what it means until we get there. “Listening to your body” means different things for every woman, but it’s always right. “A little guide I gave myself was if I had any doubts or if I had to ask myself if I should do it – then I didn’t do it. Just make little judgement calls along the way.” Doesn’t get any simpler than that.
Intensity – Setting a hard line
If you haven’t noticed, Shannon is a pretty intense athlete. She was used to pushing herself way past her limits (like curled in a ball on the floor crying in pain after giving her all) and decided she needed a hard line she wouldn’t cross. Otherwise she didn’t trust herself to know when to slow down. She chose to wear a heart monitor and not allow her heart rate to go above 160 bpm. By the way, Shannon is very adamant that it’s something that worked for her but is not necessarily for other moms-to-be. “Anytime my heartrate went above that, it was my signal to stop, take some deep breaths… and then get back to it.”
She was also lucky enough that her doctor was a crossfit enthusiast who made her feel really good about continuing with her sport. Her doctor’s advice was to be able to say two sentences during her workout. That was a pretty good guide – along with having a real number to look at.
Abs – mind while pregnant
It was a friend who pointed out a small bulge down the middle of her abs – coning – which could mean the beginnings of diastasis recti or abdominal separation. If she noticed that small vertical bulge, she would modify her exercise or cut it out altogether. This ended up being a lot of gymnastics movements like muscle ups or dips. (Wish that I could say I cut those movements out for pregnancy myself, but that would be a lie. I’ve never come close to being able to do them.) Now, postpartum, she watches for the same thing. “I feel like I’m going through reverse pregnancy. Slowly adding things back in and being very careful to give my abs time to heal.”
(photo cred: Matt Blas)
Change in weight and reps
Shannon shares that although she didn’t necessarily attempt any PRs, the weights she used were pretty much the same until the third trimester. When she was bigger and achier, she just didn’t really have the same interest. Although some days she’d surprise herself and feel great.
Throughout her pregnancy she played around with volume. “The weight might be the same but I wouldn’t do as many reps. Or maybe I’d build up to the weight a little slower.” Makes sense when you’re carrying around that extra weight anyway!
Change in diet
If you’re into lifting, you’re probably into watching your diet and Shannon is no exception. Although she loved following a paleo diet, she found that her athletic performance improved after adding carbs. Needless to say, she logs her calories and macronutrients, but when she became serious about competing, she started working with a nutritional coaching company called Macro Labs – learning that she needs to fuel herself even more to feel great during workouts and competitions. Shannon shares that her coach has personal experience when it comes to pregnant athletes, and was as helpful then as she is postpartum. Turns out eating for pregnancy is is pretty similar to eating for competitions – and I’ll take any excuse I can get to “eat for two”.
Labor, delivery and recovery for fit moms
There’s this belief that fit moms have it easier. Well I guess as with everything else, there is no one-size-fits-all, and both Shannon and I concur. This part wasn’t easy. “I had this mentality: I’m mentally tough, I’m physically fit, I can handle challenges. Maybe I was overly confident because what I experienced was way harder than I expected.”
As we speak, Shannon is bonding with her baby and recovering during what she calls her “reverse pregnancy”. Everyone’s story is different, don’t hold any expectations of what yours will be like, “I’ve been able to learn and grow from that. It has humbled me a lot.”
How she takes care of herself as a new mom
Mom-to-mom, of course we talk self-care (as all moms should.) Shannon shares three tips:
1 – Know when to slow down – both in life and at the gym. “When it’s just not going well, maybe skip the gym and just be home with the family.”
2 – Unplug and recharge. “Knowing how to get away, be with the family, and put away all the distractions and noise is the best thing for me.”
3 – “I really like epsom salt baths too” … Actually that one should be at the top of the list.
Advice for pregnant crossfitters and powerlifters
On a final note, Shannon shares a little sage advice for hardcore mamas-to-be. It’s equal parts listening to other moms’ experiences and to your own intuition and gut feeling. “Find out what worked for her, what did she do, what did she change, what did she wish she knew. And at the same time, realize that pregnancy is different for every single person. Be kind to yourself, and try not to compare yourself to other people. There are so many individual cases, and no one-size-fits-all rulebook.”
Thank you Shannon Zimmerman for sharing this rare advice about being a pregnant crossfitter. Now it’s your turn, Did you have to make any changes during pregnancy – fitness or otherwise? Leave us a comment on Instagram: @Shannonzim or @marsandstarsbaby
When I was pregnant there was a lot of contradicting advice about fitness in pregnancy – especially weightlifting. This was true for both online research and from medical professionals. The worst part was that a lot of this advice came from people who had no experience with pregnancy, fitness, or healthcare. They were just opinions! Profiles in Power is a series of interviews with new moms and moms-to-be about their experiences with fitness, nutrition, weightlifting, mental health, and body image during pregnancy and postpartum. Each experience is different, and hopefully one you can take something away from.
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