By Lisa Horning | Photos by David Harrison
Many Women continue their exercise regimen throughout their pregnancies, but you wouldn’t expect an intense workout like CrossFit to be right for this so-called delicate condition.
Some Southern Indiana women are showing that delicate is out and strong is in.
Renee Belcher, whose baby is due April 16, owns Four Barrel CrossFit with her husband, Case. Belcher has been doing CrossFit for years, so continuing through her pregnancy made sense.
CrossFit is a program that offers a full-body workout that combines elements of many types of exercise, including cardio, weight lifting, gymnastics, core training and more to prepare the body for the unexpected. CrossFitters workout at gyms known as “boxes.”
Case Belcher started coaching first; then Renee, 33, followed. “I got into it because he was coaching in Louisville. We were both pretty competitive and athletic,” she said. “It was hard at first because I was not the type to lift anything. I looked at weights, and I would just rather run for hours. The beauty of CrossFit is that there’s little goals that you set for yourself, and there are things that you never knew you could do, but then you’re like, ‘Oh!’”
Early in her pregnancy, Belcher was still running, but she found that it just wasn’t comfortable because her baby was sitting so low in her pelvis. While lots of women run throughout their pregnancy, it just wasn’t right for her. “Everyone will tell you, listen to your body, and that’s so true,” she said. “Some things just feel funny. Each trimester, you kind of have to cut out certain things. Some women can run throughout their pregnancy; I just couldn’t.”
Dr. Sarah Price, of Norton Women’s Specialists, said that the main benefit of exercise during pregnancy is to maintain a healthy weight. “We recommend a 25- to 35-pound weight gain, which makes gestational diabetes less likely, and keeping up your physical fitness makes it easier to return to a normal weight after birth,” she said. “Obese women are at an increased risk for C-sections, and maintaining a normal weight decreases complications.”
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that pregnant women get 20 to 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise daily. ACOG also says pregnancy is an ideal time for behavior modification and adopting a healthy lifestyle because of increased motivation and frequent visits with a doctor. Patients are more likely to control their weight, increase physical activity and improve their diet if their doctor recommends it.
Ali Glotzbach, 33, of New Albany, did CrossFit through both of her pregnancies, with her daughter Sloane, 3 and a half, and son Griffin, 14 months.
“I’ve always worked out,” she said. “I was a college athlete, so it was just part of me. This was no different.”
Glotzbach played volleyball at Michigan State University. “I joined CrossFit two years before I got pregnant. The good thing about CrossFit is that you can modify most anything to suit your needs.”
It also made Glotzbach feel a lot better during and after her pregnancies, she said. “It kept my energy up and for post-pregnancy, it made it easier to stay fit. I felt pretty damn good!”
Dr. Price said she always recommends women continue activity as long as there is no risk for abdominal trauma or a bad fall. So, no skiing, mountain biking or horseback riding, but running and other fitness regimens are OK.
“Having more muscle mass doesn’t help with delivery per se, but it does help with overall health and helps you maintain a normal weight,” she said. “For a lot of women, pregnancy is the biggest weight gain of their lives. So, staying fit helps the mom’s overall health.”
Belcher found that her energy level comes and goes. “First trimester, you’re probably a little more tired, but you get more blood volume. It’s doing workouts with built-in rest. … It’s hard with CrossFit because you can be tired no matter what because you’re going against the clock. You don’t know if you’re just tired or it’s the workout.”
As a coach, Belcher cautions pregnant women not to do any abdominal exercises while pregnant. “Don’t do any crunches. No direct core work because your abs are going to separate, (which is) called diastasis recti,” she said. “Pregnant women think they should train their core, but that’s not true. You don’t want to do anything that’s going to cause the abdominal muscles to separate.”
She said some doctors have told women not to lift anything heavier than a water bottle, but Belcher disputes that. “How else are you going to carry that car seat? That thing is heavy!”
She also believes that her workouts have helped to stabilize her body while pregnant. “Most women just waddle, but you want to keep everything nice and tight. Not like a sit-up, but through your back,” she said. “We’ll do squats with weights. You never realize the stuff you can do when you’re pregnant.”
Price also cautioned that joints are more easily injured during pregnancy because the hormones loosen up the joints to prepare the pelvis for delivery. But other joints are affected and can be injured, too, so be careful. “Listen to your body,” she said. Don’t exercise too strenuously, Belcher also cautioned. Any workout that causes the mother’s heart rate to rise to above 120 beats per minute can cause blood flow to shunt away from the baby. So, stay below that level and drink as much water or calorie-free fluids as you can.
The recommended calorie addition for pregnancy is only 300 calories (500 extra once baby is born and if you’re nursing), Price said, though many women are hungrier than that. In the second trimester, most of the weight gain is fat deposits in preparation for breast feeding. In the third trimester, it’s the baby and placenta.
Belcher said she’s had decreased back and knee pain, thanks to her workout regimen.
“We train the posterior chain a little bit more,” she said. The posterior chain is a group of muscles in the back of the body, including the biceps femoris, gluteus maximus, erector spinae muscle group, trapezius and posterior deltoids. “Three exercises we do are squats, good mornings and lunges.” They help stabilize the body against the added weight in the front, she said.
Four Barrel has several members who are obstetricians, and they help give advice to pregnant members on their workouts, too, Belcher said.
Glotzbach said she did get some grief from her husband when she was doing rope climbs while pregnant, but otherwise, she liked the way CrossFit made her feel. A group at Four Barrel challenged her husband, Justin, to workout alongside her with a 20-pound medicine ball strapped to his middle to simulate her body. He learned quickly what challenges she faced.
Both of her deliveries went smoothly, quickly and were uneventful, Glotzbach said. Though it’s unclear if this is directly attributable to her fitness, she said she would tell any woman who wants to work out while pregnant, “Go for it! (Do) any little thing you can do to make you feel like you’re healthy. It’s a mental thing.”
Belcher also touts the psychological effects of fitness, but especially CrossFit. “It’s for your 80-year-old grandma or your 13-year-old cousin,” she said. “You hear a lot of bad things about it, that there are a lot of injuries, and there are. There are good boxes and bad boxes. We (at Four Barrel) like to keep people as healthy as they can, as far as warming them up and doing corrective exercises before the workout.
“You start to see yourself differently, and you start to not care about the external stuff. It’s the beauty of the results and not the external results. There’s a never-ending amount of goals that you could attain.”
If you are pregnant, please consult with a medical professional before assuming any type of exercise regimen.