About 2 months ago, Lea-Ann Ellison posted photos of herself doing CrossFit-style workouts at 8 1/2 months pregnant. CrossFit HQ shared one of these photos on the official CrossFit Facebook Page and suddenly the soon to be mom of 3 was bombarded with an onslaught of negativity. The photo shows Ellison performing an overhead squat (a squat done with a barbell held over the head) with a large belly, the size you would expect it to be about 2 weeks before her due date. While myself and many others lauded her photo as a testament to the amazing abilities of a woman’s body and an inspiring example of fitness and health, there were too many others misguided know-it-alls who decided to berate Lea-Ann over her choice of workout. Such comments included:
“If anything happens to your baby due to your stupidity, I hope you’ll be able to handle your guilt. Pregnancy is NOT the time to be taking stupid risks.”
“Sure you look and sound cool, but we’re only human…why would you risk hurting your baby just to stay in shape? That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. It’s not a time to kick ass, it’s a time to be protective of your unborn child. Normally I’m for crossfit, but this doesn’t make any sense to me”
“That seems a little stupid to be doing while pregnant”
“This is EXACTLY what cross-fit SHOULD NOT BE! I have seen women nearly miscarry due to excessive exercise in the last trimester. This isn’t her staying healthy, this is her being selfish and putting her “looking good” over the health of her baby. But at least she’ll “look good naked.”
I can’t post anymore examples..I just get too worked up reading all this nonsense!!! Now, I am not about to recommend CrossFit as an exercise regime for every pregnant woman (and I say that as an experienced CrossFit coach) but for women who were doing CrossFit before they got pregnant there is no reason to stop. Obviously, some modifications need to be made in order to safely continue participating in CrossFit-style workouts during pregnancy (I will be posting tips on this in the future) but it is not the radical and dangerous program that many people think it is. That being said, I would caution women who want to continue participating in CrossFit group classes while pregnant to listen to the advice of their doctor first and find a trainer that has knowledge about working with pregnant clients. From my own experience as a CrossFit coach, not all trainers are qualified to train or make recommendations to pregnant clients. Make sure you are informed about what is safe, listen to your doctor, and listen to your body!
Back to Ellison’s controversial picture, contrary to popular belief, weight-training can be both a safe and beneficial aspect of a pregnancy fitness program. It’s simply a matter of how much weight that will vary from person-to-person and will depend on pre-pregnancy weight-training experience. While the overhead squat picture certainly looks very impressive and maybe a little shocking, as long as Ellison lifts weights that are a bit scaled back from her normal pre-pregnancy loads (about 50-75%) she can safely continue performing most of the same exercises she was doing before with no problem. In fact this is the most important principle of pregnancy fitness: you can continue doing the same workout routine you were following before becoming pregnant just at a reduced intensity/loading/volume etc. It is even ok for women to start a fitness program when they become pregnant even if they never did anything before pregnancy but there are definitely some different safety considerations in that case (I will post more information for women in this situation later).
The exercise Ellison is performing in the contentious photo is not stupid or risky as many of the commentators alleged provided it is done with low to moderate weight and decent level of familiarity with the movement. Weight-training, which can safely include movements like the overhead squat, can be very beneficial during pregnancy. Weight or resistance training helps build the strength needed to compensate for postural changes and the weight gain that occurs during pregnancy. It also helps women better prepare for the rigors of caring for her new baby including repetitive lifting and carrying. Honestly, I think part of the outcry over this picture is that we, as a culture, are still not used to seeing women, especially moms, lifting weights heavier than 3-5 lb dumbbells. It’s no wonder that people are shocked when they see the image of an 8 month plus pregnant woman overhead squatting what appears to be 35-45 lbs! One of the things I love most about CrossFit and it’s growing popularity is that images of strong women lifting weights and challenging their fitness have become more and more common. Sadly, some people cannot accept the notion of women lifting weights and the strength and confidence that it gives us…so they have to put us down pregnant or not.
Thankfully, Lea-Ann Ellison knows that she is doing exactly what she needs to be doing to stay healthy for her and her baby. Working out and lifting weights is not selfish…to not do those things and use pregnancy as an excuse to sit on your butt and eat junk foods is selfish. And, sure, she may even look better naked because of it too!