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How Do I Return to CrossFit Postpartum?

When you’re an athlete, your sport is part of your identity. You feel more like yourself when you participate in that sport. Think back to a time when you weren’t able to participate for one reason or another. It sucked, right? This is how I felt when I wasn’t able to run or workout to my normal intensity in that early postpartum period after having my kids. The second I went on my first postpartum run my mood immediately changed. I felt more like me again!

So how can you get to this point after having your baby? It’s incredibly frustrating that many women are given next to no guidance on how to return to exercise and sports after having a baby. Let’s fill this knowledge gap and talk about how to return to CrossFit workouts so you can feel like you again!

return to Crossfit

Return to CrossFit = Gradual Process

Early postpartum exercise should include some basic body weight strengthening for your core, pelvic floor, hips, and legs. You need to first build a solid foundation and reconnect to those muscles! The transition from these simple exercises to the return to CrossFit should then be done slowly and progressively. Your body went through significant changes over the span of 9+ months and then went through a major abdominal surgery (C-section) or the marathon workout of a vaginal delivery. It’s going to take AT LEAST that amount of time to feel like you are back to your “normal self,” especially at the gym. For the majority of women, it takes 12 to 15 months or longer to get to that point.

Master the Basics

The first few months postpartum is a great time to really master the basics of CrossFit again and prepare your body for returning to heavy lifts and impact! Let’s talk about some of the areas to focus on to return to CrossFit post-baby:

  1. Bracing
  2. Breathing
  3. Technique
  4. Progressing impact and load

1. Brace Properly

One of the first things I work on with postpartum CrossFitters is proper bracing for lifts. Bracing correctly is SO important for healing of both your abdominals and pelvic floor muscles. Correct bracing will also allow you to lift more, and you’ll be less likely to have issues like peeing your pants! Oftentimes, the deep core muscle we use for bracing can be difficult to find again post-baby, and it will most likely be weak. Below is a video explaining how to find this deep core muscle that you should be using to brace. Strengthening this muscle in addition to working on a proper brace can help quite a bit in returning to lifting.

2. Use Your Whole Diaphragm to Breathe

How we breathe is one of the most powerful tools we can use to manage the pressure in our abdomen, especially when our core is healing. Really?! Let’s talk about why this is.

Think of your core as a soda can. The top of our can is our diaphragm, the bottom is our pelvic floor, and the sides are the deep stabilizing abdominal and back muscles. These muscles all work together to regulate the pressure in our abdomen.

During breathing in, our diaphragm and pelvic floor both move downwards in order to regulate the pressure in our abdominal cavity. When breathing out, our diaphragm and pelvic floor both move up. If you don’t have adequate movement in either of those areas, it can create more pressure in the abdomen than what your recovering pelvic floor is capable of withstanding. When this happens, you will be more likely to pee your pants. Check out the video below that walks through how to use your entire diaphragm and breathe properly.

What About Breath Holding to Lift More?

Let’s be real – lifting more is what we all want, right? Breath holding can be great for creating more spinal stiffness so you can lift more. Cool! BUT holding your breath actually increases your intra-abdominal pressure by 2 to 3 times. Woah! That is A LOT of pressure that your pelvic floor and abdominals have to counteract so you don’t run into issues like peeing your pants. Is my postpartum body ready for that? Maybe!

Every woman’s body and postpartum journey is unique. Some women will be ready for adding breath holding with lifting 2 or 3 months postpartum, while some it may take several months to get to that point. Prior to adding a breath hold, make sure you have no symptoms at that weight WHILE breathing out during the most difficult part of the lift. You don’t have any symptoms? Great! Then try a breath hold at that same weight. If it feels good and you don’t have any symptoms (such as leaking, heaviness, bulging sensation, coning in the abs, etc), slowly increase your weight and repeat this process.

 

3. Hone Your Technique

Now is the time to really focus on mastering your technique! Maintaining a neutral spine during your lifts, running, and jumping is vital, as core alignment can make a HUGE impact on the efficiency and stability of your pelvic floor muscles and entire core system. Are you unsure about your technique and posture during a specific lift, running, or while jumping? Have a friend or coach take a video of you that you can examine or call up your pelvic floor physical therapist!

 

4. The Progression with Return to CrossFit

Progressing Impact

Again, every woman’s postpartum journey is unique. Some women may be ready to return to impact within the first 12 weeks postpartum while others it may take several months. Either way, it’s best to progress from lower impact to higher impact and listen to your body for symptoms!

Here are some lower impact alternatives that are great to start with:

  • Running – first try walking, rowing, or biking
  • Double unders – first try plate taps, lateral hops, or single unders
  • Box jumps – first try box step ups and vary the box height if needed
  • First try no feet variation lifts before adding any foot movement

 

Progressing Load

Now that you’ve got the basics down with your lifts, it’s time to start progressing load! Start with lower weight (even just an empty barbell is a good place to start!). You should not experience any symptoms at this starting weight (if you do – pick a lower weight). Build volume at that load for a week – do that same weight and rep/set volume on 3 days that week. Then increase your weight slowly and gradually – I’m talking an increase of only like 5 to 10# at a time. Repeat this process each week. Build volume at a specific load for a week, then slightly increase the next week.

If at any point you experience symptoms or if it just doesn’t feel right, first check your bracing, breathing and technique. If all those are on point, then it’s best to scale back down to a previous weight that felt good. Build more volume there for another 1 to 2 weeks. Then try increasing again.

 

Listen to Your Body

“Listen to your body” is something many women are told upon return to CrossFit (or really any form of exercise) postpartum. But what does this actually mean? Here are 4 symptoms to watch for as you return to CrossFit:

  • Leaking (any amount and with any activity)
  • Heaviness, pelvic pressure, or a bulging sensation
  • Increased bleeding (if you still have this going on)
  • Pain anywhere (more than just your typical muscle soreness)

These signs are your body’s way of letting you know what you are doing is a little too much right now. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s probably best to scale back a bit or call up your pelvic floor physical therapist.

 

Get CrossFitter Back into Your Identity

It’s time to get back to the sport that you love and feel like a CrossFitter again! First master your basics – bracing, breathing, and technique – and then gradually progress your load and impact. If you experience any amount of leaking, heaviness or pressure, a bulging sensation, or pain anywhere or if you would like guidance with your return to CrossFit, give us a call! Helping women feel their best during the postpartum journey and guiding them in returning to their favorite sport is one of my favorite parts of our job!

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