You may have seen the recent story about a mother of two, 8 months pregnant with her third, and continuing to workout lifting weights. As the story goes, the mother posted photos of herself lifting a heavy barbell on Facebook along with the boast “8 months pregnant with baby number 3 and CrossFit has been my sanity.” The woman’s Facebook profile also states her goal to be a HOT mom. The images and ideas quickly went viral and elicited a slew of responses ranging from support and encouragement to shaming and warning. The controversy caught the media’s attention, and so here we are, in the midst of a debate about women exercising while pregnant.
As the hysteria came to my attention, I couldn’t resist taking a stand and speaking out on the matter. Just last month I wrote a post on this very topic exercising while pregnant and so it seems we now have more to discuss on this matter. My short answer is yes, I support exercising while pregnant. But, I must re-emphasize being smart about it. So let’s explore the issues to make sure you are informed and can decide for yourself about the health benefits of exercising while pregnant. And if you want to pass judgment on this woman, that’s up to you.
First, let’s define pregnancy.
What is Pregnancy?
According to the article above, an undisclosed ‘medical professional’ was among those leaving supportive comments on the woman’s Facebook page stating, “I find it appalling the number of people who treat pregnancy as an illness.” This is an irresponsible and misleading comment.
While pregnancy might not be classified as an illness (pregnancy is a condition a woman’s biology is meant to support), it is, in fact, a physically compromised condition. Biologically speaking, pregnancy is a biotrophic parasitic condition. What this means is that the host (mother) is supporting a parasite (the fetus) that relies on the survival of the host to ensure its own survival. If you have ever been pregnant, you know that this is an accurate description, so please don’t shoot the messenger. The point is, that a pregnant woman’s resources are depleted as they are being used to support the fetus. This is in large part why pregnant women often feel tired, hungry and stressed.
Another biological fact about pregnancy is a condition known as joint laxity. During pregnancy, the body releases a hormone called Relaxin. Like its name implies, this hormone relaxes the connective tissue and ligaments to allow the rib cage to expand to make room for the baby and expands the pelvis to make room for the delivery. So, a pregnant woman is in fact in a physically compromised state given that her resources are being depleted and her joints are now vulnerable because of Relaxin flowing throughout her body. With these two biological changes, exercise recommendations during pregnancy should take these changes in consideration.
Next, let’s define exercise.
What is Exercise?
Physical exercise has been defined as any activity that enhances or maintains physical fitness and overall health and wellness. Exercise can range from acts of gardening and housecleaning to running, Pilates, weight training, bicycling and the list goes on and on. Not much of a definition is it? So let’s try this.
“Exercise is a process whereby the body performs work of a demanding nature, in accordance with muscle and joint function . . . within the constraints of safety, meaningfully loading the muscular system to stimulate a growth mechanism. . .” -The First Definition of Exercise, By Ken Hutchins
First and foremost exercise should be safe. This rule applies whether you are pregnant or not. As mentioned, the exercise that this California mother has chosen for her fitness program is CrossFit™. CrossFit™ is about as safe as playing Russian roulette. Doctors are familiar with a condition where the muscle cells actually explode and die from overuse, known as Rhabdomyolysis. Yes, this is as awful and potentially lethal as it sounds. Exertional Rhabdomyolysis is a rare condition usually only seen in extreme physical conditioning programs such as those used by elite military regimes. Yet, it has now become a somewhat common occurrence, in varying degrees of severity, in association with CrossFit™ training. Believe it or not, serious injuries are an accepted outcome to Crossfitters. The founder of Crossfit™, Greg Glassman, has said, “It can kill you. I’ve always been completely honest about that.”
So while this California Hot mom might be an exception to the cautionary rules regarding safe exercise and the risks associated with CrossFit™, her participation while pregnant is selfish and reckless. Her ego has clouded her judgment and her actions send a dangerous message to other expectant moms. So yes, this woman deserves to take a lot of criticism; not for exercising while pregnant, but for exercising unsafely and in the extreme to fulfill her ego driven goal to be a ‘HOT mom’ rather than choosing to be a healthy mom who doesn’t risk her own life or the life of her unborn child.
Now let’s take an even closer look at what this woman is doing wrong in her exercise program (photos included) and explore smarter, safer choices.
Too Much Exertion, Not Enough Rest
First, the woman states that she works out 5 days a week. This regimen does not provide enough rest in between workouts. Once again, pregnant or not, there is the need to give the body a chance to recover and repair itself, and allow new muscle to grow. I’ve discussed the need for rest in a post that covers adequate sleep and allowing enough time between exercises to let the muscles repair and grow stronger. Rest is one of the three pillars of the Power-of-10 system.
Athletics vs. Exercise and Safe vs. Unsafe
Next, let’s take a look at one of her now famous photos, side-by-side with one of our own, of a HOT mom, 8 months pregnant, working out at InForm Fitness.
The California woman squatting and lifting weights over her head while her body is compromised with joint laxity is reckless. This position is reckless for anyone, but especially for a woman who is 8 months into her pregnancy. She is performing an Olympic lift known as The Snatch which actually requires more skill than it does strength. The focus of this move is competitive, not personal health and fitness. As with all physical sports, there is a demand placed on the muscles which can result in increased strength, but that doesn’t make it an exercise. One of the most important reasons it shouldn’t be practiced as an exercise is that it is not safe.The lower back muscles in particular were never meant to carry the type of load demanded by this lift and only a slight move in the wrong direction can spell disaster at any point. If you would like to see what I mean, and have the stomach for it, check out this video from the 2012 Olympics to see just how dangerous this move can be.
In contrast, let’s look at our photo. Our client is working the same muscle groups while pregnant. She, however, is getting lumbar support angled properly to make room for her belly, breathing properly and getting the same muscular benefits, but with practically no risk to mother or fetus while working out under the guidance of a qualified and experienced fitness instructor every step of the way. So, you tell me. Which method would you choose when expectant with a precious new human life (or otherwise)?
Giving birth is an event of epic proportions and being physically fit is a key factor in the health and wellbeing of both mother and child. Optimal fitness will also play a major role in the mother’s recovery after giving birth. Exercising while pregnant is the right thing to do once cleared to do so by your OB GYN professional. Then give us a call and we will start you on the Power-of-10 program providing personal training that is safe and efficient.