The Crossfit Open. Five weeks of workouts that reach people across the globe. This competition isn’t just for the elite, it’s for athletes of all levels to participate and reach goals you have been chasing all year.  The Open is the perfect time to test your limits, to crash through quitting points and to surprise yourself. Most gyms choose a night of the week where their community comes together to compete and surround one another with vocal encouragement and support. The Open is a time like no other.

The days and weeks leading up to the Open are full of pleas and prods for everyone to participate. We encourage those who are nervous, who haven’t participated before or who doubt their ability to accomplish their goals. As folks pay the fee and officially register, we put their names on the whiteboard and they post their confirmation on their IG accounts. This “everyone else is doing it” environment can be healthy for some, but can also make it difficult to say no.

For the postpartum or pregnant mom, it is critical to evaluate your decision to participate in the Open. “Everyone is doing it” should not be your reason for participation. Our bodies are in a vulnerable position and we must be intentional with our activity and intensity every day.

I want every momma out there to have the tools to make the best decision for her body. I want you to be equipped to say no even if everyone else is saying yes. For the purposes of our discussion today, I am addressing participation in the Open with the intent to complete the workouts as prescribed or the scaled version. I am not addressing those who choose to participate for fun, with modified workouts and no judge.

I sit here, 8 weeks postpartum, evaluating my own participation in this competition that I love. As I try to decide if I will sign up, several thoughts and justifications run through my mind. Perhaps these statements have crossed your mind as well?

A “fit pregnancy” is my goal. Isn’t the Open the perfect place for me to showcase my fitness?

I hate the term “fit pregnancy” as I feel it has pushed many women to pursue exercise routines during pregnancy that were unfit and unsafe. I’ve heard stories of coaches encouraging women to push through their symptoms so they can keep their “fit pregnancy” dreams alive. When we look at our IG feed, we see women lifting heavy weight, running, and jumping with their big ole bump just holding on for the ride, so we feel we should do the same. I’ve worked with many women who wished they knew more about the complications from working out at strenuous levels through their pregnancies. There are many pelvic floor and core friendly workouts available, but performing inappropriate movements at high intensity during pregnancy will set you back after delivery.

A “fit pregnancy” is certainly the goal but lifting at the same level of intensity and sticking with movements that put your core in compromising positions during pregnancy as you did before does not achieve the goal. A “fit pregnancy” is one where you move, you eat healthily and you prepare your body for delivery and postpartum life. It does not mean you chase the PRs, lift heavy weights or make sure your scores top the leaderboard. That is often the opposite of remaining fit while pregnant.

I have been released by my doctor so I am good to go.

First and foremost, a medical clearance from your MD is a must for any pregnant or postpartum momma to exercise in general, much less participate in the Open.

I was released 4 weeks after baby Banks was born. My doctor released me without knowledge of my athletic goals and no evaluation of my abdominal wall or pelvic floor. A doctor’s release is permission to begin to work toward your athletic goals, not a “return to what you were doing before you were pregnant.” Nothing magical happens at 6-8 weeks postpartum that allows us all to return to exercise. A slow, methodical and gradual return is required – which takes months for tissues to return to pre-pregnancy status. Many movements, especially in Crossfit, should be postponed while our bodies recover from pregnancy. Returning to the movements before we are ready will cause more damage than good. Newly released mothers are at high risk for damage to her abdominal muscles, pelvic floor as well as other joints due to weakness, poor control, and elasticity. 

I strongly encourage every mom to see a Pelvic Floor PT after giving birth. They will do an in-depth evaluation of your body to ensure your return to sport is safe and appropriate for you at this time. The PFPT is a great resource–if you see one, ask for their thoughts on your participation in the Open.

I’m not pregnant anymore. There’s no risk for baby, I should get out there.

Unfortunately, there is no timeline or algorithm to which we can refer to determine the right time to return to full sport. However, there are some factors we must consider to help us navigate.

  • Research says our tissues do not return to a resting or “pre-pregnancy” state until up to a year postpartum.
  • Breastfeeding moms still have hormones present that increase elasticity. This puts mom at greater risk of injury.
  • It takes weeks or months to reintroduce our bodies to the movements and intensity at which we once trained. Our tissues must be loaded slowly in order to decrease the risk for pelvic organ prolapse, diastasis recti, as well as pelvic and low back pain.
  • Sleep deprivation and hormones also hinder a woman from participating in high-intensity workouts without risk of injury.
  • Symptoms such as pelvis or joint pain, pelvic floor pressure, urine leakage or abdominal coning do not need to be ignored or allowed during workouts.  These are signs of poor pressure management and decreased tissue tolerance – and are far from “normal” or “expected” after a baby.

With those factors in mind, if you have not had an opportunity to re-introduce each CrossFit movement into your training schedule as well as slowly build to heavier weights, you should pass on the Open this year. If you experience any of the symptoms above, this tells you that you are not ready for full return, and potentially, might be suffering from a greater dysfunction.  No woman, no matter how fit, is above a methodical return to exercise. Whether you are new to working out or an elite athlete, it is crucial to give your body time and plan for graded exposure to activity. Bottom line: the Open is not a place to do a movement or a weight for the first time postpartum or during pregnancy. It is not a time to ignore yellow flags or symptoms telling us our bodies are just not ready yet. 

So should I do the open this year?

I wish there was a specific time table or questionnaire I could pass along to tell you if it’s time to return to full exercise or to participate in the Open. Smart, knowledgeable people have created some great resources for us to help us navigate this time, like Brianna Battles Postpartum timeline.  However, the timetable varies based on each individual and even each pregnancy. We respect our healing bodies, consult with professionals, and make the decision that is best for us at this specific time. Saying no to the Open might be the hardest and most effective exercise you do this year. If you’re at all unsure about your participation, you have nothing to lose in sitting one out. However, you have a lot to lose if you jump in too early and do too much.

Personally, I’m sitting this one out. But don’t mistake sitting it out for sitting around. I am working hard over here. I have returned to exercise and am focusing on work that builds my aerobic capacity and strengthens my pelvic floor and core. I am making progress that will pay off for years to come and will, no doubt, affect my future pregnancies. I will see you all next year at the Open and I’ll be stronger than ever.