IS CROSSFIT REALLY SO BAD FOR FIT, POSTPARTUM MOMS?
By Wendy Powell
The increasingly popular culture and big business of Crossfit has caused quite a ruckus of late among us women's health professionals. And with very good reason, since any workout which actually causes women to occasionally urinate on themselves has got to have you asking 'Really? You do this to make you strong? And you can't hold in your pee?' Ain't nothin' strong about wetting yourself, Lady.
But beyond the bashing, is Crossfit bad for Moms?
The promo video on the Crossfit website finishes with the tagline "People come to our gyms and say, 'where's all the machines?'. And we say, hey, we're the machines!" See, actually we rather like that. No gym machines, just our own awesome bodies doing the awesome natural movement our bodies are designed to do. Crossfit defines itself* as "A regimen of constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity". And the basic moves that Crossfit workouts are grounded in: squats, hanging, swinging or pulling our own body weight, jumping, lifting, climbing - are exactly that. So far, so awesome.
But then we get to the intensity, the sheer tear-inducing, pee-inducing intensity of the workouts. The website instructs you* to only "jump straight in" if "you've had exposure to Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, and gymnastics". Hmmm. And for the rest of us? Never fear Fellow Mom, [sarcasm warning] I found a Crossfit Workout of the Day aimed directly at beginner or new Moms, suggesting we modify by performing just the 3 rounds of 12 'Elbows to Knees' reps rather than 5. Wow.
But, you know what, these exercises can be good exercises...
...IF YOUR CORE IS SUPER STRONG, SUPER STABLE, OPTIMALLY ALIGNED DURING MOVEMENT + ABSOLUTELY 100% FUNCTIONAL.
Because then it will be able to withstand the extreme pressure exerted within your abdominal and pelvic cavity every time you Pull Up, Double-Under (jumping rope. Really, really fast), or Crunch.
And your core and pelvic floor muscles will do their job and your whole body as well as your abs will get all hard and defined and OBVIOUSLY you won't wet yourself. Because that would be silly.
But here's the rub. If you're postpartum (which means you had a baby last month, last year or like, ever), there is a very distinct possibility that your core is absolutely none of those things.
WHICH MEANS THE FOLLOWING WILL HAPPEN WHEN YOU PULL UP, DOUBLE UNDER OR CRUNCH:
(Even if you consider yourself to be fit, healthy and relatively strong. And if you don't, the following will definitely happen).
1. Your abs will strain outwards creating, or more likely worsening an already existing, Diastasis Recti. They might strain so hard you'll create a hernia. At best, your abdominal muscles will develop a firm but pooched or protruding, rather than flat, appearance.
2. Your pelvic floor will be put under immense strain and your pelvic floor muscles will be further weakened. They may be entirely ineffective, or they may be hypertonic, but either way, they're weak and they won't hold in what they're supposed to hold in. So you'll wet yourself. Or worse. They might be under so much strain you create or worsen a pelvic organ prolapse.
Functional in their foundation, these are moves that have been around forever and that our bodies are designed to, at some level, and without added load beyond our own bodyweight, be able to perform with relative ease.
BUT, and this is really important especially for postpartum women: mostly they CAN'T - at any level, not without a LOT of foundation core work... NONE of which is explained or instructed**. When you bring in the rather pertinent factor of a body that has recently given birth to a baby, the idea of embarking on these intensive workouts is absurd, or dangerous, or possibly both.
YOU CANNOT STRENGTHEN NON-OPTIMALLY FUNCTIONING ABS BY DOING MORE, AND HARDER AB EXERCISES.
You'll only make them weaker and even less functional. You have to back up, and build the foundations first. You'll know if + when your postpartum body is ready for crossfit when you listen to it's very, very clear signals.
SO IF YOU'RE A MOM WHO WANTS TO GET 'BACK IN SHAPE' + STRONG AGAIN, IS CROSSFIT A BAD WORKOUT CHOICE?
If your core isn't already functional and able to withstand intra-abdominal pressure with full integrity, yes I believe it is.
If you don't progress very very gradually through a core restoration program first, and then apply everything you learnt mindfully and with total connection every time you workout, then yes I believe it is.
ARE CROSSFIT EXERCISES BAD EXERCISES?
No, I don't think they are. The 'hardcore' culture and language, the extreme intensity of work, the competition, the yelling... they may not be everyone's preference. But plenty of people love it. Climbing, squatting, lifting, jumping and hanging, along with Paleo-infuenced food recommendations are the foundations of many great functional and natural movement based workouts.
IN MY OPINION CROSSFIT IS NOT A SUITABLE POSTPARTUM WORKOUT.
A woman's core needs a whole lot of reconnection, engagement and strengthening before it should even be considered. I also believe there is a woeful lack of core stability preparation, instruction or even discussion, and zero postpartum considerations.
But you know what, I'm not sure Crossfit purports to be a suitable postpartum recovery program. In fact it claims the workouts are "extremely demanding and will tax the capacities of even the world's best athletes"*.
So maybe this is a case for taking some personal responsibility for our informed choices and decisions.
Please, Moms... There is NO badge of honour attached to wetting yourself when you workout. A protruding abdomen or a leaky pelvic floor is a sign of extreme core WEAKNESS, not strength.
Postpartum Fitness Specialist and Founder of MuTu® System