Why We Should All Approach CrossFit Like Pregnant Women

Guest blog post from Sanitas member/competitor/lawyer/mom/badass, Trina Ruhland

My first day of CrossFit in 2011 — my very first coach at my very first class, Matt Chan, asked each member why they wanted to do CrossFit. Answers ranged from “a hot bod” to “get in shape” to “I’m bored with my workouts.” When my turn came, I had my answer. “To have fun.” I was 25, a former collegiate sprinter/heptathlete fresh out of law school, and craving some of that team camaraderie and competitiveness that I had thrived on for so many years but now missed.

For the next 3.5 years, competitive CrossFit fit my groove.  It was my outlet for my lingering competitive energy and provided me with respite from a mentally and physically demanding career. I podiumed in nearly every local competition I entered, and I went to Regionals, the qualifying competition for the CrossFit Games. I worked hard. I pushed myself. And yes, I had fun.

“despite these modifications, I never felt quite right.”

In late 2014 I found out I was pregnant with my daughter.  “Listen to your body.” “Do what feels good.” That was the leading advice at the time.  I continued working out, modifying in a rather haphazard way based on “feels.”

But despite these modifications, I never felt quite right. And, at 32 weeks pregnant, I ended up in the ER with a fever, an indescribable amount of pain, and a soaring white blood cell count. After an invasive surgery to clear out an exploded appendix, I was left with a 6-inch scar and 8 more weeks of pregnancy.

I’ll never forget the day that I woke up, about 36 weeks pregnant, wondering why I was sore in every muscle in my body. I hadn’t touched a weight, let alone stepped inside a gym or even walked to or around my office in over 8 weeks. I had walked (slowly) around the block the day prior. And when I say I walked around the block, I mean that was the only thing I had done that day.  After all, I was 36 weeks pregnant with 15 very large staples holding together my still-expanding abdomen after an exploded appendix. That was the day when my “why” changed.

“It’s a long-term perspective of my fitness.”

After my first pregnancy, CrossFit wasn’t just about having fun anymore. I had changed, and my Why followed suit. The word that immediately comes to mind is “longevity.” It’s not necessarily a desire to live as long as possible, but rather a desire to live as well as possible — not just in the present but a long time into the future. It’s a long-term perspective of my fitness. I want to climb mountains with my daughter (and now my son, too) when they are adults, and some day in that distant future I want to be able to throw my grandchildren up in the air without worrying about throwing out my back. And yes, maybe I want to be that 55+ masters Games athlete that everyone admires. I’m looking at you, Steve Parsoneault. I’m playing the long game.

“what am I doing today that furthers my Why?”

So why am I thinking about my Why?  My Why informs my “how” and my “what.” I think about it on a daily basis: what am I doing today that furthers my Why? And is how I’m doing it enabling or hindering my Why?

I recognize that my Why may involve what at first appears as a sacrifice of short-term “bounce-backs” or PRs. I’m not here to PR or to bounce back. I’m not bouncing back; I’m bouncing forward. And the only PR I truly care about is making it to old age feeling strong and with as few injuries as possible.

With my second pregnancy I had the good fortune of receiving coaching and guidance from Brianna Battles, pregnancy and postpartum coach to several podium-winning games athletes. Pregnancy and postpartum may feel long when you’re in it, but they are a very short chapter in your athletic career, and she encourages us to acknowledge and respect the massive amount of stress that our bodies undertake at this time.  She encourages her athletes to question the purpose and goal of each workout and each exercise during pregnancy and postpartum. Weigh the risk and reward. Ask yourself: why do I need to do clean & jerks in my second trimester?  Ego? Because I’m worried I’ll lose my fitness? Something else? When you start thinking about this and thinking about your Why, you can make informed decisions.

“On Sunday the gym will do Murph, and while I probably could do Murph Rx with a semi-decent time, I won’t, because that doesn’t align with my Why right now.”

With her coaching in mind, I backed off of hard workouts, certain skills, and intensity during my second pregnancy — and I mean I backed WAY off. I am so glad I did. I am working through my second postpartum recovery now with that mindset. And, for me that means a delay in returning to many of the exercises I love while I take the time to rest and rehabilitate from the stresses of pregnancy.

I am sure you will see me out on the competition floor again. It’s in my genes. But I can’t tell you when. I don’t have any set goals or timeline. Right now I need to really dig deep and respect my Why. Right now my Why means patience.  It means slow, deliberate, and careful reintroduction of exercises. It means carefully modulating my intensity. It means that I analyze my body’s response to each and every exercise. On Sunday the gym will do Murph, and while I probably could do Murph Rx with a semi-decent time, I won’t, because that doesn’t align with my Why right now.

My Why comes to me as an organic combination of my personality and my life circumstances. It has changed as I have changed. Maybe your Why is more short-term: lose 10 lbs, do a competition, hit a PR, recover from an injury. Maybe it’s social: we live in Boulder, CO and everyone expects you to be fit, or perhaps you just want to surround yourself with a supportive environment and pick up some fitness along the way. Maybe your Why has changed like mine has changed. Maybe your Why is multi-faceted. No one can tell you what your Why is. But if you can figure out your Why, it will be much easier to figure out your What, your How, and your When.


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