A First Trimester Review

High-Intensity Work-outs and Pregnancy

A First Trimester Review

aly sam workout

Aly Culp



I learned about high-intensity WODs from my brother in 2011.  While my whole family was encouraging me to continue them, I was too chicken to continue while I was pregnant.  As a first-time mom, I lived with one goal: keep my baby safe, healthy, and bring him into this world unharmed.  There were too many fears in my head about high-intensity WODs: my heart rate shouldn’t be above 140 BPM, I don’t want to get over-heated, jumping and “slamming” my body around (think burpees, jump rope, box jumps) was too dangerous, I was not supposed to lift anything over 25 pounds.  All of these concerns were out of fear that I would do something to injure my baby.

While my baby was delivered (and still is) healthy and happy, my body and self-confidence struggled getting back to “normal.”  I suffered from lower back and excruciating shoulder pain from holding and carrying my son constantly while he was an infant.  I finally decided that I could not live in pain anymore.  About eight months after my son was born I started the WOD Foundations Course so that I could get a good base and ensure I was doing the movements with correct form.  I quickly realized that I should have been doing these types of work-outs my whole life; especially throughout my first pregnancy.  Little did I know that I would become so in love with this type of work-out!  Since then, I got my Level 1 CrossFit Trainer certificate in June of 2013 and even started coaching a few classes at my local box.

While I was super excited to be working-out again, getting stronger, seeing results in my body, my mood, and my lifestyle, I had this lingering question of could I be pregnant and safely continue my WODs?  Well, I recently found myself pregnant again and have now gone through my first trimester with my second little one and thrilled to say, “Yes!  I am still working out!”  As most pregnant women would, I scoured the internet for resources on high-intensity work-outs during pregnancy and, well…. -there just aren’t many out there.  All of the old medical standards and warnings (heart rate, lifting too much weight) still seem to be the norm from most physicians.   Fortunately, I discovered I am not alone in my quest to continue my path to greater fitness throughout my pregnancy, and was able to compile some great testimonials, blogs, and other resources on high-intensity work-outs during pregnancy that are proving the old methods of thinking to be false.

With all the backlash from Lea-Ann Ellison’s picture showing her weightlifting at 8 months pregnant, there is even more information, and unfortunately misinformation, regarding what a pregnant women’s body can truly handle.  I was excited to see all of this commotion and the attention it has brought to pregnancy and the importance of working-out before, during, and after pregnancy.  Hopefully now we will get some solid research going on this subject.

Just to clarify…. I am NOT a doctor, and I have no medical experience or expertise.  I am not writing to give advice. I just want to share my personal experience of continuing my high-intensity work-outs through pregnancy in hopes to encourage other mommies to do the same (at their own level of course).  I am not classified as a “high risk” pregnancy and had been doing high-intensity WODs for 6 months prior to becoming pregnant.


The “Guidelines”

There are so many “rules” about exercise during pregnancy.  I remember with my first pregnancy was scared to do anything more than walk at a moderate pace.  Now, I realize that I can do more, safely, and be healthier and have a more comfortable pregnancy for it.  A healthy mom makes a healthy baby.  Here are some points that I do take into consideration:

  • Take the intensity down during pregnancy.  This is important because your body busy is making more blood, which is putting your heart into overtime pumping it through, which makes it easy to get out of breath.
  • During the first trimester you can probably continue to use your normal weights, however maxing is not recommended.
  • During WODs, focus more on technique rather than time and weight. Rest more frequently in-between each exercise and/or rounds, especially in first and third trimesters.
  • Joints become flexible due to the pregnancy hormones relaxin and progesterone so keep this in mind during squats and when doing box jumps.  With added flexibility, emphasis should be put on stability.  Learning how to stabilize your spine, hips, and shoulders during these movements is what we have been practicing all along.  Now it is time to make learning that our #1 priority.
  • I made the switch to step-ups around 10 weeks.  You can also switch to a lower box.
  • Reduce weight when you feel it’s necessary.  Stick to a 70-80% intensity rule of thumb when training during your pregnancy. Your center of gravity changes significantly from 20+ weeks which will affect lifts and how weights are carried/lifted.  Instead of changing technique and putting your body in less than optimal positions, choose not to do some movements (clean, snatch, burpee), especially as your belly grows and inhibits your bar path.
  • Low blood pressure is a common symptom of pregnancy.  Be careful when doing movements that require you to go from high to low or low to high.  Think burpees.  I love these “pregnant burpees” that crossfitmom.com suggests: “Stand in front of a wall or elevated surface (such as a box or tire). Do a squat. At the top of the squat, do a push up against the wall or elevated surface. This equals 1 burpee.”
  • Listen to YOUR body.  YOU know yourself best; what you can and can’t handle.  If you were not doing high intensity work-outs before pregnancy, you may want to use this time to concentrate on form and definitely keep your weight light and manageable.
My Experiences

Staying motivated throughout my first trimester was extremely challenging.  Most mornings it was all I could do to make myself get up out of bed to work-out.  I experienced a lot of morning sickness as well as extreme fatigue, however I found that it I made myself get up and work out, I actually felt better, and wasn’t nauseous during work-outs.  Make a goal to work-out 2-3 days a week, and listen to your body.  Everything feels so different right now and if you are suffering from morning sickness that only makes it more challenging.

Eating and Hydration

It is also more important now to stay hydrated.  Drink water before, during, and after your work-outs and do not allow yourself to get overheated.  Many of us are doing these work-outs in our garages and outside.  Be sure to take extra precaution during the summer months, and again, listen to your body.  Dehydration can lead to medical concerns for everyone, but especially a pregnant woman.  Remember to never work-out on an empty stomach.  I usually have a banana or granola bar before a work-out.  I find on work-out days I am starving all day!  This was challenging at the beginning because I had a lot of food aversions.  My Paleo diet had to be thrown out the window for the first trimester.  The thought of meat made me sick, even if I just smelled it.  In order to get the protein I needed I relied on eggs and whey protein powder mixed with water.  There are some great whey protein recipes out there too if you’re into that.  I didn’t have the energy to cook or prepare anything more than a bowl of cereal or scramble some eggs.


Almost immediately I noticed a huge difference in my breathing.  Your heart is hard at work pumping that extra blood your body is making.  I had to take more breaks and remind myself to take down the intensity.  I was so thirsty!  Drinking water before, during, and after my work-outs was a must.  This also forced me into breaks because then I had to pee more frequently.


Personally, I did not feel the need to drop weight from my lifts or squats during my first trimester, however, I did not go for a personal record or max.  I typically worked up to about 80% of my max.  I did drop my kettlebell weight about 10 lbs. because going from low to high and “popping” my hips with a lighter weight was more comfortable.  I also made sure I was continuing to breathe throughout each movement and lift and not hold my breath.


Although a little slower, running and jumping rope continued as usual for the first 12 weeks.  Box jumps were okay until about week 10 when I switched to step-ups so I didn’t risk falling into or off the box.  Box jumps for me are such a mental game, that I can easily lose concentration and slip up.  Step ups have been working great, and I am actually faster at them!

Overall, I am happy to share that my work-out regimen has remained the same and I have easily been able to scale and modify the intensity and load to accommodate my growing and changing body.

Be encouraged and know that continuing your work-outs throughout your pregnancy is one of the best things you can do for you and your baby.  I look forward to sharing more as I progress as well as the benefits to mom and baby from continuing a work-out regimen throughout pregnancy.

Products I Find Helpful During Pregnancy
  • Zensah compression sleeves – My body swells during pregnancy (lucky me!).  I have found these leg compression sleeves to be incredibly helpful.  I wear them at all different times (during my work-outs, in the evenings, and even while I sleep).
  • Maternity support belt – This is super helpful for running as your belly grows.  Helps a lot with the bouncing, especially on the bladder.  Also helpful to use during lifts.  Almost acts like a little weight belt.
  • Tervis Tumbler water bottle – Keeps my ice water nice and cold for hours.
  • Thick socks – something like Thorlo – Helps comfort my swollen feet.
  • Reebok Nanos


Expecting pic

WOD at Home Mom Pregnancy WODs are here!

We are thrilled to announce that have released another addition to your WOD at Home membership!  Our WOD at Home Mom Pregnancy WODS will support you through your 9 months of pregnancy providing:

  • Daily Movement and Mobility to prepare you for the day’s work-out,
  • Dynamic Warm-up,
  • Skill/Strength work,
  • Daily-updated WODs strategically planned and tested with details and instructions you will not get from other WOD websites,
  • Cool-down,
  • Exactly how to scale or modify each movement for your stage of pregnancy, fitness limitations, or due to equipment limitations,
  • Movement pictures and links to online videos explaining each of the movements in the WOD, so there are no questions about if you are doing the correct move or performing it safely.

Get your Pregnancy WODs here!


Are you getting ready for pregnancy?

Get started with WOD at Home now and take advantage of WOD at Home’s work-out sample that will have you on the path to the best health and fitness of your life.  You will seamlessly be able to incorporate the WOD at Home Mom work-outs as soon as they are available in early 2014!


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