CrossFit, Pregnancy/Postpartum

9 Essential Tools For Coaching Pregnant & Postpartum Athletes

I wasn’t always as knowledgeable about pregnant and postpartum athleticism as I am now. For those of you that may not know me, my name is Kerri Grace and I am the owner of Grace Fitness and Nutrition. I started my coaching journey about 6 years ago in CrossFit and have since also gotten my USAW Level 1, Precision Nutrition Level 1, CrossFit Level 2, Online Training Certification, have passed Brianna Battles’ Pregnancy and Postpartum Athleticism Course, and am currently studying for the Girls Gone Strong Pre-Postnatal Certification. As a Pregnancy and Postpartum Athleticism Coach, it’s become my mission to spread the word that there IS evidence-based information out there when it comes to supporting our Mamas and Mamas-to-Be during these chapters.

We can’t all specialize in everything, it’s just impossible. This is what I’ve chosen to specialize in, and would love to share some of my knowledge and experience with other Coaches to hopefully help them feel a little more empowered with some new tools, and maybe a different perspective, to coach their pregnant and postpartum athletes. So, here goes…

I used to ask my pregnant and postpartum athletes if they had any restrictions from their Dr. and then told them to listen to their bodies. If something hurt or was uncomfortable, stop. If they couldn’t perform a specific move, I’d help them modify or swap to another movement until they were comfortable. Maybe this sounds familiar to you. Maybe you already have more information available to you, than I did. If that’s the case I am so incredibly happy! I am more than willing to admit that I was completely in the dark when it came to this population. In not one of my previous certification classes was the pelvic floor mentioned nor do I recall any information specific to pregnant and postpartum women. This isn’t their wheelhouse though, just like it may not be yours. And that’s ok. Like I said, we can’t all specialize in everything. My goal today is to shine some light on the subject and share some basic information regarding pelvic floor health and working with pregnant and postpartum women that have really elevated my coaching game.

When you hear the words “pelvic floor” you most likely don’t associate it with lifting or the gym, and it might even make you shudder a little bit. That’s ok. I used to be the same way. It took my own journey to pay attention to the words pelvic floor. As a pregnant athlete in this position, I felt alone and sometimes like I just didn’t know what to do. Whether it is true or just my perception, I’ve always felt as though as a Coach I didn’t receive much coaching myself. This was also true during my pregnancy and often times I just said to myself, ok listen to your body and we can do this. It did leave me with lots of unanswered questions and feeling like I was on my own in my journey. Honestly, I still do sometimes. I want to put a stop to women feeling this way.

Listening to your body just isn’t enough.

It took my own journey through pregnancy and postpartum to realize this.  I trained the way I had always trained, scaled as I felt I needed to, listened to my body and bumped down my weight percentages. After I gave birth to my son, I took it easy as I was told to and when my 6-week appointment came around my midwife said I could go back to doing everything as I normally did. I asked her to check me for diastasis recti and she said I was healing perfectly and had no restrictions. I was even told I should be doing situps to strengthen my core again (I now know this is a no-no!). So, off I went. I am pretty sure I left her office and went directly to the gym. It didn’t take long to realize something wasn’t right. To make a long story short, my core wasn’t firing correctly, if at all, and it felt like I didn’t have any abdominals. I chalked it up to having just given birth, decided to give it some time and even took a stroller class designed for moms thinking it would help.

After a couple of months went by I really knew something was wrong when I was not only not feeling better, but worse. This is when I found Brianna Battles and decided to learn more. I took her Pregnancy and Postpartum Athleticism Course for Coaches and have since gone to a Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist (yep, there’s such a thing!) and learned that I did indeed have diastasis recti and also an umbilical hernia.

Listening to my body, even with my knowledge as a Coach, wasn’t enough.

Here are 9 Essential Tools I’ve since learned about working with Pregnant & Postpartum Athletes.

  1. Communicate and be open-minded. If you are reading this, then you certainly are already open-minded and I applaud you for that! Apply this sentiment to your athletes. Ask them questions about how they are, how they are feeling, and be open to just listening. The idea here is to get your athletes to open up to you instead of the usual, “How are you” – “I’m good”, interaction that can often occur these days.
  2. It’s not always WHAT you are doing, but HOW you are doing it. The first question I am usually asked is, “What can I do and what can I not do?” It’s true that there are some things pregnant and/or postpartum athletes should just not be doing, but there is no set list of things that are ok and not ok. Every single woman is different and so recommendations will vary from woman to woman based on their individual needs. However, HOW they are doing these movements does matter greatly. Breathing technique to control intra-abdominal pressure, proper alignment and more all come into play here and are an important foundation to build upon before you even start to think about specific movements. Check out my past post here on proper alignment. 
  3. Risk vs. Reward. This is a big one. If you get nothing else out of this post, I hope it’s this. It’s amazing when we have our pregnant and postpartum women feeling good, working out, and feeling strong. However, these chapters aren’t necessarily the best time to be trying out or doing handstand pushups, rope climbs, muscle ups, lifting up to PR levels etc… if you have women in your gym you think are pushing the limits, stop and ask them why. Does the potential reward outweigh the risk? If it does, ask further questions. A lot of women are afraid to lose strength or skills, but there are perfectly safe alternate options for almost every movement to keep up strength and skill. More on this in #5 below.
  4. Every pregnancy and postpartum period is different for every woman. Some women get a rush of hormones that make them feel like superwomen! And some women (like me) get a rush of hormones that could send them into a hibernation sleep for 9 months and it’s literally a chore to get out of bed. There’s also every scenario in between. This is one reason it’s important to talk to our athletes to see where they are at and meet them there. If they are feeling great and love coming in to work out – that amazing!  Be supportive and make sure that open communication is there to talk about risk vs. reward. If they are tired, run down, and having a hard time be supportive of that too and make sure she knows it’s ok to slow down. This leads me to…
  5. Athlete Brain. Be on the lookout for athlete brain. This is a term I’ve learned from Brianna Battles used to describe when women (or anyone for that matter) who feel like they “need” to keep going even if it may not be in their overall best interest. Athletes (generally speaking of course) can be used to pushing through, making it happen, and not letting excuses get in the way. Even pushing through the pain. This would be the women is who pregnant and completely exhausted yet dragging herself to the gym every day. Or the postpartum mama getting 4 hours of sleep and coming in every day. Women attempting to push to their limits when pregnant or postpartum because they have something to prove to others, or themselves. Maybe there is another woman in the gym who was pregnant and crushed workouts the whole time, and another woman feels they have to live up to that ideal. Social media celebrating pregnant women PR’ing, rope climbing, muscle upping etc.. can make other women feel bad if they aren’t doing the same. It felt that way for me. I’m also competitive by nature and love working out so I just felt like I HAD to keep going and proving myself. I feel like as a Coach this was even more intensified like I had to be the “fittest” pregnant woman there ever was in the gym. Or the fastest to come back after baby and just be “back to normal” again! Nothing is further from the truth. This chapter in a woman’s life should be about nothing else than her, her baby and being happy, safe, and bonding with her baby postpartum. The gym can certainly fit into this equation, but sometimes the athlete brain takes over. It helps to communicate with women and help manage expectations.
  6. Pelvic Floor Dysfunctions.
    1. Incontinence. Yes, this is a dysfunction and not just something that happens to every woman that has children. This affects women that have never given birth as well. There is help for this! So if you have the running joke in your gym of the women running to the restroom on box jump or double under day, you have women in your gym with pelvic floor dysfunction. Here is a previous blog post I’ve written on the subject with some tips to help.
    2. Diastasis Recti. Diastasis recti is a separation of the abdominals through the midline. This is actually normal during pregnancy to allow space for the baby, but becomes a dysfunction if it doesn’t heal properly after giving birth. Here is a link to post I’ve written about the subject, and more specifically coning, which you can be on the lookout for in your athletes.
    3. Umbilical Hernia. A hernia refers to when an internal organ protrudes through muscle or tissue. Umbilical hernias can occur during pregnancy or postpartum and often correlates with diastasis recti due to the fascia expanding and subsequent tissue weakness that occurs in the line alba.
    4. Prolapse. If the words “pelvic floor” make you shudder please brace yourself but keep reading. Prolapse is the loss of support for pelvic organs that leads to downward descent. Yes. This can and does happen. It’s something that is not commonly talked about but is prevalent (I had never heard of this before I took my PPA Course!). There are many various types of prolapse. If you have someone that is explaining any of the following symptoms please refer them to their Dr. and a Pelvic Floor PT (I have links below to help find one).

      Symptoms: Feeling pressure, Dragging and/or pain and heaviness in the vagina, Noticing a bulge or excess tissue, Incontinence, Inability to retain a tampon. Here is an awesome article written by a colleague of mine with more info regarding prolapse.

  7. Please be sure that your postpartum women have been cleared by their Dr. or medical professional before returning to the gym. (In a perfect world I would say be sure every woman has seen a Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist before returning but I realize this isn’t realistic right now). This is so incredibly important and can be easily forgotten or something not even thought of. Generally, a woman sees her medical professional at around 6 weeks postpartum for a checkup and to be cleared (or not) for more movement. The first (at least) 6 weeks are so important to a woman’s healing, even if she feels fine. There is a LOT happening on the inside that can’t always be felt and returning to too much movement too quickly can potentially cause damage.
  8. Postpartum is Forever. Generally, people think of postpartum women as someone who has had a baby within the past year or so. However, postpartum is truly forever. Once you have had a child, there is no going back to being someone that hasn’t had a child. There are a great number of women who live with pelvic floor dysfunction thinking that it is just something that happens when you have kids and go years without rehabbing or correcting it. There is hope, and help, for postpartum women of all ages and in all stages of their postpartum journey.
  9. Find an expert you can connect your members with, and even collaborate with. I’m your girl if you are in the New England area of the USA, or if you want to connect online (I’m located in RI and you can email me for more information on seminars and collaborations kerri@gracefitnessandnutrition.com). Here is a link to find a Pregnancy and Postpartum Athleticism Coach for those of you elsewhere in the world. We love to collaborate so don’t be afraid to reach out!  Another important connection is a Pelvic Floor PT. If you are in the US you can share or visit this website here and scroll down to the directories. If you are in Rhode Island, I can recommend an awesome PT! Please contact me directly for more information. Even just being able to provide your members with this link is a HUGE help.

If you have any others, please comment below with them!

Interested in becoming a Pregnancy and Postpartum Athleticism Coach? Click Here!* As always, please feel free to reach out to me directly with any questions. You can reach me on Facebook, Instagram, or email me at kerri@gracefitnessandnutrition.com.

[[For my pregnant and postpartum athletes reading this: I encourage EVERY woman who is pregnant, postpartum, or experiencing any kind of symptoms (incontinence, feeling like something is “falling out” down there, pain etc..) to contact a pelvic floor physical therapist. If you are in the US you can visit this website here and scroll down to the directories. If you are in Rhode Island, I can recommend an awesome PT! Please contact me directly for more information.

I also recommend that you work with a Pregnancy and Postpartum Athleticism Coach to help you bring these strategies into the gym and get you training safely. I am available to work with you in person in Rhode Island and parts of Massachusetts, and also can work with you remotely. For more information about me and how I can help you through this chapter, please schedule a FREE 15 minute consultation here, contact me directly or visit  Grace Fitness and Nutrition.]]

Stay strong, stay beautiful!

Coach Kerri

photo of me

http://www.gracefitnessandnutrition.com

kerri@gracefitnessandnutrition.com

401-680-0330

Coaching Preg PP Women

*This is an affiliate link.

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