Pregnancy and CrossFit: A Guide to Modifications Through the Trimesters

By Coach Sarah

Pregnancy can be a magical time in an athlete’s life but it is also a time of great adjustment.  Many athletes will struggle with the challenges that come when their body starts to change to accommodate their growing baby.  Exercise modification will be necessary during each stage of pregnancy and postpartum recovery.  Everyone knows how to modify an exercise, but athletes and coaches both need to know how and when to adjust the demand and the implications the movement, intensity, volume or strategy has on core and pelvic health. 

Below is a simple guide through the trimesters that will hopefully give you some insights as to where and when to start modifying exercises.

First Trimester:

The first trimester is a time when an athlete can feel quite different than they typically do.  Morning sickness, fatigue, and just a lack of interest in exercise can all play a role in whether or not an athlete continues to train like normal.  The goal during the first trimester should be to be mindful of your body and make adjustments according to how you feel. 

Exercise Modifications: 

Certain exercises should be avoided starting in the first trimester.  These include things like rope climbs, skiing, contact sports, and competition.  It is not a time to try and push boundaries and set PR’s.

Second Trimester:

The second trimester is a time when athletes tend to start to feel really good again.  Their energy levels return and they feel like they can push again during workouts.  However, there are significant structural changes that occur during the second trimester and athletes need to take note and make adjustments for these changes.  A growing belly, breasts, and hips all need to be accounted for as well as hormonal changes.  Joints will become loose and balance can start to be affected.

Exercise Modifications:

Eliminate high impact movements (running, jumping, etc).

Discontinue dynamic/gymnastic type movements (burpees, handstand push ups, muscle ups, kipping pull ups).

Discontinue dynamic ab specific work (toes to bar, sit ups, etc).

Strength: drop loads so that it does not require excessive strain or holding your breath.

Olympic lifting- reduce volume, load, etc. When the bar path is changed due to your stomach, eliminate barbell work and use dumbbells or kettlebells instead to not impact the quality of your bar path.

Third Trimester:

“Just because I can doesn’t mean I should.”  

This should be the general theme for the third trimester.  Pregnant athletes should decrease volume, intensity, load and increase strategy (breath and pressure strategies, movement patterns adjustments, etc) to meet demands of their energy, body changes, symptoms and mindset.  Athletes who already have a good baseline of fitness do not need to “Train for Birth.”  Your fitness has already been established.  More important will be to train mentally for birth and the recovery process afterward.  Too often athletes feel the pressure to get back to what they were capable of before pregnancy immediately after birth.  Realize that your body went through some major changes and be patient with yourself postpartum.

Exercise Modification:

Same as the first and second trimester.  Pay close attention to energy levels, eliminate high impact, dynamic movements.

Reduce volume (less reps) and load (less weight).

Reduce intensity of workouts – moderate pace.

Lifts are focused on strict movements and full range of motion

In summary as you navigate through your pregnancy be mindful of your body and how exercises feel as well as how they affect you later in the day and into the following days.  Do what is comfortable and do your best to adopt a mindset of being healthy and maintaining quality movement without pushing barriers.


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