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Pregnant women who keep CrossFitting could experience fewer complications, study shows

Contrary to conventional advice, a recent study suggests that avoiding exercise and fitness while pregnant is often not just unnecessary, but even harmful.

675 participants who lifted at least 80% of a one-rep max during pregnancy participated in an online survey.

Researchers at - among others - the Institute of Clinical Excellence, Concord, North Carolina; and the Program for Pregnancy and Postpartum Health, University of Alberta, Canada, concluded that 'individuals who engaged in heavy prenatal resistance training had typical perinatal and pelvic floor health outcomes that were not altered when they engaged in, or avoided Olympic lifting, Valsalva [forcefully exhaling against a closed airway, such as a shut mouth or pinched nose], or supine [lying face up] weightlifting.' 

What's more, the study reported that 'participants who maintained pre-pregnancy training levels until delivery reported significantly less reproductive complications that those who ceased training levels prior to delivery'.

Participants who maintained pre-pregnancy training levels reported significantly less reproductive complications© mihailomilovanovic - Getty Images

Most of the participants were recreational athletes (88%) engaged in CrossFit (61%, 410 out of 675) and/or weightlifting (49%, 332 out of 675) during pregnancy, and most reported no complications during pregnancy or delivery.

Many also returned to weightlifting following delivery (89%) after around three months.

It's a striking consideration, given that these pursuits are typically more injurious than traditional bodybuilding-type weight training, as the movements are less controlled and are executed at higher speeds with greater impact.

It's not the first study to extol the benefits of exercise more broadly on maternal health status. A review conducted between 2015 and 2020 selected 31 randomised control trials and found that women benefited significantly, experiencing lower maternal weight gain, faster heart-rate recovery, improved glucose tolerance, lower blood pressure, decreased depression risk, lower newborn weight and faster foetal heart-rate recovery time.

All studies followed a group-exercise program that included aerobic, resistance, pelvic-floor training, stretching and relaxation sessions.

Fitness inspiration if you're a new mum or expecting:

  • A former WH editor and qualified PT on how to exercise during and after pregnancy
  • Try Buump Active, the app for mum and mums-to-be who want to stay fit
  • Here are the best pelvic-floor trainers to help you tighten your muscles as a new mum
Story by Kate Cheng: Women's Health UK

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