Northern Beaches Mums Group
Northern Beaches Mums Group

CrossFit for Women

Cross fit is such an amazing sport, particularly for women. It is motivating, empowering, progressive, and healthy. There’s something for everyone – weights, powerlifting, mobility training. There’s an “anyone can do it” attitude, a culture of inclusivity; however there is also a small issue that has a big impact on their female clients.

There is not an awareness that the female body is different…

Perhaps they may condescend to drop the weights, or the reps, in any given box on any given day – but when any coach does this, it feels like they’re saying women are “weaker” or less able. What if the woman in front of you can do those weights, can do those reps, but they leak urine or suffer debilitating back pain afterwards? What then?

The workouts of the day are great in so many ways – they’re straightforward, they’re simple, they’re short (excellent for women’s hormones), and they’re intense (also excellent for women’s hormones and bone density), but they are overwhelmingly made up of exercises that will exacerbate women’s vulnerabilities. For example, movements like double-unders and box jumps, running, and high impact exercise generally will put more pressure on a female’s pelvic floor than a man’s simply because of the shape of her pelvis, and the larger surface area of her pelvic floor. If she’s ever been pregnant, had a c-section, give birth vaginally, or suffered a birth injury, then these activities will be not only loading her pelvic floor more than they’ll load a man’s pelvic floor, but they’ll also do it on an already-stretched and vulnerable group of tissues.

What adaptations can we make to these exercises, without compromising intensity, weight, sets, and reps?

For mums, and even overweight men, prone exercises (like a plank or push up) will load their linear alba in a way that may cause the internal organs to protrude. The fitness industry’s answer to date is to drop to our knees (thereby reducing weight and intensity, and that’s if they’ve even seen the dome in the first place), but when the best benefits of crossfit come from the high loads and intensities, is this really the best answer?

Why can’t we educate our trainers to load the person’s core differently, but keep the weight on the arms, or intensity on the heart? For example, a push up loads the abdominal wall and arms, but if we flip her over and give her a heavy bench press, the load on her abdominal wall is greatly reduced, while keeping the intensity on her upper body.

If running is a problem for her pelvic floor, the assault bike is equally intense without the load of her organs descending on her pelvic floor…

Let’s stop ruling out high risk activities, and up-level our knowledge of training women, especially mums and post menopausal women. Women need these intensities, they need to lift heavy stuff. They need the coaching, the community, the competitive nature of crossfit – but they don’t need the ignorance around their bodies and their injuries exacerbated.

If you’re a crossfit trainer, you can learn to adapt your amazing coaching to women’s bodies by completing Burrell Education’s Modern Pregnancy and Modern Post Natal Exercise and Wellness courses. These courses will teach you the skills to check their deep core yourself, and adapt your sessions to match where they’re at.

If you’re a mum, then get your pelvic floor checked before starting these exercise modalities (and it’s not too late to get checked even if you have already started. You can look up your closest women’s health physio here.

Clare Hozack is an ex-athlete and owner and founder of IntoYou. Clare is currently a strength and conditioning coach, using her skills to return women to functionality after having kids, and providing education for personal trainers in how to train women better.