Should you continue to climb while pregnant? With an ordinary pregnancy, the answer is an emphatic “yes!” In this article, Dr. Nicole Bringer presents important training tips and safety guidelines for climbing pregnant.
Two big goals of avid climbers are to improve strength and body composition and avoid or repair injuries. When women become pregnant, the complete opposite happens to our bodies. We significantly alter our body composition and expect some level of injury to our core and pelvic floor after pregnancy.
So what’s a mama climber to do?
Physical Changes and Challenges of Climbing Pregnant
Pregnancy is a unique and abnormal experience for women, especially those of us who train regularly and enjoy athletic activities like climbing. As climbers, we have specific training goals that go beyond our climbing workouts and often include healthy nutrition habits, cardio and strength training to reach strength/weight ratio goals, and regularly pushing ourselves beyond our limits to send our project routes. Pregnancy threatens all of these goals.
During pregnancy, normal weight gain for a healthy woman is 25-35 pounds. Our core system that is made up of not only our deep abdominals (transverse abdominis) and back muscles (multifidi), but also our pelvic floor and diaphragm, which are stretched and weakened from weight gain during pregnancy. At least 66% of women experience a separation of the 6 pack muscles (rectus abdominis) by the 3rd trimester of pregnancy.
Our sleep patterns and energy levels are disturbed. After our babies are born our nutrition needs change once again, especially when we breastfeed. If you’ve had a cesarean delivery, then you’ve also endured 6 weeks of lifting and activity restrictions along with significant trauma to the abdominal muscles that used to provide stability and support.
At first glance, the obstacles women face during pregnancy and postpartum recovery can make it seem like climbing and pregnancy are like manicured fingernails and bouldering—they don’t mix. As a Physical Therapist, climber, and mama myself, however, I would disagree!
While it’s true that the goals of climbing will change, I would argue that the physical perks, community, and enjoyment it brings can make it a great activity for expecting and recovering moms.
The Benefits of Climbing Pregnant
When my husband brought home my first full body harness, I thought he was a little crazy for thinking I would continue climbing into my 3rd trimester, but the more I thought about climbing during my pregnancy, the more excited I became.
Climbers need amazing core strength to allow them to create body tension and stick close to the wall to provide stability, and expecting moms need to train their cores to make delivery easier and to shorten their postpartum recoveries. Climbers need shoulder and arm strength for the majority of climbing especially movements like the Gaston and mantling, and women that hope to labor and/or deliver on hands and knees need strong arms and shoulders to do so!
Not only was I preparing for labor and delivery and improving my postpartum recovery time by training during pregnancy, but I was training for climbing as well by maintaining forearm and finger strength (after all I was basically climbing with a “weighted vest” of sorts) and fine-tuning my technique because muscling my way through routes was no longer an option. [Sidenote: Hopefully the in-utero experience jumpstarts my little’s climbing skills-Olympics 2040 here we come!]
Keeping baby and mom safe is always a priority during pregnancy. To begin with, here are two vital rules: 1. Always use a full-body harness so as to avoid pressure on the abdomen, and 2. Avoid situations that could result in trauma to your belly—this includes, no lead climbing or no bouldering!
Expecting moms should also prevent injury to themselves by exhaling with exertion to avoid excessive pressure build-up in their abdomens or pelvic floors that could lead to diastasis recti and incontinence. This is also a great time to focus on leading with your feet (or feet-first climbing) because hanging on your arms without the support of your feet can cause doming of your abdomen. The doming tells you that you aren’t managing abdominal pressure well and could be increasing your risk for abdominal separation (large diastasis recti) which will make postpartum recovery a lot more work.
Post-Pregnancy Training Tips
Rest, recovery, and bonding with your newborn are essential parts of postpartum recovery, but I have encouraging tips for you mamas that have a hard time taking an extended break from your training. First, I recommend postpartum moms start breathing exercises, pelvic floor recovery, and transverse abdominis strengthening the first week after having their babies. As your body heals and you begin tolerating everyday tasks like walking, lifting your baby, and carrying groceries without pain, only then can you slowly progress back to the gym.
Start with shorter training sessions and gauge your progression based on how your body tolerates the activities. Don’t skip the basics of core strengthening, improving flexibility, and addressing traumas from birth before you get back on the wall.
Hangboards are a great tool to use when you return to training since they can be used at home during naptime or after baby goes to bed; however, some hangboarding routines include lots of core activation that you may not be ready for. For example, pull-ups or hanging with dynamic movement of your legs are particularly challenging training exercises because they often result in doming or coning of the stomach muscles if your core is still weak. This doming can actually slow the healing of the abdominal separation that many women experience after pregnancy.
Women’s Health Physical Therapists are a great resource for recovering mamas since pain management, musculoskeletal recovery and strengthening are our areas of expertise!
Climbing isn’t just for the dirtbags. Climbing offers so many perks to families because it encourages time outdoors, promotes exercise and activity, provides community, and if done correctly can keep mamas healthy and strong throughout pregnancy and during their postpartum recovery. Adjust your gear, change up your goals, and climb on!
About The Author:
Dr. Nicole Bringer, DPT has been working in Physical Therapy for the past 10 years receiving her Doctorate degree from Grand Valley State University in 2016. She has specialized training in Pelvic Health and Obstetrics through the American Physical Therapy Association. She’s the creator of the Mamas and Misses YouTube Channel and you can find her on Instagram @mamasandmisses_pt with a mission of advocating for all things pregnancy, labor and delivery, and postpartum recovery. Sign up for her monthly newsletters and free guides at www.mamasandmisses.com.
DISCLAIMER: You are encouraged to confirm any information obtained from or through this post with other sources, and review all information regarding any medical condition or treatment with your physician. NEVER DISREGARD PROFESSIONAL MEDICAL ADVICE OR DELAY SEEKING MEDICAL TREATMENT BECAUSE OF SOMETHING YOU HAVE READ ON OR ACCESSED THROUGH THIS BLOG POST.