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Overcoming Barriers to Physical Activity During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period: The Potential Impact of Social Support

Christopher P. Connolly, Deborah L. Feltz, and James M. Pivarnik

Pregnant and postpartum women have reported a number of barriers that prevent them from being sufficiently physically active. Overcoming these barriers is critical to ensure the health benefits of physical activity to both mother and fetus. The primary focus of this review centers on the potential impact social support may have in overcoming each of the primary barriers to physical activity experienced during pregnancy and the postpartum period. A reasonable body of research exists regarding the relationships between social support and these barriers; however, few investigations have specifically attempted to mitigate the effects of these barriers via social support interventions. Within this review, the enabling influence of social support as it pertains to pregnant and postpartum women's physical activity is discussed. Recommendations are suggested for the application of social support in future research investigations involving physical activity during pregnancy and postpartum.

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Can Pregnancy be an Ergogenic Aid to Athletic Performance?: A Review

James M. Pivarnik, Christopher P. Connolly, Mallory R. Marshall, and Rebecca A. Schlaff

Previous research clearly indicates that exercise training decreases during pregnancy, even among the fittest of women. Despite this, women are typically able to resume their prepregnancy exercise routines soon after delivery, and in some instances, their postpartum performances are better than previously experienced. While anecdotal reports are common, there does not appear to be significant research data to explain this phenomenon. In this review, we explore possible physiologic explanations for heightened postpartum exercise performance, such as pregnancy related changes in aerobic fitness, lactate threshold, flexibility, and musculoskeletal fitness. At this time, limited data do not appear to support an ergogenic role for these variables. Another consideration is a positive change in a woman’s psyche or perceptions toward her athletic abilities as a result of her pregnancy and delivery. While this concept is theoretically possible and may have scientific merit, data are sparse. What is clear is that an increasing number of women are maintaining their physical activity and exercise routines during pregnancy, with many able to return to competition soon after delivery. Well-designed studies are needed to further explore the relationships among physiologic and psychological variables and postpartum exercise performance. Ideally, these studies should be prospective (studying women prepregnancy through the postpartum period) and include diverse samples of women with regard to activity type and fitness level.

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Breaking Barriers: Women’s Experiences of CrossFit Training During Pregnancy

Tanya Prewitt-White, Christopher P. Connolly, Yuri Feito, Alexandra Bladek, Sarah Forsythe, Logan Hamel, and Mary Ryan McChesney

CrossFit is a form of resistance training characterized by constantly varied, weight-training, gymnastic, and body weight movements. While resistance training is a popular exercise option among pregnant women, it is not included in current physical activity recommendations for expectant mothers. Additionally, despite negative connotations, there are anecdotal accounts of pregnant women participating in CrossFit training without adverse effects to their pregnancies. Therefore, given the barriers to physical activity during pregnancy and vigorous-intensity exercise, examining the experience of pregnant women participating in CrossFit training is of interest in the present study. Participants in the study included 22 women at least three months post-pregnancy, who had adhered to CrossFit training for at least six months throughout pregnancy and were 18 years of age or older. A semi-structured interview guide was developed and transcripts were analyzed using a thematic content analysis. Researchers searched for themes across the interview data and reached agreement on subsequent themes. Seven themes emerged characterizing the experiences of pregnant women who participated in CrossFit training while pregnant: (1) quitting was not an option, (2) support and community, (3) overcoming judgments and stereotypes, (4) listening to my body and modifying movements, (5) empowerment and pride, (6) easy pregnancy and delivery, and (7) lifestyle and functioning post-baby. Findings offer practical implications for practitioners working with pregnant women hoping to maintain their exercise regimens and demonstrate the barriers and opportunities for pregnant women desiring to maintain healthy lifestyles.