Training One Year Postpartum


Photo by Cecily Breeding.

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It has been exactly one year and  seven days since I gave birth to the strongest, smartest, happiest, and most  amazing little girl. What a year this has been! I didn’t just birth Otcahli, I feel like I also gave birth to Carla, the mother and all that comes with this title.

And because I was asked yet again when I was going to return to competition, my child’s first birthday became the perfect catalyst to look back at my own journey back into fitness so far.

As a strength and conditioning coach and former competitive kayaker and CrossFit Games Athlete, other people’s expectations were high for my postpartum self. If I had a euro for all the times I heard “yes but you were strong and fit and kept that way during pregnancy so you will be back to your old self in no time.”

I understand where people are coming from, after all it takes a certain personality to compete, to do it day after day, to make the sacrifices time and time again and to enter that arena and dance with the devil at the sound of a gnarly song of pain and at times harrowing self doubt.

Becoming a mother does not make that personality disappear. In fact  I often say that a Tiger will always be a Tiger. Even if said Tiger is now 41 years old.  Or as a dear friend added “the shark’s true nature will always appear when it smells blood in the water.”

When it came to my own expectations for my postpartum self, I presumed, based on the lifestyle I have lead for years that the odds of me being and staying overweight postpartum were quite slim. Outside of the competitive aspect, I knew that I love to move for fun, my food is generally healthy (if I were to ignore my love for peanut m&m).

But there is so much more that happens during and after pregnancy and it surely isn’t just about gaining or losing the baby weight. The changes we undergo are massive and I feel they are most often than not glanced over like not being a big deal or we are expected to “just deal, it is normal you’ve had a baby.” you know, the old “bounce back” as if it were magic. Bibiddy Bobiddy Boo.

If you have followed my journey from Games athlete to postpartum woman, you will see that the changes are massive. I started by doing breath work 2 weeks postpartum and started the BIRTHFIT Postpartum program six weeks later.

Me being me, the intention was to follow the programme to a T. But it wasn’t smooth sailing.  I had to adapt to those days where my energy was only enough to care for the new human, feed and bathe us both, and maybe go for a short walk. Add to it the fact that I went back to coaching while babywearing at six weeks postpartum; I discovered a whole new sense of being tired and had I not adapted and allowed myself to be ok with it, I would have added stress to an already heavily stressed body.  And for what? being able to say that I fit in my jeans? For likes on instagram?

Let’s just say that it took me way longer to go through 16 postpartum rehab sessions.  And you know what? There was peace in accepting things as they were. The Dutch have an expression that says “Het komt wel”: it will come.

Other than the obvious physical changes postpartum, you know, the belly that no longer is inhabited but hasn’t gone back to the place you’re sure used to seeing it in? Seriously, two days after giving birth, I finally looked at my naked body and remember thinking “what a war zone!”

Further down the line, one of my first confrontations with what I could or could not do was when I realized that I simply could not jump onto the pull up rig to demonstrate something to the gymnastics class.  Another was when I tried to show the hollow body position I would like to see in a handstand. I did a cartwheel onto the wall and my core was shaking like a leaf. Oh, and how about feeling out of balance during walking lunges? Whaaaaat?! Who is this person and what did she do to my body? I knew my body had changed but holy cow!

My prenatal and postpartum training with BIRTHFIT (which I had been following since 2013), made me even more aware that being pregnant and giving birth change you in ways similar to having an actual operation. The physical changes are numerous both inside and out, and let us not forget the emotional side.

It takes time to fully recover. It takes mindful work if one is to do it properly. It isn’t about mindlessly going in, doing 100 reps for time and feeling the burn. it isn’t about hurting yourself in what at times appears to me like an effort to punish the body for what it looks like. In fact, thinking that I can just “return to what I was doing” six weeks after giving birth would have done a disservice to me and probably injured me in ways that often only show up years down the line.

I haven’t trained more than twice a week this last year. Three times if I am lucky. It doesn’t last for more than thirty minutes per session, and I am fine with it. Mostly I program for myself and my goals are to be fit, move well, and take the time to address old injuries and have fun!

In my case it means that I do not kip anything; I do strict work; I use sandbags,  kettlebells, and my own body weight; oh yes and I have a love/hate relationship with both the sled and the prowler.

I have probably touched the barbell twice this year. After more than 20 years, I am honestly bored by it. In my current journey of fitness, I am not interested in cleans, snatches, heavy squats, or deadlifts. *gasp* Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to push the limits of your body to be fit and the barbell isn’t the end all and be all either. Remember, I am not training for competition. I am exercising, rehabbing, and having fun.

Toes to bar, knees to elbows, or sit ups are also not part of my movement choices. Why? Because again, as I am not competing and believe there are better options for me to do core stabilization work.

Seen from the outside and when I join a class on the rare occasion, it may even seem like I am “simply” doing a WOD. But there is  a whole other level of attention to breath, positioning, awareness in movement and stepping away when I notice that my form is taking a nosedive.

I have slowly built up to box jumps and double unders. Why? because I like them.  I do not rebound nor do I do repetitions that my body disagrees with. How do I know? Through testing, progressive overload, and awareness in my training. I am not competing and having RX next to my name isn’t a priority right now. I am not sure if it will ever be.

This is my personal journey. One in which I intend to have a functioning pelvic floor as I age: no leaking when I jump, sneeze or run, no pain, and all sorts of other issues that indicate that I have some dysfunction.

My goal today was to share my own journey thus far. Who knows, maybe it may resonate with someone out there and be of comfort.

And if you ever see me live and have the urge to ask when I will compete again, I will probably say “ask me again when I am back to sleeping 8 hours a night.”


Carla Costa



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