They call themselves “The Babymakers.”
Abrie Sellers and Sarah Brown of Thomasville CrossFit in Thomasville, Georgia, are among thousands of athletes who completed the first four workouts of the 2017 CrossFit Team Series this weekend. But their team is unique: at the start of Week 1, Brown, 38, was just 13 weeks postpartum after delivering a healthy baby girl, Zoey. Sellers, 33, had just hit the 25-week mark of her own pregnancy.
“With our mama forces combined, we make one badass female team!” reads the duo’s bio.
Sellers and Brown have been friends since early 2011; at the time, they were co-workers at an investment firm in Thomasville. Sellers was the first to start CrossFit later that year, training in her garage with her husband, Nicholas Sellers. The couple opened Thomasville CrossFit in 2012, and Brown became a member in 2013.
Both Brown and Sellers were adamant about continuing CrossFit through their pregnancies.
“I just went in with the mindset of just wanting to keep moving, because I really felt that was going to be best for my body and for the baby,” said Brown, who estimated she was the fittest she’d ever been at the start of her pregnancy.
Sellers has a similar outlook. She continues to work out not in spite of her pregnancy, but rather because of it. CrossFit is training for life, and delivery is part of that.
“Whether it ends up being a natural delivery or a C-section, there’s so much preparation your body goes through, and I wanted to be able to be as fit as possible for that,” she said. “I don’t really agree with just vegetating on the couch during my pregnancy because I don’t feel like that’s gonna prepare me for my delivery—or the recovery that’s going to follow that.”
Incidentally, both women see the same doctor, who gave them her full support, advising them to do what feels good.
“I just listened to my body and it just kind of told me what I could do and what I couldn’t, and where to push and where to hold back,” said Brown, who continued to train until two days before she gave birth. As her due date neared, she trained with lighter weights and made movement substitutions when necessary, like swapping toes-to-bars for knee raises.
“It definitely prepared me for a good delivery and recovery,” she said.
But more than just preparing them for the physical feat of labor and delivery, the women said continuing to attend class at Thomasville CrossFit helped maintain a sense of normalcy, mental clarity and emotional well-being during a time when their bodies were fraught with changes.
“There are so many different things that happen to your body and to your emotions during this time, and CrossFit is really helping me maintain my sanity in a huge way,” Sellers said.
Brown agreed. Though even the prospect of going for a walk sounded exhausting toward the end of her pregnancy, she always had enough energy to go to the gym.
“Going to CrossFit, where (the workout) was programmed and I could go and see my people—it was just like this constant support every day, and really just enhanced the whole experience for me,” she said.
Of course, training is one thing; competing is another. Both athletes have competition experience—Sellers finished a local competition in the Rx category just a couple weeks after discovering she was pregnant—and were quick to acknowledge that they knew they wouldn’t be competing with the same intensity during this particular Team Series as they have in past competitions.
“Being postpartum and pregnant, you know that you’re not trying to win this thing,” said Sellers, who said the team’s goal is primarily to have fun.
“And so we’re OK with smaller sets,” Brown added. “(Instead of saying), ‘Get five more!’ it’s more like, ‘We’re gonna make it.’”
Nobody would have thought less of them if they’d decided not to compete. After all, Brown had only been back in the gym for a month and Sellers had only about 11 more weeks until her due date.
And at first, they weren’t going to compete, figuring they’d do one or two of the workouts just for fun. But when Week 1’s events were announced and they realized they could complete all of the Scaled Division workouts, “we were like, ‘OK, we need to sign up,’” Brown recalled.
For Brown, the Team Series has been a good way to remind herself what it feels like to push a bit harder than you might in a normal workout.
“Remembering that I can actually push myself that extra little bit and succeed at it—that is a proud feeling, to push yourself further than you thought you could,” she said.
Sellers said that for her, the Team Series is not only a bit of extra motivation to keep up her fitness during her pregnancy, but has also shown her a new side of what CrossFit competition can look like. It’s tough to lose the skills and strength you worked so hard for, even if just temporarily, and Sellers said the Team Series is an opportunity to feel “like I’m back in that competitive atmosphere again,” she said.
The Babymakers divided the four events of Week 1 into two days of work, completing Events 1 and 2 on Friday and 3 and 4 on Saturday, with about an hour of rest between events.
“Maybe a little less,” Sellers admitted, as the pair erupted into laughter.
Despite their statuses of pregnant and recently postpartum, neither had to make any modifications to the movements other than what was already prescribed for scaled females, though Sellers adjusted some of her technique slightly. For Event 1’s 9, 15 and 21 reps of synchronized thrusters and bar-facing burpees, Sellers put her hands on the ground, jumped back, brought her knees to the floor and then lowered her chest to the floor, instead of just “throwing myself to the ground” as she would normally do during burpees.
Jumping, she said—whether for the burpees or Event 2’s jumping chest-to-bar pull-ups—was the most challenging part for her.
“Movements like that are a little bit more difficult for me just because I’m not as balanced as I used to be,” she said.
“You do have a different center of gravity when you’re pregnant,” Brown agreed.
The Babymakers also divided the work, when permissible, according to their strengths and weaknesses. Sellers remains the stronger of the pair and took on the majority of the cleans in Event 3 and the calories in Event 4, while Brown took the majority of Event 4’s hanging knee raises.
The highlight of the week for both women came in Event 3: sets of 30, 20 and 10 increasingly heavy cleans sandwiched by sets of 50 synchronized wall-ball shots. The cleans started at 65 lb., increasing to 95 lb. and finally 105 lb.
Brown said her quads felt “trembly” after the previous day’s thrusters; still, the real challenge was the cleans, not the wall-ball shots. Though her pre-pregnancy clean PR is somewhere around 120 lb., “55 pounds feels like 95 pounds right now,” she said.
The plan was to save most of the barbell work for Sellers, who, at 25 weeks, could still lift around 90 percent of her max (her pre-pregnancy clean PR is 165 lb.). But the minimum work requirement dictated that both pairs complete at least one rep at each weight.
Brown knew she could get through the 65-lb. cleans; it was the 95-lb. barbell she was worried about. Though she successfully swept it to her shoulders in the warm-up, “I didn't know with being fatigued if I'd get one up there,” she said.
At “3, 2, 1—go,” the Babymakers cleaned their 10-lb. wall balls, squatted and tossed them to the 9-foot target, doing the work in sets of five. After 30 cleans at 65 lb. and another 50 wall-ball shots, it was time for the heavier bar.
Sellers went first, completing 10 reps in quick succession. Then it was Brown’s turn.
She hook-gripped the bar, took a deep breath and pulled. It rose to her navel before she dumped the weight forward. She set up again. Brown knew she had the strength; she’d just pulled the weight halfway up her body. This time she concentrated on dropping lower, faster. The bar landed neatly on her shoulders.
“It felt good to get it up there,” she said.
Though Sellers completed the next 8 reps, Brown cleaned the weight a second time for the team’s 20th rep. They completed 14 more wall-ball shots before the time expired at 12 minutes.
“A definite win for me for the day,” Brown said.
That event was the highlight for Sellers, too, even though the weight was more manageable for her.
“Because I still got to play with a moderately heavy weight and still rep it out,” she said.
She also saw her own future in her partner’s triumph.
“Sarah’s making her comeback; that’s really awesome,” Sellers said. “That, for me, is very inspiring because I’m like, ‘OK, this is what I have to look forward to.’”
Week 1 is done for the Babymakers, whose goal for the rest of the competition is to continue to be able to complete all of the scaled events and keep having fun.
They also hope to set a positive example.
“I wanted to do this for me and for the baby, but also I want other people to see that it’s OK to do this,” Sellers said. “There’s this old-school mentality (that) you’re not supposed to lift more than 5 pounds while you’re pregnant, and I just don’t think you’re gonna go into delivery with a lot of strength if you don’t continue trying to maintain some sort of strength and endurance.”
It’s not that mothers-to-be have to compete or even train, Brown added, but rather that they can.
“I think you have to do what’s right for your body ... but it is possible and it is doable,” she said. “(Fitness) doesn’t stop with pregnancy and childbirth. You can be fit for your whole life … . CrossFit has definitely been a positive experience to go along with my pregnancy.”