Lillianne Pallo surprised herself when she landed in the top 10% of athletes in the 2021 NOBULL CrossFit Open and qualified for the inaugural Quarterfinals earlier this year. After being diagnosed with pelvic-floor dysfunction after the birth of her second child, Pallo wasn’t sure she’d ever even make it back into the gym, let alone be competitive.
“I couldn’t even really walk around the house or pick up my kids without feeling pain or symptoms, or feeling like things were not going to stay where they belong,” Pallo said about her postpartum experience. “What was I going to do in the gym?”
This wasn’t the first time Pallo faced a break-up with fitness, but this time she was ready to fight for the methodology that had had such a positive impact on her life.
“You’ll Never Squat Again”
Pallo, a United States Air Force veteran currently serving in the Air Force Reserve, underwent knee surgery in 2011 while on deployment to South Korea.
“The surgeon told me I wouldn’t be running — or squatting or lunging or any of those things — ever again, and I was 23 years old,” she remembered. It was a crushing blow to Pallo, who said, “Fitness has always been a part of who I am and what I love to do.”
After trying various group fitness classes to fuel her passion, her interest was piqued when some of her comrades started talking about CrossFit. Then stationed in Missouri, Pallo joined an on-ramp program at CrossFit Believe in Warrensburg. Three months later, something magical happened.
“When I learned to move well and move correctly, the pain went away,” Pallo said. “Immediately I knew (CrossFit) was the thing that I was gonna do simply because of the way it made me feel, and the fact that I was able to do the things that the doctor said I wouldn’t be able to do.”
Back to Square One
As someone who has always had a love for fitness, Pallo found CrossFit to be a natural fit. Her passion only grew as she fell in love with the camaraderie, community, and friendly competition found inside most CrossFit affiliates around the world. So when she got pregnant with her daughter, there was no question she would keep training.
“When I got pregnant with my daughter, I still wanted to be this super-fit mom and do all these things in the gym,” Pallo said.
Still, “there wasn’t a lot of information out there,” she said. “The guidance was ‘listen to your body’ or ‘just walk.’”
Pallo chose the former, enjoying a speedy recovery and swift return to the gym when she was cleared after her daughter was born.
But when Pallo became pregnant with her son a few years later, things felt “off,” she said. After experiencing extreme pelvic pressure and symptoms of pelvic-floor dysfunction throughout much of the pregnancy, Pallo was more open to scaling early and using modifications for most workouts.
When she stumbled upon Brianna Battles’ program, Pregnancy and Postpartum Athleticism, Pallo became voracious for information on how to safely and effectively train pregnant and postpartum women — including herself. Pallo completed the course and studied throughout the rest of her pregnancy. When she went to her six-week postpartum checkup, Pallo was armed with knowledge when her OBGYN was reluctant to perform an internal assessment.
“Had I not had the information that I had been studying pretty much the whole time that I was pregnant with Vincent, I wouldn’t have even known to ask my OB things about the symptoms of pelvic-floor dysfunction,” Pallo said. “I had the information — I said, “Hey, can you check for this because I’m having all these symptoms.”
For a year postpartum, Pallo’s symptoms were debilitating. Unable to pick up her kids without pain or move comfortably around her own home, she doubted she’d ever be able to return to CrossFit, and she almost gave the methodology up all together.
“Almost saying goodbye to CrossFit was really sad for me. Not just because of losing CrossFit, the sport I had fallen in love with, but because of everything that CrossFit had given me,” Pallo said. “I had a fear of losing my positive self-image and my healthy relationship with food, and the community of people who are also like-minded and who care about you and want to see you succeed in all things in life. Those things are even more important to me now because I have two tiny humans who need me and are watching me everyday. I want to be the best version of myself so my kids can see what healthy habits look like.”
The realization was sobering.
“What am I losing?” she had asked herself. “CrossFit is more than a workout or a sport to me, so the loss felt bigger."
Taking what she had learned in her research, Pallo decided she could go back to the sport she loved — but she would have to start at square one.
“I took (the course) so I could coach myself,” Pallo said. “I needed to know how to function during this pregnancy well so that I can come out on the other side stronger.”
Then stationed back in Ohio where she had lived previously, Pallo decided to step back to a familiar place: Bombers CrossFit. The affiliate had once been her gym home, which made her return there both challenging on her ego, and welcoming to her heart. She walked through those doors as a whole new athlete.
She had learned the importance of rebuilding a foundation of fitness and understood that her body had changed after birthing two humans. Pallo returned to CrossFit ready to put her ego aside and challenge herself to relearn the mechanics that had once been second nature.
“Even if I had muscle memory, I chose to relearn everything because I knew my body was different,” Pallo said.
Pursuing a Passion
Pallo remembers the moment a spark ignited within her after completing the Pregnancy and Postpartum Athleticism course.
“When I got done with the course, I looked at my computer screen and said, ‘I cannot keep this information to myself,’” she remembered.
Pallo, who holds a degree in exercise physiology, knew she wanted to help other women who were experiencing something like she had.
“I want women to know that there’s hope and you can work toward something and make your body stronger,” Pallo said. “You are not broken. There are ways to get better.”
“Women either lose hope and stop working out all together, or they just deal with symptoms without realizing they don’t have to, like peeing when they jump. Women deserve more guidance and support. The female body is incredible!” she added.
Today, Pallo helps coach the pregnant and postpartum athletes at Bombers CrossFit by providing modifications for the week’s workouts and helping women rebuild the foundations of movement after healing.
"We work on adjusting the mindset for this chapter in their life, restoring core and pelvic floor function and strength, and progressively overloading with functional movements,” Pallo explained. “They know what to focus on in their postpartum recovery. Those athletes can confidently walk back into their CrossFit class and meet their body where it is, knowing they’ve layered in the foundation work and then slowly progress from there."
“When you have the foundation built … when it comes time to the higher-intensity stuff, you can rely on all the mechanics you’ve worked so hard for,” Pallo said.
Pallo said she enjoys seeing the athletes she works with have a more confident return to regular classes than they may have had if they hadn’t allowed their bodies time to properly heal.
“We kind of laugh off those symptoms,” Pallo said about peeing while jumping, “but you don’t have to deal with those things.”
As for Pallo’s future in CrossFit, she’s continuing to see PRs, even after almost 10 years and many obstacles. She hit a lifetime PR front squat during Quarterfinals, and a lifetime PR back squat earlier this month — all this after being told she’d never squat again, and being unable to lift anything in the early stages of her pelvic floor dysfunction.
“This whole entire year has been a surprise to me,” she said. “Things are firing on all levels and things are working really well for me right now. It is super exciting.”
She added: “I’m gonna ride this wave and keep training hard and doing what I do. I would love to compete again someday.”
Are you at the CrossFit Games in Madison? Today is Military Service Appreciation Day.
Active, reserve, and retired military personnel will receive a free Friday Festival ticket. Bring your ID to the main box office to redeem.
Later, don’t miss the CrossFit Health discussion panel led by Dr. Julie Foucher on the topic of CrossFit and pregnancy at 11 a.m. CT.