Instagram, @coach_mama_katejohnson - photo by ShadowFax Photography
Hi! Tell us about yourself and your training
Hi! My name is Kate Johnson. I am a CrossFit Level 2 Trainer, Certified Pregnancy & Postpartum Athleticism Coach and Postnatal Fitness Specialist in Greeley, Colorado. I coach at an amazing CrossFit box, CrossFit Helix, as well as run my own personal training/coaching business, TulaFit.
My mission is to advocate, educate and support women as they navigate fitness through pregnancy, postpartum and beyond. I help women utilize and find strategies, such as breathing and positioning, that support core and pelvic floor health in and out of the gym to meet everyday demands of motherhood and performance goals!
For far too long there has been a gap in education and support for women during this season of athleticism. Common pelvic floor issues such as leaking or prolapse were often thought to be a rite of motherhood — Oh, you had a baby, you’re going to pee yourself forever now — but there is so much help and hope available in working with Pelvic Floor Physical Therapists and fitness professionals trained through programs like Pregnancy and Postpartum Athleticism.
I have had to step way out of my comfort zone and become the person I needed during my pregnancy and postpartum recovery as I navigated incontinence. diastasis recti and pelvic pain.
I have two incredibly active, amazing boys who are six and three years old. They keep me on my toes and may love the gym more than I do!
I have loved playing sports and fitness in general, playing sports from a young age through college (field hockey, softball, soccer, riding horses) and even rec leagues after!
I’ve run several half marathons and 10k’s but absolutely fell in love with CrossFit in 2011. It changed my life helping me grow in confidence, strength and community.
I started coaching in 2015, a year and half after my first son was born and almost a year after I left my corporate management position. It has been one of the best decisions of my life! I have had the opportunity to meet and help support so many incredible athletes.
In 2017, after the birth of my second son, I realized that I needed help. No one around me knew how to help with the symptoms I had been experiencing since the birth of my first baby. I leaked when I jumped, had a strange looking abdomen (most abdominal exercises made it appear I had a football sticking out) and bouts of pelvic pain.
When I returned to the gym after my 7-week all clear post emergency c-section, I have never been so humbled as I tried to fight back tears trying to figure out why I could barely lunge without falling over.
I confided in a friend that I was leaking during jumps and they questioned why I would be after a c-section leaving me wondering even more what was wrong with me. I wanted to be competitive so I pushed through pain and other symptoms because it was “normal” for moms to experience these things.
I pushed through all of this for years and fortunately came across fitness professional Brianna Battles, CSCS who was helping CrossFit athlete Lindsay Valenzuela recover and return to CrossFit during her postpartum.
Brianna was just starting a Pregnancy & Postpartum Athleticism Coaches course and I knew I had to take it. Not only did I need help and guidance on a personal level, but I wanted to provide women evidence-based information to help support them during their journey not just coach them based off my personal experiences or have them assume I knew the best ways since my body had aesthetically recovered well.
One piece of advice: Invest in yourself and find a team that includes a pelvic floor physical therapist and fitness professional who understands pelvic floor and core considerations. I am so grateful I did.
Not only have I rehabbed my diastasis recti, but I no longer leak when I jump. I recognize and lean into listening to my body with a different type of awareness.
I know I have a tendency for a hypertonic floor for example, which was a contributor to why I leaked, so I routinely add movements that help lengthen my pelvic floor muscles after a hard workout with double unders or deadlifts.
The Pregnancy and Postpartum Athleticism Coaches course launched me into a career and life passion I didn’t fully know existed. I have taken several other certifications, seminars and workshops.
I started my own business and collaborate daily with peers (and now amazing friends) that I have all over the world. I have hosted Female Athlete Core and Pelvic Floor workshops throughout Colorado, as well as worked with Regional level CrossFit games athletes, Olympic weightlifting coaches & athletes, runners and moms looking to regain strength so they can lift their kids or jump on the trampoline with them pain and symptom free.
I have published blogs, interviewed for several online publications, been on podcasts and said the word vagina more times than I can count as I continue to grow forward into my passion of helping women that they are not broken or have to set aside their goals/passions. There is so much help and hope.
Describe a typical day of training
A typical day of training can be hard to have as a mom with two kids and all kinds of activities. Often times it’s meeting yourself where you are and doing what you can in the time you have and giving yourself grace if it isn’t the workout you had envisioned.
I typically workout at either 5:30 a.m. (if I am not coaching) or 8:30 a.m. when there is help in the kids room. I try to workout in the gym on average four days per week and add in glute and core accessory work at home three times a week. I try to find moments in my day to add intentional and fun movement in!
My favorite movements in the gym are deadlifting and handstand pushups. I recently hit a deadlift PR of 265 at a competition last fall, which is over 2x my bodyweight. 300 club I’m coming for you!
Hand stand push ups are another favorite movement because I am absolutely terrified of being upside down and have had to progressively overcome that fear to develop this skill! By no means I am a ninja at these but I have fun doing them and that’s what in my opinion counts.
How do you keep going and push harder?
I recently transitioned to a new gym, which was a very hard decision to make! However, in order to grow as a coach and athlete I needed to make a change. I truly believe that growth really does happen outside your comfort zone!
I am so thankful I have been able to grow into the CrossFit Helix community! This box is amazing, quickly becoming a key part to my personal and professional development. I LOVE working out in the CrossFit community – it helps me stay accountable and it’s FUN with the most inspiring group of people you’ll ever meet.
If you feel stuck or like you’re not growing, don’t be afraid to ask for help or try something new! It helps keep you motivated and quickly becomes one of the best parts of your day!
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
I am currently training at the gym four to five days per week (sometimes less depending on our schedule!) I am focused at the moment in deloading movements to focus on technique in the clean and jerk and snatch.
You’ll also find me in the corner after class working double under drills to improve efficiency! There is always something to work on and improve and that’s what I love! Our journey for improving and learning more is never done.
My five-year goals include having a bodyweight snatch, handstand walks (terrifying but I’ll be doing this!), and including mobility/pelvic floor/core recovery/breath work three to four days per week (it’s this unsexy stuff that carries us forward towards our improvements!)
How do you recover, rest and handle injuries?
The biggest challenge I have faced in working out and getting to the gym has been becoming a mother and navigating postpartum challenges. When returning to sport postpartum our society has a “bounce back” mentality – if you were fit during your pregnancy you’ll bounce back after quickly and this is definitely not the case.
Rebuilding your mental, emotional and physical foundation postpartum can be hard. You want to get back to doing what you love to do and looking a certain way perhaps. I get it. So you head to the gym sleep deprived and ready to try and pick up where you left off and that in itself, at least for me was a humbling experience which did not help my recovery process.
Doing too much too soon and not understanding and building awareness of your body, (leaking, pain, pressure) can often set us back in our training.
Instead of thinking about what you can’t do right now, look at this season of fitness as an opportunity to focus on ALL of the things you CAN do to help support pelvic floor and core health, as well as improve overall coordinated strength like working in different planes of motion for example.
Think about playing the long game during pregnancy and postpartum. I always tell my athletes (and myself), slow is smooth is fast (which you’ll also hear in learning Olympic weightlifting!) Having patience and an understanding of your big picture goals as well as a progressive plan and steps to reach those goals is beneficial.
For example, as a postpartum athlete returning to the gym I love utilizing this idea of progressive overload from The Pregnancy & Postpartum Athleticism Course as there is no one size fits all timeline for the healing and recovery process:
- Learn: Learn your tendencies and then dial in strategies like breathing, pressure, tension, movement that support you.
- Control: Start building these strategies into more movement like air squats, lunges, hinging patterns, etc.
- Load: Progressively add in load and volume. Assess for symptoms, regress as needed.
- Explode: The last to return are high impact movements like running, jumping, Olly lifts, dynamic movements like kipping.
Taking this approach allows postpartum athletes to build a strong, coordinated system that can support long term pelvic floor health and improved athletic performance.
Many of the athletes that utilize this approach say they are stronger now than at any other point in their athleticism because they truly understand how to listen to their body and can make adjustments and adaptations that support them.
My advice: Focus on the big picture. Don’t look at other social media accounts that make you feel pressured or triggered into doing something you’re not personally ready for. If other people approach you saying, “Well, Karen was back to bar muscle ups or 1RM backsqust at eight weeks postpartum” say that you’re choosing to take a different path.
Healing isn’t linear and that you are working with a pelvic floor PT to help rebuild core and pelvic floor strength before returning to more dynamic and heavily loaded movement! This often has them wanting to learn more.
Stay in your lane, focus on your recovery knowing that each person is different and that’s ok. Slow is fast.
How is your diet and what supplements do you use?
I eat food in moderation trying to have protein, carbs and fat at every meal. I don’t cut foods out typically. If I want a burger and fries or a donut I am going to eat that! I typically just wouldn’t eat that everyday or all of the time. Moderation is key for me and something that has worked for my lifestyle.
I used to be obsessed with calories and meal plans given to me had me around 1300 calories. I would neurotically check the scale several times a day as a result to see where I was wanting to gain muscle but upset when I saw a higher number on the scale. When I was younger I would skip family outings to the beach because I thought I didn’t look good enough in a bathing suit.
Thankfully, I found a good place mentally in the year before my second son. I weighed more than at other times in my life, but I was strong. I had muscle and I was happy for the most part with HOW my body performed (minus the leaking and DR) rather than a number on the scale.
Fast forward to after I had my second son, when I was targeted by weight loss ads, which added a lot of emotion and anxiety to an already stressful time.
In 2017, while breastfeeding and adapting to a dairy and egg free lifestyle for my sons allergy purposes, I actually had anxiety when I stepped on the scale and was only 16% body fat and 115 pounds.
I felt weak even though you could see my six pack and I received compliments all the time about my body. Everytime I would become emotional because I felt weak and was trying to rehab my core, desperately wanting to feel as strong as I used to.
What a ride. You can’t in my opinion judge someone off of their looks to see if they have a sustainable, healthy lifestyle. Each person has their own unique needs, goals and circumstances.
As I have gotten older, I regret missing out on those experiences of my youth. Currently, I have found an overall balance in my nutrition where I feel strong in the gym and good in my body.
As a final thought, please use a qualified food and nutrition expert like a registered dietitian to add to your team to help you with your nutritional goals! Just like in the pregnant and postpartum world, there is a lot of unqualified information and advice solicited.
What has inspired and motivated you?
This might sound cliche but my kids inspire and motivate me! When I work out they often join in! They want to move and be strong like mom too! My 6-year-old son and I ran a 2k Turkey Trot at Thanksgiving, which was his first ever race.
Proudest mom moment ever was that kid not quitting (even though I told him he could walk if he needed) and pushing himself to the finish line. He won his age group and even placed 34th overall out of over 200 people! (Cue my proud mom tears).
All of the athletes in my gym and the pregnant/postpartum clients that I work with inspire me daily. I see their coachability, accountability and focus and it makes me strive to do and be better.
Professionally there are so many amazing trainers/athletes and other health professionals that inspire me. Some of my favorites:
- Brianna Battles: Pregnancy & Postpartum Athleticism Coaches Course, a personal mentor & her The Practice Brave podcast
- Brett Bartholomew: His book called, Conscious Coaching
- Molly Galbraith and Girls Gone Strong
- Shante Colfield: The Movement Maestro
Advice for other people who want to improve themselves?
My advice is for pregnant and postpartum women. This season of your fitness will be different than at any other time in your life and that’s ok. Know there are qualified health and fitness professionals that can help you navigate this season of fitness to help set you up for continued performance and function for the rest of your life.
I wish I would have known so many things as a pregnant and recently postpartum athlete. I wish I would have known that it’s ok for this season to look and feel different athletically- there is nothing to prove.
Know each pregnancy and postpartum experience is different. What works for one person may not work for you and vice versa. There is more advice and resources for fitness than “just listen to your body” or “don’t lift over 10 pounds”.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions and advocate for yourself. Most OB-GYNs aren’t trained in assessing or rehabbing pelvic floor muscles. Work with a pelvic floor PT first before returning to the gym, road, or bike.
Check the recently updated ACOG guidelines for pregnancy and absolute and relative contraindications of signs and symptoms to be aware of as well as a perceived exertion chart, which is much more beneficial than old information commonly given of not getting your heart rate over 140bpm.
If you do have incontinence, prolapse, diastasis recti- you are not alone. Yes, these are very common for many women but there are SO many amazing and qualified resources to help you!
Are you taking on clients right now?
I am currently taking in person and remote pregnant and postpartum clients right now. I have an in person Strength and Conditioning class for women, which just started as well as in person Postpartum Fitness Foundation programs that run throughout the year.
I offer hybrid training, which is super fun! I currently work with several CrossFit athletes in Colorado in which we meet in person one to two times as needed to dial in strategies for them and then I program or adjust programming for them during pregnancy/postpartum using TrueCoach training platform.
I love training remotely as well, having worked with several athletes in England and around the country. I offer virtual consultations to discuss questions/concerns or even provide feedback on movement patterns to help with leaking while jumping or lifting for example.
I’ll also collaborate with an athlete’s pelvic floor PT to make sure training is appropriate based on individual need.
It’s important to me to be available how I can because ALL women need support. I’ve worked with high level athletes to women who just want to feel strong and less pain when they pick up their kids.
Sometimes this can be through one session in which we find a strategy that can work for their particular concern or sometimes we may work together for three to six months until confidence in moving forwards to their individual goals has been realized.
In 2020, I’m launching an online version of my Postpartum Fitness Foundations program, a six-week program to help postpartum athletes rebuild a strong foundation with pelvic floor and core considerations. This has been highly requested and I can’t wait to launch it! All kinds of goodies will be included such as a return to pullups/toes to bar program and return to running program.
I also want to shout out our amazing network of Pregnancy & Postpartum Athleticism coaches. We are growing worldwide and have experts in CrossFit, olympic lifting, powerlifting, yoga, endurance, military and more. Please reach out for guidance and support.
Where can we learn more about you?
Or you can download my free Postpartum resource guide here.