One Tough Mama on Taking on the CrossFit Open Workouts

It’s Open season! 18.1 has been released. The excitement is palpable.

I have not participated in the Open for several years. In fact, I haven’t participated in CrossFit in several years. I miss it. Every year when the open is on, I feel a bit sad being a spectator. This year I am 3 months postpartum, just out of the fourth trimester, as the 2018 CrossFit Open kicks off. I am not registered for MANY reasons but I still want to do the workout.

What I have found since working with postpartum women, and understand myself, is the deep desire to do the things you used to. We miss the community, the rush, the intensity, the feelings of accomplishment EVEN when we know that postpartum is forever and requires healing, rehabbing and retraining. So while I am still in the late rehab, early retraining phase this postpartum I make sure to include some “fun” elements (what’s fun is totally subjective) into my training. So for me, that includes some PVC or bar only OLY lifting, some KB training at low volume and now an extremely modified version of the open WITH friends.

So what will 18.1 look like for me? A scaled, scaled version.

The prescribed scaled version for my age is:

20 minutes AMRAP

8 Hanging knee raises

10 Dumbbell clean and jerk (20#)

12 calorie row

The most important modifications:

-Rather than going balls to the wall, I will be moving with intention and strategy.

-I will use this workout to scratch the “itch” but also for retraining.

-Ego will be checked at the door. There is no room for that shit in this season of my life.

Movement specific modifications such as subbing Wall ball slams for hanging knee raises and limiting my range of motion in rowing since my core is just not ready for it. COULD I do it scaled without modifications. No doubt. SHOULD I? I think not.

When having to modify certain movements I remember what Antony Lo says: “Not forever. Just for now”.

And I wholeheartedly believe in doing WHAT YOU CAN WITH WHAT YOU HAVE in that moment.

Will it be frustrating? Absolutely.

Will I feel disappointment? Likely.

Driven by FOMO much? Without a fucking doubt.

But I am walking the walk and that includes sharing that despite KNOWING BETTER and therefore DOING BETTER sometimes scaling and modifying still sucks but you do it anyways for LONGEVITY in movement and training.


Michelle Coels

A Challenging Journey with the Greatest Gift

I’ll start by saying that I had a wonderful birth experience the first time with my daughter. I had worked with a doula to acknowledge and overcome fear of labour and birth. Having had some challenges in the past year and a high risk pregnancy as well as prolapse I had some concerns with how my body would fare this time around. More importantly though was feeling informed and empowered throughout birth. I didn’t have my heart set on delivery looking a certain way. I cared about two things: 1) A healthy baby and 2) A healthy Mom. Sadly I hear stories of birth trauma and disrespect in the labour and delivery room too often and that had me nervous. I had been practicing breathing, relaxing and visualizing. I had a birth plan that detailed what I wanted birth to look like and what I preferred if there was a change of events. I made my music playlist and would listen to it at night. It is my body - I felt confident to stand up for what mattered to me. I felt ready. I was excited.

I headed to bed around 10:30 Thursday evening, November 23rd as I had been up the majority of the night before with cramping and discomfort and knew that birth was imminent so best to be rested up. Unfortunately, sleep was not in my cards. By about 11:30 I was pretty sure I could consider myself in early labour. I stayed in bed knowing full well that conservation of energy was key at this point. I continued to labour in bed from 11:30 - 1:00 at which point I need to get up and move around. I did the loop through the house, down the stairs, stop for a glass of water, pace the main floor, some gentle pelvic mobility laying over the island then back up the stairs. At this point I wasn’t too sure about labour - it seemingly slowed down with this change in position. So a glass of juice (I was feeling very hungry, but also like puking) then I headed back to lie down. From 1-1:30 laying on my side things ramped up FAST. Going from contractions of 10-11 minutes apart lasting a minute each down to six minutes apart…. Hmmm… this seemed a lot like my daughter’s birth! At 2 am I sent a text to my doula to check in - doing well - wave contractions are beginning. “Still doing awesome”. From here I would switch sides in bed every contraction or two.

By 3:15 my contractions were coming hard and in waves lasting anywhere from 45 seconds - 1:15 every 2-4 minutes. Catching my breath in between was challenging. I wanted to labour in the comfort of my home with no stress of practitioners in the hospital but also distinctly remember how uncomfortable the last car ride was pushing, while kneeling, in the back seat. While there was no pushing yet, I could tell I was close and guessed I was transitioning - somewhere between 7-9 cm. I remember this from my daughter’s birth when I told my doula then “this is why people elect for epidurals”. It’s fucking hard. The moments of doubt crept in briefly here. I reframed it. “This is a good sign - baby is on their way. The only way out is through. Keep going. You can do this.” Definitely time to head in. I nudged my husband and told him he better get the car warmed up. I think it’s time to go. And right now.  This took him with surprise as he didn’t know I was in labour until this point. I am an introvert at heart and sometimes I cope best on my own. Early labour is one of those moments, apparently. Off we went.

Upon arrival, the nurses quickly checked me feeling fairly confident that I was quite advanced. (The instinctual animal noises and heavy deep breaths at admission might have given me away). Measuring 8-9 cm dilated and completely effaced it was almost go-time. Woohoo! My water broke immediately thereafter and I was feeling the strong urge to send my breath south and have this baby in my arms. Our doula met us at the hospital and we settled in quickly in our delivery room (the same one I delivered my daughter in 2.5 years prior). I originally thought I would like to labour in a hands and knees position like last time but had such a strong urge to remain on my side. My doula encouraged me to switch sides to keep things moving forward. Her calm demeanour, encouraging words, and firm back rubs were welcomed as the contractions were extremely intense and frequent with little to no rest in between and I was feeling pretty exhausted. My husband graciously held my one leg to help me relax through the pelvis and had his hand nearly crushed. He’s a good man.

This stage of labour was so challenging but also the most amazing experience. I was in the zone. Eyes closed. Visualizing my baby moving south and meanwhile, actually being able to feel them descend, sometimes in large increments, with a powerful contraction. While I could not effectively communicate with anyone at this time I was hyper aware of everything going on around me. With each contraction I would do all I could to breathe. Long breaths. I would scan my body from head to toe focusing on relaxing through my jaw, my neck, my upper back, my arms, my belly, my pelvis, my legs, my feet. I could get through 1-2 scans with each contraction. The short time in between was spent trying to allow my body to fall heavy into the bed. There wasn’t much time for this and I remember thinking “I just really want a goddamned break, already”. But the little one had other plans.

After 3-4 really strong contractions I heard the nurse nervously announce “there’s a head!” and then quickly make the call out to have the docs get into the room. Everything thereafter was a bit of a blur but my husband has filled me in. Apparently, about 30 seconds later when my room exploded with people I was crowning (and surprisingly only dropping one f-bomb the entire labour at this time because “ring of fire” is an adequate description of what is happening at that time) and the doctor was telling me to wait because they weren’t ready. There was no waiting. I let my body do it’s work, trying to be calm and allow baby to gently join us. I kept saying “gentle” and “soft”. It worked. Little one let us know he had arrived with a cry before his shoulders were delivered. Our handsome son officially joined us at 5:57 a.m. We immediately snuggled and shortly later breastfed for the first time. It was relieving to have him healthy and in my arms. I was overwhelmed with love, emotion and sheer delight about kicking labour and delivery ass.

Regardless of how we deliver our children, it is a testament to the power of a woman’s body. We are freaking amazing, Mama’s.

Welcome to the One Tough Mama Family, Kieran Darcy Coels!!




Whew. That felt good. Okay - now let’s discuss.

What I have been seeing ALOT of lately is images or videos of pregnant women doing very high intensity workouts. Let’s clear this one thing up before anyone gets up in arms: I HAVE NO qualms with pregnant women doing intense exercise IF they are being monitored and are AWARE of risk versus reward. None. Seriously. Keep doing you. I don’t know your story.

My issue lies in the fact that the disgusting #pregnantnotdead or #pregnantnotsick hashtag only seems to be attached to the extreme versions of exercise in pregnancy. I see a small (okay, huge) parallel to the #FITSPOSHITSHOW that cleverly masks shaming with INSPIRATION.

This is bullshit.

When questioned, these women (some with massive followings) often cite the benefits of exercise for the health of their baby. Again. I am not here to dispute THAT. The benefits far outweigh the risks for babies health.

**Aside from a few absolute contraindications pregnant women can safely be active in some way.**


What about some encouraging messaging about how a wide range of movement can be beneficial for both Mom and baby? Yes, intense exercise is good for baby - but it’s not the be all and end all. There is also low intensity exercise, moderate intensity exercise and non-exercise activity that increases movement over the day and varies our positions more often. What about some education on when some exercises might not be a great idea? What about a little education along with these posts so women can make an informed decision for themselves and their body?

Too often I hear, “why didn’t anyone tell me”? I don’t want to have to hear this anymore. It’s heartbreaking. The women saying these things kept up their intense exercise regimes because only that was encouraged. How many people do you see posting their 30 minute daily walk in pregnancy or a significantly modified CrossFit workout and boasting #pregnantnotdead?

There was no discussion of risk versus reward and how to determine this for themselves.

They were told to “listen to their body” which was changing at lightning speeds.

They exercised in a competitive environment where athlete brain is louder than moderation.

They ignored signs and symptoms, pushing through pain and leaks with no regard to core and pelvic floor.

And then SOME WOMEN are left feeling defeated post-birth unable to return to the exercise they loved. This isn’t okay.

And for the women who didn’t ignore the signs and symptoms or didn’t feel well enough - many left their fitness or sport of choice in pregnancy. They too often feel defeated.

So in going forward - can we all just support that pregnant women are doing the very best they can. That they are making choices that are best for the health of their baby and ALSO for their body? Can we encourage any degree of pain-free symptom-free movement that makes them feel great?

Can we let them know that despite being an elite athlete that pregnancy can be hard and perhaps leisurely walking and yoga isn’t your thing but it’s SOMETHING and worth being recognized as much as maintaining your Bench Press PR?

Pregnancy is a short season of our lives. My goal for exercising women in pregnancy is longevity. I want them to make informed choices so they can remain active in a way that is rewarding to them in pregnancy AND for MANY years to come. This will look different for every BODY. Let’s support Mom’s. The pendulum likes to swing too far, let’s bring it back to the middle and respect that a #fitpregnancy looks different for everybody.

Finding the Courage to Smile

March 1-7, 2017 is Facial Palsy Awareness week.

Hi! I’m Michelle and I have congenital facial paralysis.

It has taught me everything I know about being kind, empathetic and understanding. For that reason, I am grateful every damn day for my crooked smile. It wasn’t always easy, though.

I was extremely shy and self-esteem was at an all time low. Stares, words and insults hurt terribly. Everyday I wished I could change the way I looked, I just wanted to blend in and not be noticed. Sadly, these thoughts stemmed from years of comments I had heard:

“Did you have a stroke?” - too many times to count

“Why don’t you fix that girls face?” - Someone in our community to my Mom

“Gosh it must be hard, it’s not like you can cover it up” - Girl at universtiy

“She would be so beautiful if only we could fix her smile” -Doctor at a walk-in clinic.

“Have you tried smiling with your mouth closed? It’s less obvious that way!” - Man that takes school pictures every damn year.

“Wow! That’s a face only a mother could love”. - Some random asshole at a nightclub

How I felt about myself used to be dictated by how others judged my appearance:




I lived my young life HATING what I couldn’t change, what I couldn’t hide.

And I almost let them win. It almost broke me. But then instead of feeling sad I became REALLY REALLY ANGRY. It doesn’t seem like that would be helpful, but it lit a fire under my ass to fight for what I deserved.  I truly believe the only way I came out on the right side was because of the people in my life that MATTERED: My parents, my sister and my closest friends. They were my life-boat. And one day in my early teenage life I was fed up. I remember that day. I had had enough of the bullshit. For allowing others to make me feel like shit. That was the day I started to stand up for myself.






Those days were hard. And every now and again those thoughts surface. But they don’t stay long. My experience has made me resilient in so many ways. By being brave enough to stand up for myself has taught me courage to stand up for others. I am empathetic and understanding. I always remember not to judge as many are fighting battles of which I know nothing. I have learned that although there is cruelty in the world there is so much more kindness. Kindness is the most flattering form of beauty.

We are so much more than our body. Our appearance should have no consequence. What we look like and what our bodies are capable of matter so much less than WHO WE ARE.

I am not my face. I am a caring, empathetic and passionate young woman who is doing her best to offer good things to this world. I am a great Mom, a loving Wife and an advocate for self love.

But I do love my smile. It is unique. It has smiled and laughed and it has cried. It is the only smile that my daughter knows and loves. And it is mine.

All my love,



This Is [My] Miscarriage.

I am sharing this story in the hope that we can decrease existing stigma and to bring awareness to miscarriage (and fertility problems). To help others who have experienced miscarriage and who lack support. To let you know that you are not alone. To encourage women to share their heartache with loved ones as their is no shame in getting help. To let you know that if you need a listening ear, I am always here.

Mama’s (and Spouses), we are stronger together. Let’s open up the conversation...<3

This is [My] Miscarriage.

The day after we took my daughter, Olivia, home I told my husband that we DEFINITELY needed to have more babies. Like 2. Or 3! My enthusiasm was likely terrifying for him in that moment as we were adjusting to having ONE baby join our family. My enthusiasm remained. We wished for our family of three (plus one furry kid) to become four.  About 18 months later we were lucky enough to see the two blue lines. I was PREGNANT. We were ecstatic.

The process of becoming a Mama (again) started as soon as I knew I was pregnant. I was thinking, caring, and falling in love with the little being that inhabited me. I chose nutritious food, spent time relaxing and breathing and made sleep a priority. These choices were for me, but also for our baby.

We were ready to share our news - one week to go! We were dreaming of the future. Preparing our daughter to be a kind older sister. I was 12 weeks pregnant and so full of love and joy for the changes to come to our lives.

And then I was not.

In a blink of an eye our dreams vanished.

It seemed so fast and yet so painfully long.

When I went to the ER that day I knew then what would be confirmed hours later. My gut was preparing me but I held onto what tiny hope remained. For my sanity. For the sanity of my husband and my kind friend who sat beside me that day.

I spent those silent moments preparing myself for the words I knew were to come: “There is no heartbeat”.

When the words were actually spoken the shock and raw pain was overwhelming. The words hit me like a punch to my gut. I was being strangled and couldn’t catch my breath. In a word: Devastating.

“What would you like to do?” The doctor asked.

I didn’t know. I was in shock. All I knew was I didn’t want to be there. “I want to go home”.

The comfort of my home felt foreign. Going through the motions with little connect at all. My daughter’s shrieks of joy when Mama came home sounded mumbled as though I was underwater. I wished to ask if my husband was okay but there were no words.

Just tears.

I rocked my daughter to sleep that night, soaking her shirt with my sadness but too sad to let go, as though holding her so tightly would give us back our baby. Regardless of reality, I never felt like such a failure as I did in those moments.

No one can see your invisible pain. But as your body works to terminate your pregnancy you feel every effort. With each gush and stab of crippling cramps you are harshly reminded of what once was.

I wanted to forget. To be done.

But that is not miscarriage.

It takes days. Weeks even.

Long days in the hospital dealing with complications muddied the already shitty water.

It was physically, mentally and emotionally draining.

After I stabilized, the reality hit home. I tried to just allow my thoughts to come as they needed. Rather than push them away as per my usual line of defense in tough times. I tried to rely on my “practical” self: I knew the science. The odds. I worked with expectant and new Mom’s daily. I had all too often shared their hardship when they too lost their baby.

It was a dark time, that I can best describe as foggy. Despite having supportive pillars rise up around me, I felt very alone.

I continue on my grief journey. Surrounding myself with love and support. Doing activities that bring me joy. Forgiving my body for not being able to remain my baby’s home. Most importantly I have taken time to just feel.

Shock. Anger. Frustration. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance.

Gone but not forgotten.

For all Mama’s who have experienced miscarriage:

I am truly sorry for the loss of your baby. My love and thoughts are with you.

With love,



How being a Mom for a year taught me moderation

Feel inspired.

Do it all.

Feel exhausted.

Lose sleep.

Struggle to stay above water.

Do nothing.


This cycle is one that I have gotten lost on time and time again. In fitness, food, relationships, life.The desire to Do-All-The-Things comes from a good place in my heart. One that cares deeply for all of the people around me. The one that wants to help, to support and to experience the high of conquering goals. The one who wants to feel in control.

But that is not sustainable.

I have experienced this too many times to count. Yet, I continued to struggle. Forgetting how hard it was once I had “recovered” from the last bout. Then I had a baby.

A sweet little girl full of adventure; Her innocence and ability to live in the moment was refreshing and enlightening. What I wouldn’t give to be so carefree. And I was a Mama now! The weight of the world felt like nothing on my shoulders.

Immediately postpartum I felt like superwoman. Adrenaline flowing, Mommy hormones raging. It was an energy I had never previously experienced. I felt good. Maybe too good…

Exercising at four in the morning because I was awake anyways - why not? Start running classes at 2 months postpartum - great idea! Doing homework while Olivia naps - win! Or not.  

I don’t think I need to tell you that it didn’t last.

But, quick! We have to hurry. We’re going to be late. Gosh, I hate being late. Where are the diapers? Shit, the baby only has one shoe on. Meh, forget the shoes! Barefeet it is. Rush out the door. Run errands. Drive home singing loudly in the car to keep the baby awake. Put the baby down for a nap. Quick - I have to get a workout in.

But I haven’t ate. Or showered. Or cleaned the house. Or slept for more than 2 hours at a time in MONTHS.

Fuck. I am failing. I can’t do this. How do all the Mom’s do this?!




A deep breath.

Enter that moment when you are sitting on the floor thinking how in the hell did I get here? Or several moments. It took me quite a few in my year “off”  before I resigned to the fact that I don’t have to Do-All-The-Things. And quite frankly, I don’t want to.

Enter moderation. A simple concept. A change in mindset. A sense of freedom. Thanks to a woman who is humble and real - Mama Lion Strong and her FB group - Healthy Habits Happy Moms (check it out!) - I felt confident that I could ditch the extremes. Olivia is my priority, right now because she needs me for EVERYTHING. This will change. But for now, I am her world. She watches me, learns and is molded by my actions. Seeing me feeling anxious and overwhelmed was directly reflected in my sweet girl.

I re-thought the idea of “balance” which I had never been able to achieve and adopted the thought of HARMONY. My priorities dictate my actions, and these change, sometimes daily. This realization has allowed me to leave guilt out of mindful decisions to not train one day, to take a break from answering E-mails, to have that second cup of coffee, to get in ten extra minutes of snuggles with Olivia, to turn down an evening out because sleep is essential. And the hardest one for me: To ask for help.

It hasn’t been easy and it takes constant work and reminders. The changes are less apparent on the outside as they are on the inside, how I feel emotionally. More relaxed, happier with more love and energy to share. I am making a switch from being frantically busy to being productive;

From being annoyed when everyone (read: my husband) wanted some of my time, to looking forward to time alone with loved ones;

From being rattled that the baby won’t sleep, to enjoying every minute of snuggles because one day she won’t want to;

From being anxious, to the point of being sick, when attending social events, to being excited to interact and learn from people;

From being empathetic towards all others, to extending that same empathy to myself;

From being paralyzed out of fear of failure, to taking action and conquering goals;

From thinking I will never be enough, to knowing that I ALREADY AM.

Overall I have learned that consistency wins the race. In health, in love, in life. Onwards.