You might have been shocked when you watched that video –   I know I was!

I first saw this video one week ago, in a room full of physiotherapists who specialise in treating women with incontinence. A loud *gasp* went through the room, followed by much headshaking in disbelief. “No wonder we are so busy these days” I heard from around the room.

So what is most shocking? 
The fact that these women were urinating in large volumes while competing in sport?
The fact that a gynaecologist was declaring that it is perfectly normal and fine to pee when doing exercise?
The fact that so many women were suffering from this problem, some who probably haven’t even had children yet?

Take your pick!

Now this isn’t a rant about crossfit, despite the title. This is about peeing when doing exercise/sport and that it is NOT NORMAL and should not be accepted by any woman. A colleague of mine recently did a survey of local gyms as part of her Masters program in Women’s Health Physiotherapy. She interviewed all women coming out of the gyms and asked regarding symptoms of incontinence. These were women of all ages and fitness levels – and she found that almost 50% responded yes (I think it was around 47.9%). Shouldn’t those going to the gym have better muscle control and strength than the average couch-dweller? Why is the rate so high?

There are many things that can contribute to having pelvic floor issues, including

  • being overweight
  • childbirth (esp if large baby, prolonged pushing stage or any instrumentation)
  • repetitive lifting
  • chronic coughing or constipation
  • getting older and hormonal changes during menopause
  • some sports that involve a lot of bounding/jumping (gymnasts are particularly vulnerable)

In terms of exercise, we know that high impact activities, esp with the legs apart, put a lot of strain on pelvic floor muscles and the soft tissues. So yes, running, jumping, star jumps, burpees etc. Now does that mean that you should never ever do them? Nope. I do them and I love them (well…when I say love them, I’m not sure about burpees!). We also know that lifting heavy weights and doing activities that involve holding your breath or straining can put strain on your pelvic floor. Does that mean that you should never lift weights again? Of course not.  It’s all about doing the right kind of exercises for your body, taking into account the stage that you are in (ie if you are pregnant or postnatal), and doing the exercises in a pelvic floor “safe” kind of way. So if you have just had a baby 8 weeks ago, should you be doing impact activities? I would suggest that for most women, the answer is no, and I am certainly seeing women come to my postnatal classes with new symptoms of incontinence as a result of doing these activities way too early after childbirth.

Stay tuned for some pelvic-floor friendly exercises!