Box jumps, aggressive sneezing, skipping or a fit of coughing...all of these things can lead to leaking and maybe a quick bolt to the bathroom.
Incontinence - it’s something millions of women deal with daily. And no, it’s not just the old ladies stocking up on leak-proof underwear. The Continence Foundation of Australia cites 1.7 million Australian women under 50 are battling with it!
It’s also something that not many of us want to talk about. Why? Because it’s kinda embarrassing and well, doesn’t it happen to everyone sooner or later? Whilst incontinence is common - it’s not normal. It is often a sign of pelvic dysfunction or weakness and is definitely something you should try to get on top of ASAP.
So, what is urinary incontinence exactly?
Urinary incontinence is any involuntary leaking of urine. There are two types of urinary incontinence, stress incontinence and urge incontinence. Stress incontinence is the most common and happens when a sudden increase in abdominal pressure (such as when you cough or sneeze) causes additional downwards force on the bladder which leads to leaking.
If the words 'box jumps' or 'double unders' make you want to hide in the corner or skip your next F45 session, here are some simple steps you can take to help manage your incontinence.
1. Make a Date with a WHP
What’s a WHP? A WHP is magical creatures who will help you to restore your pelvic health and function, hopefully, stop the leaking and will offer zero judgement - because they’ve seen it all before - many times over!
A WHP can help to:
- Prescribe a personalised pelvic floor program for you to follow. Sometimes this might actually involve releasing your pelvic floor. Women with hypertonic pelvic floor muscles that can’t relax may also experience incontinence.
- Feel what a ‘good’ pelvic floor contraction feel like. Did you know over half of us aren’t doing them correctly!
- Consider other factors which may be contributing to your incontinence such as posture and abdominal function.
Need some more motivation to book that appointment? An increase in your pelvic floor tone and strength can also improve your sexual pleasure and ability to reach orgasm!
2. K is for KEGAL
Women’s Health Guru Lyz Evans from Women in Focus Physiotherapy says “Pelvic floor strengthening is with out doubt the most important thing we can do to treat and prevent stress urinary incontinence. The research shows this time and time again with a 70 – 95 per cent cure rate when a structured pelvic floor program is followed.”
So what does a good pelvic floor program involve? There are 3 different types of exercises you should be doing:
Building up strength and muscle tone, the goal is to be able to hold your contraction for 10 seconds 10 times.
- Engage and lift your pelvic floor for 3-4 seconds before releasing fully.
- Repeat 8-10 rounds.
- Slowly build up by increasing by 1 to 2 seconds each day.
Short bursts of maximal effort mimic the effort required to maintain control when you cough or sneeze.
- Engage your pelvic floor as quickly and powerfully as you can. Hold for 1-2 seconds.
- Fully release.
- Lift straight back up with no rest in between.
- Aim for 10 power contractions.
Combine your pelvic floor exercises with functional movements such as squats, lunges and push-ups or follow a guided pelvic floor workout like the ones in the Fit Mummy Project App.
3. Simple Exercise Swaps for Pelvic Health
In addition to doing your pelvic floor exercises daily, making some simple workout swaps will help you to reduce your incontinence. If a move makes you pee your pants - even a little, it’s a sign that you need to modify or avoid that exercise (for a while at least).
Some of the main culprits when it comes to exercise-induced incontinence are:
- Lifting weights that cause you to hold your breath such as heavy front squats, clean and press or kettlebell swings.
- Plyometrics or high impact exercises such as box jumps, skipping and star jumps.
- High impact and repetitive exercise such as sprinting.
If the weight you are lifting causes you to hold your breath, swap it for a weight that allows you to breathe through the whole range. Remember to ‘exhale with the effort.’ Exhaling creates a small lift and contraction through your pelvic floor.
Replace high impact exercises like box jumps, skipping or star jumps skips with step ups, high knees or alternate lunges.
If you find yourself unable to control your bladder during a run, you can reduce the time running, include more hills in your run (running up hill is kinder to your pelvic floor) or try to include some soft surface in your run such as grass or sand.