You're pushing hard on your last mile, nailing your deadlift or doing a box jump when, suddenly, you feel it: leakage. Yep, you've peed your pants. Just a little — you hope.
Stress urinary incontinence (accidentally peeing during exercise, coughing, sneezing or sex) may be embarrassing, but it's common among women: 25 to 45 percent of women experience some sort of leakage problem, stress incontinence being the most typical type. The common denominator? A weak or damaged pelvic floor.
During exercise, a woman's pelvic floor — a sling-like muscle that supports the vagina, urethra, bladder and rectum — gets a workout. In part, that's because the pelvic floor works in conjunction with your abs and butt, areas many people try to tone up.
"Think of your core as a can, with your diaphragm the top and your pelvic floor the bottom," says Jessie Mundell, a prenatal/postnatal exercise specialist. "That can is a pressure system, so you need balanced pressure throughout or your floor won't sustain it and leakage occurs."
Peeing during exercise isn't some annoyance you should just deal with. Nor is it an indicator of a kickass workout. If left untreated, the condition can lead to yeast and urinary tract infections or, in extreme situations, pelvic organ prolapse, says Sami Cattach, a pelvic health physiotherapist.
But you can protect your pelvic floor with a few tweaks to your workout. Make sure your body is stacked and in good alignment (proper form), breathe correctly and master those infamous Kegel exercises. Here's how to do all that during your favorite workouts:
Lean Forward While Running
It doesn't sound too comfortable, but leaning forward slightly during a run takes pressure off the pelvic floor. That's because when people run, they subconsciously push their chests up and out, which prevents the abdominal and pelvic floor muscles from contracting in sync.
"If leaning forward feels awkward, you could also run uphill, an activity that naturally positions your body this way," says Mundell. "The glute [butt] muscles also work hard on an incline, which help support the pelvic floor and core function."
In addition, avoid pounding the ground (and your poor pelvic floor) by varying your terrain between trails, grass and the track.
Support Yourself During Deadlifts
When it comes to deadlifts (a killer move for strengthening the lower body), it's important to coordinate your breathing. At the start of the exercise, squeeze your Kegel muscles and hold the tension throughout the pull. Exhale as you lift the barbell and return to standing.
"As you lift, there will be pressure applied to your pelvic floor," says Mundell. Breathing out while squeezing your pelvic floor helps counteract this pressure.
As you lower the bar, release the Kegel and inhale.
Squeeze Before a Pull-Up
Right before raising your body into a pull-up or chin-up, exhale and do one Kegel exercise (simply squeeze the muscles you use to stop the flow of urine). Hold that tension as you pull yourself up, says Mundell.
Then, while easing your body down, release your Kegel muscles (i.e., pelvic floor muscles) as you inhale. Kegels work because the tension helps balance the pressure in the abdomen
And, according to Cattach, exhaling on the most strenuous part of the move lessens pressure in the abdomen and pelvic floor. "Note that if it's tough to breathe well during a particular exercise, it's probably too strenuous for you," she says.
Breathe Before Box Jumps
As effective as jumping exercises are for blasting fat, moves that have you landing on both feet generate significant impact on the pelvic floor, according to Cattach. To reduce the pressure during a box jump, exhale before you jump to engage your pelvic floor in advance, she says.
Tips to Limit Leakage
Empty your bladder as much as possible before you exercise (and before you get moving first thing in the morning), wear a panty liner or a dark color of bottoms and, most importantly: Breathe while you sweat.
"When you inhale, the diaphragm and pelvic floor flatten and lower; when you exhale, they contract and lift," explains Cattach. "If you hold your breath and your lungs are full of air, the floor won't respond well to the gravity and you'll have too much pressure inside that canister." The result: Well, you know.
What Do YOU Think?
Can you relate to this problem? Has it ever made you cut a workout short? If you tried any of these tips, how did they work for you? Let us know your experience and suggestions in the comments.