Experiencing pelvic floor dysfunction? Here’s how to strength train safely
Although I’ve been a strength coach for 13 years, it wasn’t until five years ago that I first noticed my female clients were running to the bathroom before and after heavy deadlifts, jumping, and any other impact exercise. Then I had my first baby and I finally clued in.
The Impact of Pelvic Floor Dysfunction on Postpartum Women
After having my first baby, I was diagnosed with pelvic floor dysfunction and a grade 2 prolapse. Unfamiliar with both? Pelvic floor dysfunction is your body’s inability to correctly relax and coordinate the muscles of your pelvic floor to have a bowel movement. Symptoms range from constipating, straining to have a bowel movement, experiencing urine or stool leakage, and a frequent need to urinate. Pelvic organ prolapse (POP) is a condition in which the pelvic organs herniate into the vagina due to ligament or muscular weakness, which can be painful.
As a new mom myself, now I knew why these women were running off to the bathroom so much. It got me thinking: If pelvic floor dysfunction and POP are so common, why aren’t they being talked about more? I think it comes down to two things. For one, these conditions have become so normalized for women who have had babies, that we just think that’s how it is. You’re a mom and so now you pee now when you sneeze, laugh too hard or lift anything over 50 pounds. And secondly, there’s a stigma surrounding it because many women are embarrassed about incontinence, for one, and they don’t want to discuss it.
Breaking the Silence: Addressing the Stigma of Pelvic Floor Conditions
I believe, though, that women shouldn’t have to feel embarrassed and that the more we talk about it and understand how common these conditions are, the more readily we can learn about and find solutions. In the past, most women would eventually need surgery if the problem resulted in pain or incontinence, but now there have been so many advances in therapy that with physio and regular specified exercises, we can usually permanently repair the damage. While extreme cases may need more intervention, more than 90 percent of cases have been able to avoid surgery and continue with daily life without pain or discomfort (and without peeing their pants).
Solutions and Treatment Options for Pelvic Floor Dysfunction
As a CPPC Barbell Rehab Certified Pre/Postnatal Strength Specialist, I can tell you that peeing when you sneeze, laugh, jump or lift weights is common but it’s not normal. These could be signs you have pelvic floor dysfunction and I suggest seeing a pelvic floor physiotherapist. Some other symptoms? As I shared earlier, symptoms may include pain during intercourse, a heavy feeling in the pelvic region, chronic back pain, the frequent need to pee, constipation, and leakage. As for what to expect when you consult a pelvic floor physiotherapist, they will give you exercises and stretches to work on, along with breathing techniques, which will help you connect your breath to your pelvic floor so that you can have all your body’s working parts moving together.
3 dynamic warm-up exercises for strength training
1. Cat-cow stretch: This exercise helps stretch the lower back and glutes through the extension and draws the pelvic floor up through the flexion (think of it as sucking a ping-pong ball up through the vagina).
2. Malasana stretch: Also known as a deep squat, this pose stretches the inner groin and hips and strengthens the pelvic floor.
3. Diaphragmatic breathing: Hold your hands around your lower rib cage and breathe in while
Tip: Although some female lifters can handle with the valsalva maneuver during heavy lifts, if you are someone who leaks with heavy lifting or feels a lot of downward pressure, exhale at the point of most exertion. For example, during a deadlift, this would be at the point where the barbell travels just above the knees, just as you’re about to extend the knee and drive the hips forward. At this point, exhale and focus on drawing the pelvic floor upward.
3 Post-workout stretches
1. Pigeon stretch: Hold for 30-60 seconds on each side
2. Child’s pose: Hold for 30-60 seconds.
3. Captain Morgan stretch: Hold for 30-60 seconds.
What about Kegels?
The more common issue for female lifters is the inability to relax the pelvic floor. This creates more downward tension so certain stretches and breathwork can help you focus on relaxing and contracting the pelvic floor muscles appropriately. A pelvic floor physiotherapist can assess whether you struggle with tight or weak pelvic floor muscles.
As a CPPC Barbell Rehab Certified Pre/Postnatal Strength Specialist, and a mom of two who’s suffered from pelvic floor dysfunction and POP, I’m here to tell you that you do not need to stop lifting. You just need to lift smart, have the appropriate rehab team, and work your way up slowly to lifting heavier weights without leaking.