Crossfit · fitness · health · running · training

Peeing during workouts, not just an older woman’s issue

I’m interested as a feminist, and as a woman who likes to ride, run, lift etc with other women, in finding out more about the barriers that keep women out of the gym and off the road.

I’ve written here about ladylike values and sports performance attire as things that might make women uncomfortable in the athletic world. Tracy has blogged about competition as something that might make some women uncomfortable.

But here I’m going to venture into even less comfortable territory, exercise related urinary incontinence.

I’m not sure I would have been brave enough to tackle the topic if it weren’t for a recent Crossfit video on the issue.  (Rory McKernan posed the question to women at the Central East Regional, “Do you pee during your workouts?” The video tells us what he found out.)

Also, in a way it’s easy for me to be personal here since despite giving birth to three children, it’s not an issue I have. I have a nervous urge to pee that I associate with races. I’m the person lining up for the port a potty three times before the race begins. But that’s the same with giving academic lectures. Just nerves.

But I know that lots of women, young and old, do have a problem with peeing during exercise. . It’s an issue often associated with running but even moreso with  jumping jacks, skipping, burpees, and box jumps (all CrossFit staples).

Australian physiotherapists responded with shock and horror to the CrossFit video on the occasion of World Continence Week. (Who knew? Did you celebrate? I missed it.)

Here’s just a taste of their response:

The video producers interview women at CrossFit competitions about what they term ‘EIUL’ or exercised induced urinary leakage. The video shows women losing bladder control during competition, and sends the message that this is normal, and even something to be proud of. This message flies in the face of research supporting rehabilitation for the pelvic floor and it puts women at risk of bladder problems, loss of bowel control, and prolapse of the pelvic organs.

‘The video is shocking, disturbing, and normalises this debilitating condition. It is not normal to lose urine during exercise or at any other time and it should certainly not be seen as a “badge of honour”,’ said Specialist Continence and Women’s Health Physiotherapist Shan Morrison. ‘For a company that prides itself on promoting exercise, CrossFit Inc is not sending a positive health message.’

I actually don’t think the video “celebrates” the problem at all, though it does joke about and normalize it. And the problem, serious or not, is certainly normal.

According to Exercise-induced urinary incontinence (leaking urine while running) – it’s more common than you think, and treatable 30-40% of women have problems with bladder control while exercising.

“The main problem [with exercise-induced urinary incontinence] is that is often limits women from doing activities that they would otherwise participate in, because of the worry and inconvenience that the incontinence causes.”

Sherrie Palm writes, “I have to wonder how many women take up an exercise regimen like jogging or marathon running and then give it up because urinary incontinence sends them sideways. I’ve had intentions for some time of putting together an article about the impact urinary incontinence has to women who are runners and joggers, but when two women I know who are marathon runners told me within a short time frame that they had concerns about handling leakage issues during upcoming runs, I knew I had to get the lead out and address these concerns.”  Read more here.

My evaluation of the CrossFit video? I’d give them full marks for talking about the issue and raising awareness about how common this problem is. If it’s something that plagues your workouts, you’re not alone. Less than full marks for not discussing solutions and possible pelvic floor physiotherapy options.

I had always associated this problem with age and with having given birth but the CrossFit video and the numbers make clear that women of all ages struggle with exercise incontinence.

But really, it shouldn’t keep you from exercising. Exercising doesn’t make things worse and you’re not the only person out there peeing a little bit on your run.

Watch the video and let me know what you think. I’m curious.

13 thoughts on “Peeing during workouts, not just an older woman’s issue

  1. Is this issue unique to (or at least more common in) women? I found the tone of the video made it hard to grasp whether it’s something to be proud of or just to admit to so it can be discussed as a problem to be solved or what. They did kind of make it seem as if it’s an indicator that you’re working hard. I’ve never experienced it before–does that mean I don’t work hard enough or that I have good, healthy bladder control?

    1. Just women. About 30 to 40 percent of us which is a pretty significant number!

  2. And the video focuses almost entirely on women who pee during “double unders.” Never having done cross fit, I had to google that! I know that this is an issue for women runners, too. And yes, I agree that it shouldn’t be stigmatized.

  3. I didn’t really see the video as celebrating the phenomenon or considering it a badge of honor, as I sometimes see Crossfitters bragging that they puked during a WOD. It seemed to just be an acknowledgment that it’s a common experience during exercise. I don’t have an opinion about whether it’s a physical problem or just a normal nuisance.

    Also I wonder how much it happens to men. Although it might not be the case here, it’s so much more likely for whatever women do to be stigmatized as a dysfunction simply because it’s different from men. Maybe it’s weird that men DON’T pee more often.

    So far I haven’t had the honor 🙂 but in a related issue, I find that long hikes can be problematic, simply because there’s nowhere to pee. I’m OK with squatting in the bushes, but when the leaves are down there aren’t any bushes! and frankly I’m concerned (my husband even more so) with being arrested for indecent exposure and convicted as a sex offender. I know that sounds crazy, but it has happened to people.

  4. I don’t think the video glorifies it – to me it seemed like it was trying to normalize it. To make women see that they’re not alone.

    I’ve never really had problems in this area until just the past few weeks – but being 25 weeks PG is probably the biggest factor. I do worry that it will continue after I give birth though.

    Another related issue is passing gas while exercising – I wonder how many women don’t participate in exercise, or at least hold back, because of that?

    1. I thought of that too, when it comes to some yoga positions or some aikido moves!

  5. Definitely one of the reasons I stopped running and what stops me from resuming. Happens with jumping jacks too, but at least in that case I am in the privacy of my own home.

  6. It happens on multiple hr.long rides sometimes or cycling up several steep hills in 1 ride.

    I confess: I wear a panty liner. I am not au naturel in my spandex shorts. It works for me…last 22 yrs. It’s not a big deal to me. Wear dark tights/shorts. Sometimes I don’t know, because it maybe also be sweat.

    Onward. ..up and over the hill.

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