Do You Leak When You Lift? Let's talk about what might be happening!
Updated: Feb 22
“Have you ever leaked when lifting something really heavy?”
Typically, when we go to lift something heavy - whether it’s in the gym with a barbell, or at home with our toddler - we may not be able to consciously feel what’s going on at our pelvic floor. And how many times a day are you picking toys up off the floor, emptying the dishwasher, picking up clothes, even picking your baby up out of their crib or off the changing table?? These movements all require lifting something that has weight to it.
“But I thought leaking only happened during running and jumping?”
Stress urinary incontinence is defined as leaking any amount of urine with any activity. 1 in 3 women actually report leaking or some other form of pelvic floor dysfunction, and this is not just after childbirth. We typically associate a leak here and there with sneezing, laughing, jumping, or running but rarely do we talk about how common it is with heavy lifting!
In order to understand why this might be happening, we first have to look at how we breathe and its role in the function of core.
When and how we breathe can make all the difference with lifting. And here’s why:
What happens when we breathe?
Our diaphragm and pelvic floor work in coordination, so how we breathe during a lift can be super important.
When we take a deep breath in, our diaphragm contracts and lowers, and our pelvic floor should relax and lengthen down.
When we exhale, our diaphragm lifts, and our pelvic floor muscles should squeeze and lift as well.
This is what happens reflexively when we breathe in and out. BUT this doesn’t always come naturally! Which is why we may have to be intentional about it at first. But then, once our brain and body know what to do, we won’t have to concentrate on it so hard!
What’s the most common pattern with repetitive movements or heavy lifting?
What happens when we breath hold?
Within our abdominal wall, we have pressure that ebbs and flows as we breathe.
This “intra-abdominal pressure” increases when we exhale.
Now think of that increased pressure, WITH weight on top of it!
Without proper deep core activation, all of that pressure is forced down onto our pelvic floor.
Imagine a soda can that has not been opened yet – super rigid, but if dropped it would likely explode because of all the increased pressure. Once we open the soda can and pop the top, now some pressure is able to release and isn’t all forced down onto your pelvic floor.
Why is breathing so important when we lift something heavy?
Just like any other muscle in the body, our pelvic floor muscles need to lengthen in order to get a solid contraction and shorten.
The inhale essentially prepares our muscles to contract when we need them to!
When we exhale and contract our pelvic floor muscles, we are creating a good base of support to anticipate the load we are about to put on them.
This good base of support, or foundation, is also necessary to withstand the amount of pressure put down on it when we lift something heavy.
If your poor pelvic floor muscles can’t keep up, you can see how leaking may occur!
Here are a few things to try:
Wall sit – are you able to sit in a squat against the wall and relax as you inhale, and contract as you exhale?
Hip hinge – try doing a standing hip hinge focusing on the contraction as you stand
Explosive bridge – can you do a bridge with emphasis on the hip extension and lifting with speed, while also contracting your pelvic floor?
These may not seem like the typical positions for pelvic floor strengthening, but at some point, we have to get off the table and train our pelvic floor in different positions/movements so it can be on board when we need it most!
If you have questions about a specific situation, please get in touch! We are always happy to chat!