Five Myths around Incontinence and the Fitness Industry
These myths only serve to hold women back, so therefore NEED to be dispelled!
Myth 1: “It’s normal to leak when you’re are a mum and work out”
Yes, it is common. Check these statistics. But you only have to see the mass exodus to the toilet just before the high impact track comes on in a Body Attack class to see this point!
Yes, incontinence is common. But it does not have to be your normal.
Leaking a little wee, LBL or loosing full control of your bladder or bowel, is your body’s way of asking for help. It is struggling! There are many reasons why this is happening and it is important to know that just doing more pelvic floor exercises, might not be the answer and in some instances may make it worse!
When you experience LBL or leak a little wee… this is a perfect time to address the problem. And the first step has to be a correct diagnosis of what the problem is. This can only be done by a Women’s Health Physiotherapist or other Continence Specialist.
Myth 2: “If I empty my bladder before I leave home / work out / go for a run, I won’t leak”
Possibly… but there is much more at stake with this myth.
Let me tell you about Francine.
Francine is family-loving grandmother and leads an active life. However, every trip she makes, whether it be to the shopping mall or going to her weekly activities, Francine knows every toilet en route. And just to be safe, she always goes to the toilet when the opportunity presents itself… just in case.
Now Francine goes on a family trip to the beach with her children and grandchildren. After lunch the family decide to go for a walk along the beach. Francine opts to stay behind to mind the bags.
“But we can put the bags in the car Mum, you don’t need to miss out!”
“It’s ok”, says Francine. “I’m too full from lunch!”
The reality is that Francine does not know if there will be a toilet on the way, or even how long they will walk away from the toilet she is near. The fear of not being able to make it and possibly having an accident in public, is simply too stressful.
Francine, now unwittingly, starts opting out of life.
Francine’s just-in-case-wee has over time, has caused her bladder to shrink. This means now it is not physically able to hold as much as it had in the past. Because her bladder is now never full, the urine is strong which irritates the bladder and makes Francine feel even more like going to the toilet, even when she doesn’t need to.
Couple this with a couple of incontinence incidents, Francine is now incredibly fine attuned to her bladder’s demands and harbours a great deal of anxiety around not having enough time to get to the toilet.
But Francine did not suddenly wake up one day with this behaviour.
She has trained herself over time. And in fact this behaviour can be traced to a much younger version of herself – as a new mum, struggling with pelvic floor dysfunction post birth. Francine can also remember her own mother exhibiting the same behaviours around toileting. Francine had been told as a child, just as she told her children and now her grandchildren “Go to the toilet just in case!” Francine has conditioned her body, over time to behave this way. And now it is virtually impossible for her to behave differently.
Your toileting habits add up and make a huge difference in the long term. Choose early how you want to be when you are older.
Myth 3: “My work-out is not related to my incontinence”
Let me share my story.
I had had my 2 kids and did not have any pelvic floor dysfunction. When my youngest baby turned one, I decided to change my career from sedentary teaching to becoming a Fitness Instructor. I spent the next year pushing myself physically to get into shape. (Or get into the only perceived shape I thought that people would take me seriously as a Fit Pro). It was during this time, I noticed that my incontinence started. But it was only sometimes.
It was easy to ignore.
The next year, when I went to study Certificate III and IV in Fitness, I was pretty keen to find out as much as I could. I would have dearly loved to have asked my tutors about my personal leaking, but in a room of new school leavers I just couldn’t. So apart from a few titters of laughter and stray comments from other mums at the gym, I was left thinking that I was the only one suffering. How could I have an old lady affliction when I was only 34?
I sincerely hoped my incontinence would just go away , but instead it started to get worse. Much worse.
It was not until I was teaching Body Pump to a sea of people who were eye level with my crotch, that I simply could NOT take the stress of worrying if I would leak through the pad, or that they would see the tell-tale pad bulge anymore.
I went to my Dr. who sent me off to a Women’s Health Physio and she told me in no un-certain words, I had exercise-induced-incontinence. My work out was too hard for my pelvic floor, she said, and it was simply not coping. I was devastated. Working out was my sanity pill and now, my new profession.
It seems crazy that I did not completely or immediately equate my high intensity work out with my growing incontinence concerns. If I am completely honest, I did not even want to make that correlation. And hence why I had suffered in silence for so long and to the verge of prolapse.
Myth 4: “I have a weak core and that is why I do pilates and / or yoga”
The words “weak core” amuse me. Are my clients using this term as an euphemism for “wetting my pants” or are they just repeating a phrase that the health and fitness Industry has thrown at them?
Your core consists of a group of muscles, not just the rectus-abdominal that sits on top in the front (and can be flexed magnificently with a low percentage of body fat and considerable training). Your core includes the all important smaller muscles that sit under the Rectus – the transverse abdominals, your pelvic floor, your diaphragm and your back muscles.
These muscles all need to be strengthened subject to one another. Having chiselled rectus and weak back or pelvic floor muscles, will undoubtedly challenge the tensegrity of these muscles working together and may result in dysfunction or pain.
Yoga and pilates are only as good as the instructor’s understanding of the core system and the impact intra-abdominal pressure has on pelvic floor. Cued incorrectly, and these “pelvic floor safe”* exercise options can push a weak or stressed pelvic floor to breaking point.
*the term “pelvic floor safe exercise” is bullshit. Thinking that one exercise can damage or fix is pure folly.
Myth 5: ” My Fitness Instructor / PT is a mum. She knows about that stuff”
Anyone who enters the Fitness Industry does so, I believe, because they genuinely care about people. They truly want to make a positive difference in people’s lives. They are some of the most passionate people you come across. And you have to be – because it is not the profession to choose if you want to make zillions of dollars!
However, when the Women’s Health Physio told me that my pelvic floor was not coping with my work out, I went immediately back to my text books to learn more. And to my horror I found that pelvic floor was not even in my anatomy books.
Pelvic floor as a muscle was completely omitted!
And although there was a little information around training pregnant women, there was absolutely NO information on exercise modifications for postnatal women. It would seem that when the baby is out, you can magically go back to training as you had before!
A Fit Pro who is also a mother absolutely brings their own personal experience into their work. But my personal experience does not and can not possibly include the myriad of issues that you need to be aware of when training pregnant and postnatal women. Issues such as pelvic floor dysfunction, DRAM, pelvic or sexual pain. These require specialised learning that is simply not included in our current fitness qualifications.
It is not in a Fit Pro’s scope of practice to diagnose and fix these issues, however, a Fit Pro is perfectly placed to start that conversation. Ideally they would be able to provide links to other health professionals who can help. Fit Pro’s can learn how to modify workouts, so that women can remain active and enjoy all the physical, mental and emotional benefits that exercise gives.
Being pregnant, postnatal (no matter how postnatal) or going through menopause each bring challenges that need to be acknowledged and addressed when designing fitness programs. And being a woman is not a “special population” as some label this type of education.
There is absolutely no way that all of this information is innate in someone who is both a Fit Pro and a mum.
Have you heard other myths you want to de-bunk? Pop them in the comments below!
Want to up-skill and join a community of like minded health and fitness professionals that care about raising the standards of care for women? Join us at the Women’s Health and Fitness Summit held at The Grand Hyatt, Melbourne on the 28th & 29th October.
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