Women, You're Not Supposed to Leak While Exercising! Ignore What CrossFit Says

Screen capture. YouTube

A notorious video released two years ago was supposed to be a show of solidarity for women who leak during workouts. The problem is, women don't have to leak if they address the root issue. Too bad CrossFit missed the whole point.

A couple years ago, a video was released by CrossFit entitled “Do You Pee During Workouts?” Host Rory McKernan opened with an immediately alarming statement: “We’ve seen blood today and now we see urine and that’s what it takes if you want to be the fittest woman on the planet.”

It would appear that at least one aspect of these women’s physical fitness is not up to snuff if their workouts result in a puddle of urine on the floor, but McKernan and the women he interviews seem to find it amusing.

“It happens everyday. It’s nothing new.” “It’s a correlative of intensity.” “Oh yeah, I get wet during workouts. Two kids, it does it to you.”

To make matters worse, a woman who claims to be a gynecologist speaks into the camera: “Ladies, in my professional opinion as a gynecologist, it’s OK to pee during double-unders. I’m one of them. Ten double-unders and I’m standing in a puddle. It ain’t pretty.” (A double-under is when a skipping rope passes twice beneath you for each jump.)

This is supposed to be a show of solidarity for women who experience Stress Urinary Incontinence (SUI) while exercising. In reality, it does women a great disservice by telling them not to worry about pelvic floor weakness and subsequent leakage.

Pelvic Health Solutions states: “It is a misconception to think that it is normal to have urinary leakage after childbirth. It is a misconception to think that there is nothing you can do about urinary leakage.”

Pelvic physiotherapist Janice Taylor explained to me that there is an appalling lack of information within North America’s medical community when it comes to pelvic health, especially when compared to France, where women receive six weeks of government-funded pelvic floor physiotherapy after childbirth. Here, women are given no information about how to strengthen their pelvic floor, and many accept the fact that they will leak for years, particularly during exercise, even though it’s an entirely preventable problem.

Sports instructors teach athletes how to stretch, warm up, breathe into, and brace many parts of their bodies, while often neglecting their pelvic floors, which is a vulnerable region for both women and men. Many gyms encourage exercises such as sit-ups, which Taylor believes are terrible for women, as it can over-strengthen the abs to the point of creating damaging downward pressure on the pelvic floor.

Unsurprisingly, the video tries to turn the problem into a moneymaking venture. McKernan asks the head of Rogue Fitness (CrossFit’s official provider of equipment) if there is “some sort of special product we could design for women with urination problems?” The answer is no, but there are solutions out there, and that’s where CrossFit really missed the ball.

What can a pelvic physiotherapist do for women suffering from SUI? Pelvic Guru explains:

"You will learn if you are, in fact, contracting the right muscles of the pelvic floor and sphincters. We assess much more than the pelvic floor: how’s the whole system functioning? The pelvic floor does not function in isolation. We must consider bowel (such as constipation) and bladder function, strength, length and/or function of the diaphragm, deep back and abdominal muscles, gluteal muscles, breathing, surgical history, fitness level, and much more! We help improve the function of all of the supporting muscles, improve your movement and form for all exercises to decrease stress/excess pressure at the pelvic floor (and all areas), and provide education regarding bowel and bladder habits that can have a major impact on your progress. Sometimes we utilize pelvic floor biofeedback or pelvic floor electrical stimulation, if appropriate."

What could have been an opportunity to discuss an often-ignored aspect of women’s fitness and to be a leader in educating both athletes and the public about what can be done for this common problem was squandered as a bad joke, made in very poor taste.

If you’re interested in learning more, check out Pelvic Health Solutions, or read this article by the Pelvic Guru, written in response to the CrossFit video, that contains great resources.