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Weight lifting and the pelvic floor

AKA how to lift weights and workout without peeing yourself.

We don’t often talk about the pelvic floor when it comes to weight lifting, but lifting big weights puts a whole lot of pressure on that band of muscles we tend to take for granted.

The first time I really delved into the idea of incorporating the pelvic floor during breathing was a few years ago when I did Body Beyond Baby’s Safe return to exercise training. We laid on the floor, practiced our breathing and lifting the pelvic floor. The tricky thing as a trainer is that you can’t actually see if a client is using their pelvic floor. There shouldn’t be any hip wiggles or facial expressions. It’s an internal movement. A women’s health physio will be able to tell you if you’re doing it right, but without being able to check internally it’s pretty hard to know.

What is the pelvic floor?

Everyone has one, men included. It’s the band of muscles pretty much stop all your insides falling out the bottom of your pelvid.   They act like a hammock to support your organs that sit within the pelvis, the bladder, uterus, and rectum. The muscles go from front to back and side to side of the pelvis. Without a fully functioning pelvic floor, the symptoms can range from slight bladder leakage to the more serious pro-lapse of the organs, where the woman can feel or see them coming out.

Hands up if you’ve ever slightly (or more) wet yourself working out

It’s ok if you only mentally raised your hands, but you’re in very good company. A bit of bladder leakage is not an uncommon topic of conversation at the gym when skipping is included in a workout. We joke and laugh as if it’s a normal part of life.

I’ve heard another trainer mention ‘wee dots’ when they squat with a heavy load. What?! Clearly, it had never happened to me, because it came as a bit of a shock, but it makes sense because we’re putting pressure on our core and those poor pelvic floor muscles trying to keep everything supported.

I’ve been training women for a few years since then. Call me a slow learner, but I’ve only just made the connection recently to breathing while doing squats and weight lifting to support the pelvic floor.

Breathing when lifting weights.

Clients ask me a lot about breathing during weight lifting. The basics are that you breathe in to brace on the easier bit and breathe out on the hard bit. For example, when you come up out of a squat or lift the weight off the floor in a deadlift you will breathe out and brace your core as you stand up. I’ll be coming back to this, but stick with me…

I’m upskilling again, doing certification through Girls Gone Strong where I was watching a video of helping clients incorporate breathing and their pelvic floor. They were mentioning lifting the pelvic floor as you exhale. All of a sudden the dots started coming together.

Incorporating breathing and the pelvic floor for Women specific weight lifting.

The breathing and pelvic floor exercises aren’t just about strengthening the pelvic floor then hoping for the best when you go to put extreme pressure on your insides. When we inhale before the hard bit of the movement is when you lift your pelvic floor and not just brace your core. In fact, if you just brace your core without the lift, chances are you’re pushing down on your pelvic floor rather than lifting it up, which can actually do more damage than good.

When I first learned to squat I had a male personal trainer. He certainly never talked about lifting your pelvic floor. I then went onto Crossfit, and even though I had a mix of male and female coaches, the classes were always both men and women, and I’m 100% certain the cue “Imagine you’re picking up a tissue with your vagina” was never used.

We all know about pelvic floor exercises, or Kegal exercises depending on which part of the world you’re from, but the scary thing is that we’re not actually taught how to do them. Learning pelvic floor exercises can’t be shown because it’s an internal action. We read about them, then do it. But actually, according to Body Beyond Baby, a whopping half of women are documented as doing them wrong. Instead of lifting the pelvic floor, they push down instead.

Exercise for breath and pelvic Floor

  • Lie on the floor on your back, bend your knees and put your feet on the ground and get comfortable. Put a pillow under your head if need be.
  • Place your hands on your belly. Breathe in through your nose and feel your belly rise. Exhale and feel the belly fall. Do this a few times to get comfortable.
  • Take your awareness to the pelvic floor muscles. As you breathe out, brace them slightly and imagine them lifting up, as if you are picking up a pea or plucking a tissue upwards. It is the same idea as stopping the flow of urine, which is not recommended, but you get the idea.
  • Jen Dugard from Body Beyond baby teaches imagining dots on your knickers just over the rectus abdominus, or just inside the hip bone. Imagine drawing the dots together in the middle then lifting them towards your belly button.
  • Being able to relax on the inhale is also important. We don’t want to always have a tight pelvic floor because that is a hypertonic pelvic floor. A hypertonic pelvic floor occurs when the muscles in the pelvic floor become too tense and are unable to relax. Many people with a tense and non-relaxing pelvic floor experience pelvic health concerns such as constipation, painful sex, urgency and pelvic pain.
  • Once you have the lift of the pelvic floor on the exhale under control it’s now time to practice it standing upand during exercise.

If you have pelvic floor issues, what should you do?

Visit a women’s health physio or OB-GYN as they are qualified to help. Should you just suck it up and deal with it? No.

The pelvic floor is a group of muscles, no different to a shoulder or knee. If they were damaged you’d see a physio for help, the different is that the pelvic floor doesn’t exhibit pain so we don’t bother. BOTHER LADIES!

For related content check out the post about changing the conversation about getting our pre baby bodies back with Jen Dugard

Or get in contact with me to start strengthening your core from the inside out.


Health and Nutrition coach, helping women find their Strength, Courage, Power and Roar through food and fitness

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