Does CrossFit Induce Stress Urinary Incontinence?

Man training with ropes

Hunter Bennett

CrossFit has fast become one of the most popular forms of exercise on the entire planet. And I mean, with the ability to improve every aspect of fitness at the same time, there is a damn good reason as to why.

However, did you know that it may not be completely suitable for everyone? Or at least everyone at every point in time?

Especially if you are suffering from stress urinary incontinence.

What is stress urinary incontinence?

So, what is stress urinary incontinence (or SUI for short)?

SUI essentially describes the leakage of small amounts of urine during activities that increase pressure abdominal pressure, which pushes down on the bladder. This most commonly occurs with activities such as coughing, sneezing, laughing, walking, weight lifting or playing sport

SUI typically occurs in women, although it can also be present in males under certain circumstances.

What are the risk factors of stress urinary incontinence?3 benefits of CrossFit

As I am sure you can imagine, there are a number of specific risk factors that are thought to increase your risk of developing SUI (Luber, 2004; Stothers, 2011).

These include:

  • Advanced age (and the muscular atrophy associated)
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Smoking
  • Previous history of being pregnant
  • Type II diabetes
  • History of pelvic surgery
  • Previous prostate surgery

Now it is obviously important to note that even if you fall into more than one of these categories, it does not mean you will get SUI – just that you are at a greater risk of developing it than someone who does not.

Related Article: Crossfit For All Ages

What are the causes of stress urinary incontinence?

So, now you might be wondering what is the cause of stress urinary incontinence, and there appears to be two – childbirth and prostate surgery.

See, SUI essentially occurs when the muscles that support your bladder (predominantly your pelvic floor muscles) and the muscles that regulate your release of urine (also known as your urinary sphincter) weaken.

As a result, when your bladder fills with urine, those muscles have a hard time keeping strong and stable – in which they will weaken and collapse under any external force.

Leakage ensues.

Childbirth can damage both and the muscles of your pelvic floor, and the nerves that innovate them. In this manner, it can lead to chronic changes in your ability to hold urine, which can result in the onset of SUI.

Similarly, in males, prostate surgery can negatively impact the muscle tissue of the urinary sphincter, which can weaken it significantly.

Again, this can lead to the onset of SUI.

Does CrossFit increases chances of SUI occur?

I have already mentioned how physical stress is what causes the leakage associated with SUI, and exercise is a pretty obvious form of physical stress.

Which begs the question – does CrossFit increase risk of stress urinary incontinence?

Well, fortunately for us, a recent study has attempted to answer this exact question (Yang, 2019).

In this study, they compared the incidence of SUI in women who regularly perform CrossFit against those who simply undertake moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (think running, swimming, cycling, and rowing).

And the results were pretty interesting.

You see, about 50% of the woman performing CrossFit regularly experienced SUI, while zero women in the aerobic group did. While these results may seem a little bit shocking, it actually makes quite a bit of sense…

What CrossFit exercises increase the risk of SUI the most?

See, the worst exercises for stress urinary incontinence in the CrossFit group were skipping ‘double-unders’, jumping rope, and box jumps.

And the common thing with each of these?

They involve a huge amount of impact.

See, every time you land from a movement such as this, your abdominal muscles will contract and brace to provide stability to the trunk and spine. This brace not only protects you from injury, but it also increases your intra-abdominal pressure – which is what stimulates an occurrence of SUI.

Conversely, low-intensity aerobic exercise has very minimal impact force, which places much less stress on those muscles.

It is, for this reason, there is a pretty obvious relationship between CrossFit and stresses urinary incontinence – but there doesn’t have to be.

Related Article: The Best CrossFit Workouts For Cardio & Strength

Best exercises to help stress urinary incontinence

One of the most important things to state here is that SUI isn’t a death sentence. In fact, there are certain stress urinary incontinence exercises that you can implement to reduce your risk of leakage in a very big way (Price, 2010; Chmielewska, 2017; Park, 2018).

These include:

  • Pelvic floor strengthening exercises: pelvic floor strengthening exercises (such as Kegel holds and Kegel pulses) directly train the strength and endurance of your pelvic floor. As such, they offer an excellent entry point into reducing your incidence of SUI.
  • Posture and stability exercises: there is research demonstrating that those individuals with recurrent SUI tend to have worse postural stability than those who do not. This means exercises that improve the strength of hips (glute bridges, hip thrusts, and lunges) and the trunk (planks, dead bugs, and reverse crunches) are the perfect option.
  • Progressive strength training: finally, progressive strength training has also been shown to have a major impact on SUI. When implementing this type of training, it is best to use large compound movements that require you to brace the trunk under load (think squats, deadlifts, rows, and presses).

With all this information, it is important to note that your stress urinary incontinence treatment plan shouldn’t revolve around just one of these exercises. In fact, it should implement all of them in a progressive manner:

I would recommend trying to implement pelvic floor strengthening exercises every single day, twice per day. Additionally, I would try and do your light hip and core strengthening exercises once per day. Finally, I would recommend heavy resistance training 2-3 times per week.

If you can manage this, then there is a very good chance that you will see some huge improvements in your SUI within as little as 12 weeks.

Like I said – it is definitely not a death sentence if you know how to treat it.

Take Home Message

Stress urinary incontinence, or SUI, is a disease that can be debilitating, embarrassing, and common. And as it is often brought on by high-intensity exercise, it can act as a real barrier to performing CrossFit on a regular basis.

However, there are certain steps you can take to rectify it.

So, if you suffer from SUI and have had any experience using the tips outlined in this article, we would love to hear about it – so make sure to drop us a comment and we will get back to you ASAP!

References

Luber, Karl M. “The definition, prevalence, and risk factors for stress urinary incontinence.” Reviews in urology 6.Suppl 3 (2004): S3.

Stothers, Lynn, and Boris Friedman. “Risk factors for the development of stress urinary incontinence in women.” Current urology reports 12.5 (2011): 363.

Yang, Jean, et al. “The effect of high impact CrossFit exercises on stress urinary incontinence in physically active women.” Neurourology and urodynamics 38.2 (2019): 749-756.

Price, Natalia, Rehana Dawood, and Simon R. Jackson. “Pelvic floor exercise for urinary incontinence: a systematic literature review.” Maturitas 67.4 (2010): 309-315.

Chmielewski, Daria, et al. “Static postural stability in women with stress urinary incontinence: Effects of vision and bladder filling.” Neurourology and urodynamics 36.8 (2017): 2019-2027.

Park, Juhyun, et al. “Effects of Progressive Resistance Training on Post-Surgery Incontinence in Men with Prostate Cancer.” Journal of clinical medicine 7.9 (2018): 292.

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