Our Umi Guides complement our online courses to focus more closely on discrete topics, as guided by our community. Here you’ll find all of the e-guides we have published to date. As our community is broad and multi-generational, not everything will be relevant to you, but keep your eyes peeled as new guides are released regularly. If you have a topic you want us to cover, ping us a message and let us know.
The Umi guide to leak free impact
It’s never too late, or too early, to address leaks. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been leaking for, how much or little you leak and it doesn’t matter how old you are. Leaks can happen at any age and at any time. While leaking is often correlated with having a baby, lots of women leak who have never had babies.
Any amount of leaking is very likely to be, at least, improved if not resolved - which is the case for 70% of women - by approaching your pelvic health differently. As the saying goes; ‘if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got’.
If leaks have been happening for a long period of time, it doesn’t make them less likely to resolve, it just means you need to change the way your body is managing pressure and revisit how you are using your pelvic floor muscles. On the flip side, small leaks that only happen with exercise are unlikely to resolve on their own & have been shown to persist and increase in frequency as you age. So take these simple steps now to stop leaking and future-proof your bladder and bowel control so you can continue to exercise leak-free well into the future!
As always, we would highly recommend seeking the opinion of a pelvic health physiotherapist if at all possible if you are experiencing leaks. However, in the absence of that, until you are able to, or alongside your treatment, see all our top tips in this easy to implement, up-to-date, evidence-based guide. Don’t forget to head back to Essentials by Umi at any point for all the info you need on the anatomy of and how to do your pelvic floor squeezes.
What type of leaks can be improved/resolved?
In general we are referring to bladder leaks as this is the most common type of incontinence to experience when exercising, but this guide can also be applied to bowel leaks. If you leak wind or stool with impact, which many women do, then follow all of the exact same advice in this guide.
What do we mean by high impact exercise?
Any movement or exercise that creates upward & downward force travelling through the body for example; sudden changes of direction, jumping, skipping, hopping and running. Examples of no/low impact exercises are cycling or swimming.
The more impact that’s exerted on the pelvic floor, the more potential we have to leak. For example, in a recent study looking at Crossfit movements, it was found that double unders (skipping really fast) created at least three times more downward pressure than any other Crossfit movement – it’s no wonder that skipping is top of the list of exercises that result in leaks when it comes to impact!
Why does impact make so many of us leak?
Simply put, if the pressure down - created by the amount of impact (either single movement or over time/with increased repetitions) - is greater than the ability in our pelvic floor muscles to cushion and oppose that downward force then we will leak. Our pelvic floor muscles need to be quick enough, strong enough and have enough endurance to cushion the amount of downward pressure we are applying to them. If they don’t, then we leak.
If impact makes us leak, is it bad for our pelvic floor? Should we abstain from impact work all together?
In a word, no! If you leak with any impact activity, it’s just a sign that your pelvic floor muscles need some attention for a little while to improve their ability to manage the pressure. In fact, abstaining from all impact doesn’t actually help at all – what we need to do, instead, is find the level of impact that we can just about manage without leaking and then gradually work back up from there whilst also doing daily pelvic floor squeezes (remember we have loads of information on how to do these in our Essentials course). This is the quickest and safest path to long-term leak free impact.
What can I do straight away to reduce leaking with impact?
There are 4 crucial things that have been proven to decrease excessive pressure/increase pelvic floor functioning during high impact movements;
Relax your tummy muscles
The more we can relax our tummy when exercising the better. That includes you too pilates! Our bodies will automatically activate our tummy muscles to the required amount, consciously over-activating or clenching them is detrimental. If you have a tendency to hold your tummy in, maybe because you feel self-conscious of it (as unfortunately many women do), wear a looser top while exercising. This might be helpful in allowing you to break the tummy-sucking habit.
To lessen pressure we need to be breathing in and out throughout exercise. At no point should be be holding our breath or bracing. As the diaphragm links to the pelvic floor, maintaining breathing when exercising also allows the pelvic floor to be flexible and therefore able to work at is most efficient. Be aware of this, in particular, during demanding activities which really leave you out of puff! Do your leaks correlate with those activities? If so, turn the focus to your breath next time and see if it helps. Remember to aim your breath into the bottom of your ribcage as opposed to lots of shallow breaths.
Relax the pelvic floor muscles
It has been shown that normal support within the pelvic floor is flexible and not rigid. Despite many women instinctively holding in their pelvic floor through fear of or experiencing leaking, clenching the pelvic floor during exercise actually makes us more likely to leak. It’s recently been shown in high impact movements that the pelvic floor moves down and up with each heel strike/impact so it’s crucial that the pelvic floor is able to move.
Keep your BMI below 30
Although the use of BMI as a marker of overall health is controversial, the research consistently supports that a BMI over 30 is detrimental to the function of our pelvic floor. The more we weigh, the more pressure will be created meaning the pelvic floor muscles have to work harder to meet the demand.
Shall I go for a wee right before I exercise? Won’t that help with reducing leaks?
It may for some feel as though it helps and act as psychological reassurance, however, our bladders are never fully empty or dry so for many women it does not actually help reduce leaking. Going to empty your bladder ‘just in case’ for any reason can actually can get the bladder into bad habits and is not advised. It is good practice to only go to empty our bladder when we are being told to go by our body’s signals and with a good amount of urine to pass.
It’s also important to note here that fluid intake is crucial before, during and after exercise. Please do not restrict your fluid intake before or during exercise, this will not help with leaks. Remember also that in the meantime there are specific bladder leak pads and underwear available, please do not use sanitary products for bladder leaks.
What else do I need to do?
Along with implementing the above 4 things, it’s vital that you start doing daily pelvic floor squeezes (not forgetting to fully let go in between each one) as soon as possible. Check back to module 3 in Essentials for the full lowdown on how to do your squeezes, how to check if you’re doing them correctly, what position to do them in and how many you need to do (start with at least 8 reps, three times per day).
And then it’s about finding where you’re at from an impact point of view. Work out using the scale below where you can get to without leaking and start there before moving up on to the next level. (It might take anything from 1-6 weeks before moving onto the next level depending on your baseline). You can make each level harder by adding more reps, height and speed or make each level easier by reducing reps, height and speed. There is a level for everyone so just start, remembering our 4 tips above, and you’ll be getting better before you know it!
Landing from a heel raise/from your tip toes
Hopping on one leg
Jumping with two legs
Running (first uphill, then flat, then downhill)
Skipping with a rope
Doing these two things alongside each other will ensure you remain on the safest and quickest path to long-term leak free impact.
How long will it take to become leak free?
This depends on your current baseline. Put simply, the weaker your pelvic floor muscles are, the longer it will take to strengthen them up. This means that lessening the leaks can take anywhere from a few weeks until up to a year. On average it takes 3-6 months.
It feels as though I only leak at certain times of the month, does the menstrual cycle effect leaking?
Yes it can. Naturally our hormones fluctuate and they can have effects on muscle physiology - mainly flexibility and endurance. This is not a detrimental thing or anything to be avoided, but it might help you to understand your body more. It’s still really important to adhere to the advice above, as then once your pelvic floor is able to perform better, you wont notice hormonal fluctuations by means of bladder leaks. If you think this applies to you, like we recommend all women do anyway in Essentials, be sure to track your cycle (check back to Essentials for our advice on this) and log your leaking to gain better understanding.