Do you lift weights and have a prolapse and feel symptoms during or after lifting? If so, this blog (and the next few to follow) are for you!
Lifting weights is awesome for the female body! We need to maintain our muscle mass as much as possible (particularly as we age). However, in the pelvic health space, lifting weights is sometimes described as being “bad for the pelvic floor”.
Let’s dive a little deeper into this first
Is lifting weights "bad" for the pelvic floor?
Research by Thyssen et al, 2002 identified running, lifting, and jumping as the movements most likely to elicit pelvic floor symptoms. And whilst intra-abdominal pressure increases when we lift weights, it simply means we want to match pelvic floor strength, responsiveness, and function (and full body strength) with the weights lifted. However, and as demonstrated by Lori Forner et al in 2019, lifting heavier weights is NOT associated with increased reports of prolapse.
Your key to improving symptoms - manage pressure, better
Managing pressure better can come down to a couple of things 1) better breathing strategies that align with where you are in your pelvic health journey and 2) better management of tension – which is a key driver of pressure.
The issue is that many lifters (and this may be your experience too) have been taught there is only one way to lift. Big brace, big inhale, pushing the tummy outwards, hold breath and then lift. However, this increases pressure and ‘may’ result in a bearing-down technique. And was a technique designed by men for men…Allowing an exhale (either on exertion) or exhaling a little (to blow off some pressure before a gentler breath hold) can be useful in better managing pressure, whilst also providing stability to lift heavier weights. These strategies are also dependent on how much you might be lifting and your experience of lifting.
In a world where you may have been told to engage/activate your pelvic floor with every movement, this can lead to creating too much tension. And too much tension can create pressure downwards. So, you want to think about having the right amount of tension for the task in hand. Something Antony Lo, the Physio Detective calls “tension to task”. Play around with this idea in everyday life, especially if you still do a lot of conscious pelvic floor activation (outside of Kegels) but have finished rehab.
Your key to improving prolapse symptoms during lifting
2 words!! Progressive overload. Put simply, this is the gradual increase in training. This might be increasing load, or reps, or sets. Or complexity of movement. Or less rest or slowing down the tempo of an exercise.
If you’re experiencing symptoms around lifting, then rather than trying to keep at the heavier weights, drop down to below your symptoms threshold eg where symptoms tend to kick in. Get super strong and confident training in that zone, and then gradually add load, reps etc.
It may also be beneficial to go back to basics and see your tendencies when you lift light weights versus heavier ones. What does your body want to do? How does it try and manage load and pressure, and is this helpful?
Want to lift weights without prolapse symptoms?
LIFTED! Project Strong is a programme designed specifically for lifters and gym goers with prolapse. Choose from a 90 minute trouble shooting session or 4 month strength programme to get super strong and confident with your lifting. Without spending all your time thinking about your pelvic floor. Interested? Use this application form to get in touch