Women are anatomically different than men, particularly when it comes to weight training. We have a vagina, which leaves an area of weakness that pressure can find. Unlike the anal and urethral openings, which have sphincter muscles that help to close them off, the vagina does not. This leaves it susceptible to high levels of pressure, particularly when performing high level weight lifting or exercise. Because of this, women are at higher risk for injury. Incontinence or prolapse can arise during exercises that increase abdominal pressures. It is important to consider some things if you are planning or are already performing heavy weight lifting, cross fit or high intensity training as a female. Following are a few points to think about.
Take Female Anatomy Into Consideration
Traditionally, for lifting we use a common strategy of taking in a breath, lock it in and hold to stabilize the trunk. This is effective for men, but our vagina makes us vulnerable to pressure. Pressure will find a way. Think about those rubber chicken toys that you squeeze and they drop out an egg. This is the same idea for women who lift, particularly if you have had any pregnancies or vaginal deliveries. The system has been strained/injured in child bearing. This leaves the area even more susceptible to weakness. If we use the old strategy of breathe in and lock, the pressure will find the weak spot. This can present like a hernia in the abdomen, groin or belly button. It can worsen diastasis rectus (a separation of the abdominal muscle). It can aggravate the spine, particularly if you have an old injury there. Or you might leak stool or urine, or develop an organ prolapse.
Listen to Your Body and Consider the Approach You Are Using
Women’s menstrual cycles causes hormonal changes that make the body’s tissues more flexible. This can cause a feeling of weakness and likely frustration if you aren’t able to lift like you did the prior session. It is easy to overstretch or overuse your tissues to the point of injury. It is important to pay attention to what you are feeling and listen to your body. You may notice heaviness in the pelvis or leaking during this time. It is ok to make this week a lighter week. It is important not to push yourself. If you feel like things aren’t “normal” treat your body with a little empathy and don’t push it.
Learning to distribute the weight and lift while still breathing is best for women to reduce the risk of injury. If you are using techniques that increase pressure in the pelvis and hence the vagina, you are risking pelvic organ prolapse or incontinence. It is important to find someone to help you with the proper technique for you. This brings me to my last point, which is finding a specialist who can help.
See a Women’s Health Physical Therapist
A specialist in women’s health can assess your pelvic floor, as well as the whole person to determine where your weakness lies. We can screen for Diastasis, prolapse, determine why you might be leaking urine or stool, and examine the spine, pelvis and hips for mechanics during your workouts/ lifting techniques. A pelvic specialist can determine the best techniques for you to be effective in lifting and high-level exercises while being safe, and not causing any further damage.
Seeing a specialist to determine your individual imbalances will help you to increase your longevity in the activity you love. Particularly after children it is so important that women understand how to protect and listen to their bodies to avoid harmful movements that might stop them from remaining as active as they would like. Our specialists understand you want to stay active and continue to improve your strength and stamina. We want that too! We will work with you to help you reach your fitness goals.
At Foundational Concepts we offer a 15 minute consultation to discuss your symptoms and determine if you would benefit from seeing one or our specialists in women’s health. It’s Free and easy! Just click Here.
- Sarah Dominguez, PT, MSPT, CLT, WCS, CMTPT