The Problem That Shall Not Be Named (and a solution not to be missed)

Advance warning: this post explores topics relating to pelvic floor health, including physical therapy options, exercises for women’s nether regions, and even (gasp!) sex. Please feel free to click away from this post if you’d prefer to not be exposed to discussion of such matters. 

As I already mentioned, I spent last weekend assisting at a StrongFirst Barbell Instructor certification, where I got to spend a great deal of time with fellow strength trainers and coaches. Much to my delight, many of the participants were female.

What was less delightful was the fact that the same topic came up multiple times in conversations with more than one of these women: exercise-induced stress incontinence.

According to BostonScientific.com (which, to give proper citation, also happens to be the source for the image at the top of this post), “As many as 1 in 3 women will experience a pelvic floor disorder such as stress urinary incontinence,” and “Sufferers of incontinence typically wait 4-6 years before seeing a healthcare professional about this condition.”

Basically, it’s extremely common, but because almost no one talks about it, many people may feel ashamed and/or like there are no options available that could help.

Many of these people may feel that they have to wear bulky pads when they’re active; others may even stop taking part in activities that they love, such as lifting heavy things, doing plyometrics, running, or doing any exercises that call for abdominal bracing.

If any of this sounds familiar to you, please take heart: there are solutions available to you!

Here are some of the things that you can do if you have experience stress incontinence:

  • See a specialty physical therapist
  • Use a vaginal pessary
  • Pursue surgical options (in severe cases)
  • Strengthen the pelvic floor, particularly with vaginal weightlifting

In regards to the first three options, your first step would be to see your primary care physician and/or your gynecologist (and yes, please do this: let your doctors know what you’re experiencing and allow them to help!). Either of these members of your medical team could:

Now, as far as the last item on the earlier list—vaginal weightlifting—I can only imagine what your first thought was:
Say-what-2

Yes, you read it right: vaginal weightlifting.

I’ve debated whether or not I should post about this topic, but I have now received confirmation in no uncertain terms from multiple friends that I should… and I’ve come to believe that they’re correct. A simple, non-surgical method is available to help correct a problem that many, many people face but are often too embarrassed to talk about: it doesn’t seem quite right to withhold the information.

So, yes: vaginal weightlifting is a real thing, it works, and it helps improve more than just your symptoms.

Before your minds run too wild imagining what exactly qualifies as vaginal weightlifting, please allow me to explain:

Vaginal weightlifting is done with the assistance of a handy pr_jadeegglittle gizmo called a jade egg, which looks exactly how you would assume it would based on its name:

There are many places where you can purchase a jade egg, from female-positive sexuality stores such as A Woman’s Touch to New-Agey internet sites like Tara O‘s: they’re even available through Amazon.

There are many exercises that can be done with just the egg itself that effectively strengthen the pelvic floor while helping you learn how to contract and relax different muscles in isolation, together, or in sequence. There are descriptions of a few beginning exercises here.

It is also possible to progress to adding weights by looping a string through the hole in the egg and attaching any number of things, from small bags of coins or stones to surf boards and kettlebells (FYI: the world record holder is Tatyana Kozhevnikova, who can do a 14k/31lb kettlebell deadlift with her nethers).

Kim Anami lifts many things.
Kim Anami lifts many things.

Jade egg exercises, with or without additional weight, can be very effective at minimizing or completely eliminating problems of stress incontinence. While some studies have shown that weights are more effective than Kegels, other studies have shown that there is no significant difference between pelvic floor exercises with or without weights: what has been consistent in the findings is that vaginal weight training is unequivocally better than no treatment and that it is easier to correctly do self-taught pelvic floor exercises with weights than to do them correctly without weights. (Summaries of these studies can be found here and here.)

In my experience, this is largely because the jade egg itself helps to provide feedback regarding which muscles are being activated.

More research certainly need to be compiled in order for there to be a better understanding of what specific exercises done in what manner are best for maximal results: if any of my readers are budding physical therapists who are searching for a topic to research, consider this an option!

Now, I’m just going to briefly touch on a few of the side benefits of vaginal weightlifting that the researchers aren’t focusing on. Or, well, no I won’t: that’s actually beyond the scope of what my blog focuses on.

Instead, I’ll simply direct you to this article/video on the Huffington Post that enumerates some additional reasons why you might want to take up this new strength-training pursuit, or this amusing Buzzfeed video.

While much of the text in the article is admittedly heteronormative and both posts are, yes, a bit risqué (again, those of you among my readers who prefer to avoid topics regarding sexuality should be forewarned about the aforementioned links), they’re also accurate.

And so, dear readers, if any of you have experienced stress incontinence, please don’t resign yourself to it as something that will inevitably continue into the future. Take heart. Seek out the help of your medical team. Get strong in ways you never before imagined. And then, freed from worry, get out and move!

Update: In the few hours since I first posted this, one of my readers encouraged me to check out Julie Wiebe’s website, particularly her posts regarding posture and dynamic pelvic floor strength. I’ve only just started to browse it, but it looks like quality information! 

Additional Update, 14 November: Earlier today, I came across a question that was posted by a fellow StrongFirst coach regarding the less-common problem of an overactive pelvic floor. There are several exercises that can be done with an unweighted jade egg that are effective at helping women gain awareness of how to relax the pelvic floor, and there are several other suggestions provided at this site. However, as with stress incontinence, my first suggestion is that you see your doctor and get a referral to a physical therapist who specializes in the pelvic floor:  he or she will be able to help train you in how to properly do any suggested exercises and relaxation techniques. Allow the experts to guide you along the most efficient path towards healing! 

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