The sport of powerlifting revolves around trying to lift the heaviest possible weight in the deadlift, squat, and bench press. This means that powerlifters routinely ask their bodies to generate and maintain high levels of intra-abdominal pressure in order to generate as much force in their lifts as possible. This moment of maximal downward force on the pelvic floor commonly results in urinary or anal leaking (“powerlifting incontinence”).
How common is powerlifting incontinence?
Studies estimate in those with female anatomy:
- ~40% experienced urinary leaking
- ~80% experienced anal leaking
Studies estimate in those with male anatomy:
- ~9% experienced urinary leaking
- ~60% experienced anal leaking
Is powerlifting incontinence harmful for the pelvic floor?
It’s hard to say for sure because of gaps in research. We do know that powerlifting incontinence can be uncomfortable and embarrassing for some. It may affect performance, or it may just be a small annoyance for others.
However, no research has shown that leaking with powerlifting is overall harmful to the pelvic floor. Studies show that only about 11% of powerlifters experience leaking in daily life. That number is much lower than in non-powerlifters. This means that powerlifting does not appear to have a negative effect on daily pelvic floor functioning!
How can we reduce powerlifting incontinence?
When training and performing at high levels, we will never eliminate the possibility of powerlifting incontinence. However, a few steps can help reduce it. With the guidance of a pelvic physical therapist who understands powerlifting, you can perform better and more comfortably!
- Learn about your pelvic floor. Research suggests that people who have had a pelvic floor muscle assessment and learned how to contract their pelvic floor have less powerlifting incontinence. Agile’s pelvic PT program is the perfect place to start. You can start learning about how to do a Kegel here!
- Keep training! Newer lifters will sometimes find that the point at which they leak goes up as their strength increases. They still experience leaking close to their maximum lift, but the weight of that maximum lift is higher. If you’re new to powerlifting, working with a skilled pelvic physical therapist can help identify areas of focus for your training.
- Consider bracing strategy. You may benefit from evaluating your bracing strategy and figuring out if a change is helpful. Bracing is not just “holding your breath” – work with us to learn what might work better for you!
- Consider programming. Incontinence occurs more when the pelvic floor muscles are fatigued. This can result from not recovering enough between training sessions, or getting tired within a set. A knowledgeable pelvic physical therapist can work with you to improve your recovery and maintain good pelvic floor function.
- Consider body position. It is most common for leaking to occur in the deadlift and squat. Training different deadlift and squat variations to focus on areas of weakness can help reduce incontinence. We can work with you to find the most helpful training variations for your symptoms!