Fri 27, Mar 2020

High intensity training and incontinence

High intensity training and incontinence

High intensity training is extremely popular, possibly because of its suggested health benefits and time savings. Exercises often included in these types of workouts are linked to urinary incontinence. What does this mean for you? 

High intensity interval training (HIIT) and high intensity functional training (HIFT) are types of group circuit workouts. They often include high impact exercises such as rope skipping and jumps – exercises where both feet are off the ground at the same time. When you land, the impact created can place stress on the pelvic floor.

How common is urinary incontinence?

Urinary incontinence (leaks) is the accidental loss or leakage of urine. It can range anywhere from light leakage to complete loss of bladder control.

Recent research shows urinary incontinence is common in both HIIT and HIFT,1-5 but studies haven’t been able to agree on an exact figure. In CrossFit participants (a type of HIIT), research says anywhere from 26 per cent to 80 per cent of women have experienced urinary leaks. Clearly, this is a broad range, so we still need more research to determine how common it is (the prevalence).

It’s difficult to compare HIIT and HIFT to ‘standard’ exercise. After all, standard means different things to different people. One study found nearly half of ‘regular gym users’ experienced urinary incontinence.Another found that half of female CrossFit participants experienced leaks during exercise, compared to none of the participants of an aerobic class.3

Are there specific exercises associated with incontinence?

Rope skipping, including single- and double-unders2-3, was found to be the exercise where participants experienced leaks the most. Next up were box jumps, thrusters and front squats. Remember, your pelvic floor and body may be different and impacted by other exercises.

What does this mean for me?

Incontinence is never normal, but may be common, especially when doing certain exercises. If you experience any signs or symptoms of incontinence, seek help from a women’s, men’s or pelvic health physiotherapist.

This doesn’t mean you should stop exercising. Physical activity is important for overall health as well as your pelvic floor. You can learn how to modify your exercise to be more appropriate for your pelvic floor. Visit our website for more information.

Call our National Continence Helpline on 1800 33 00 66 for information and advice. You can also read up on high impact classes in a past PFF eNewsletter article by Marietta Mehanni.

This story was first published in the Pelvic Floor First newsletter. Subscribe to PFFeNews online 


Please email for a full list of references used in this article.

1. High R, Thai K, Virani H, Kuehl T, Danford J. Prevalence of Pelvic Floor Disorders in Female CrossFit Athletes. Female Pelvic Med Reconstr Surg [Internet]. 2019 Sep 6

2. Poli de Araújo M, Gustavo Oliveira Brito L, Rossi F, Luiza Garbiere M, Eduarda Vilela M, Ferraz Bittencourt V, et al. Prevalence of Female Urinary Incontinence in Crossfit Practitioners and Associated Factors: An Internet Population-Based Survey AUGS SPECIAL ISSUE SUBMISSION. Female Pelvic Med Reconstr Surg

3. Yang J, Cheng JW, Wagner H, Lohman E, Yang SH, Krishingner GA, et al. The effect of high impact crossfit exercises on stress urinary incontinence in physically active women. Neurourol Urodyn [Internet]. 2019 Feb 8

4. Elks W, Jaramillo-Huff A, Barnes KL, Petersen TR, Komesu YM. The Stress Urinary Incontinence in CrossFit (SUCCeSS) Study. Female Pelvic Med Reconstr Surg [Internet]. 2020 Feb 1

5. Wikander L, Kirshbaum MN, Gahreman DE. The prevalence of urinary and “athletic” incontinence in women participating in high-intensity functional training at competitive level. In: Australian and New Zealand Continence Journal. 2019. p. 99–100.

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