Of course you want to stop leaking when you run! Not only it it damn annoying, it can be embarrassing too. Leaking when you run is a sign that your core is not functioning effectively. Often we attribute leakage during impact exercise to weakness of the pelvic floor. However, this is not always the case. Your pelvic floor may be strong, but if it is not functioning well with the other muscles of your core, your inner support system will be compromised.
Many of us will understand that the core is what provides us with ‘inner stability’. It provides an anchor for our limbs to move from. What many people don’t understand, however, is that ‘tightening’ your core and ‘gripping’ your core does not make for a ‘stronger’ or more effective system. ‘SWITCHING ON YOUR ABS’ as your trainer or coach might instruct, can actually be the very thing that is making you leak!
Lets back this truck up a few steps and first talk about what the core actually is.
WHAT IS THE CORE?
Most of us understand that the ‘TA’ or Transverse Abdominals are part of the core. This muscle sits deep within the abdominal wall – behind the “rectus abdominals” (the 6 pack) and our oblique muscles. It’s important to note that the TA is just one component of a bigger system!
When we talk about the ‘core’ we are referring to what is sometimes known as the ‘deep core’. Your ‘deep core’ is made up of a group of muscles including:
- The Diaphragm (top)
- Pelvic Floor (bottom / floor)
- Transverse Abdominals (TA) (front)
- Multifidus (back).
HOW DOES THE CORE WORK?
The core is essentially a ‘pressure system’. As you breathe IN, your diaphragm moves ‘downwards’, your pelvic floor descends, and your tummy muscles bulge outwards slightly. When you breath OUT your pelvic floor and Transverse Abdominals (TA) ‘recoil’ or ‘snap back into position’ meaning the pelvic floor lifts and the TA draws back in towards the spine.
Your core has an ‘anticipatory function’, meaning that before we move to roll out of bed, or to lift a heavy weight the muscles within the core are designed to ‘turn on’ in anticipation for a task.
This pressure system is at work all day everyday without us having to think about it. However, when we increase the demands on the system – for example when we cough, or when we lift a heavy weight, or when we start to exercise with impact, we may need to use some ‘cues’ that help us to be more aware of how we use this system.
In order to better understand the core as a pressure system, you may like to think of your core as an elongated / cylindrical balloon full of water. When you press on the top of the balloon the pressure/water must be displaced elsewhere. This is what happens inside our core. As you take a breath IN, the top of that ballon displaces pressure downwards and outwards. As you take a breath OUT (and take the pressure off the top of that balloon) that pressure is released and the balloon ‘springs’ back into place.
If you understand the core as a pressure system, you will perhaps better understand how to maintain continence with exercise. Remember that balloon full of water – think about what would happen if you push it down from the top (as the diaphragm does when you take a breath in) and now press it in from the front (as you do when you grip your abs as you run) If you then don’t allow for your pelvic floor to drop/relax, it loses it’s ability to contract as efficiently – i.e the Pelvic Floor is less able to do its job! So where does the pressure go? Somethings gotta give! the pressure often it goes DOWN (with gravity) – causing you to leak.
SO, HOW DO YOU STOP THE LEAKAGE?
It is important to note that the above is just ONE EXAMPLE of how a poorly functioning system / core can result in leakage while you run. There are many factors that can affect the relationships between the muscles of the core – so this is not a ‘one size fits all’ answer.
In this article I want to explore some of the common ways that cause this pressure system to work ineffectively that can cause you to leak when you run AND WHAT YOU CAN DO TO TRY TO FIX IT! My first recommendation is ALWAYS to seek the assistance of a Womens Health Physiothearpist for individualised assessment. However, if you need some convincing that there is hope for you, you can try these tips!
1 – Untuck your BUTT!
Without boring you with an anatomy lessons, let me just say that your pelvic outlet is different at the front, compared to the back. Tucking your butt means that most of the forces go towards the back of the pelvis – where the outlet is larger and has less reinforcement. The tucked bottom posture can therefore increase your chance of leakage.
Your glues and pelvic floor are also designed to work together. ‘Flat butts’ are an indication of poor glute bulk. Try untucking your butt and allow your glutes to engage and do some work!
How do you do that?
- You can try lying on your back, sitting in a chair or in standing.
- Gently rock your pelvic forwards and backwards until you find a position that is ‘half way’.
- Try doing this in a mirror. Sometime what you feel you are doing and what you are actually doing can be very different.
- Once you find this ‘middle ground’ start trying to use that position in every day tasks, as well as while you run.
2 – Breathe into your belly
Don’t be afraid to let the abs go and let your breath go into the belly. Remember the core is a pressure system. Gripping your abs and not allowing your breath to go down into the tummy is only going to create excessive pressure within the system- and guess what – its going down right where gravity leads it increasing the chance of leakage.
Let your belly go! BREATHE……
How to practice belly breathing:
- Lay down with your knees bent
- Place your hands onto your tummy
- Think about taking a deep breath into your hands.
- Let your rib cage widen towards your hands, and feel your hands rise to the roof as you take a breath in
- Keep your shoulders and face relaxed
- Once you have mastered this, try it again in sitting and standing
3. Allow the Pelvic Floor to ‘drop’
Okay, so you’ve heard all about doing kegals and that activating your pelvic floor is what stops you peeing yourself when you cough/sneeze/laugh/ run…. True! BUT, we also know that muscles work best when they are in their ‘mid range’. For example your biceps is strongest when your elbow is bent to about 90 degrees.
Holding your pelvic floor as high as you can for extended period of time not only causes fatigue, it also means that the muscle fibres won’t be able to recruit as effectively. Your core muscles are also known as ‘postural’ muscles. They are designed to be working at LOW loads for extended periods of time. They are not designed to be ‘gripping’ or holding on for dear life just to keep us upright. In order for these muscles to play their role well, we need to let them work as they were designed to. So, lift and hold when the task requires, but trying to grip your floor whilst you run is not going to be comfortable – nor will it be effective.
The key really is to match the load. Consider how much effort you put into lifting a bottle of milk compared to lifting a television cabinet. How you position and ‘brace’ to prepare for the lift is completely different depending on the task at hand. It is no different within the core. Don’t overdo it peeps!
Learning to do this:
- Get into a comfortable position
- As you take a breath in feel your pelvic floor relax
- Let your inner thighs, glutes and abdominal muscles relax
- Feel your breath going down – feel your pelvic floor ‘let go’
- Don’t try to ‘force’ the pelvic floor muscles down – just let them relax
4. Lean forward when you run
There are a few reasons why thinking about leaning forward from the hips can help to stop you leaking while you run. Firstly your in a better position for your core muscles to work together than you would be if you had your chest up high. Secondly you should ‘bounce less’ to lower the impact with each time you land. LESS IMPACT = LESS LEAKING (Hopefully NONE). It’s important that this is a lean from the hips and not the chest.
How to do it:
- Stand with your feet together and lean forward keeping your shoulder, hips and feet in alignment.
- Lean until you feel as though you would fall forward then start running.
- Try to maintain that forward lean throughout the run.
Alternatively try running hills. When you run uphill your body is ‘forced’ into a great position to allow for you to breath into your belly, and to get your ribs and pelvis into an optimal position for your piston to fire. TRY IT!
If none of these things work for you right now, don’t feel that there is no hope. These are just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ when it comes to measures that you can take to help stop you leaking when you run. I encourage you to visit a Womens Health Physio that is keen to work with you and help you meet your running lifestyle goals.
If you would like more great articles about Womens Pelvic Health, check out Julie Wiebe’s blog. Julie is a fantastic physiotherapist that is super passionate about helping Women to maintain physical exercise across the lifespan. Make sure you stay tuned for my 5 Part series entitled Learn to Stabilise Your Core: Unlocking the Secrets to Your Best Core Ever! Where I will explain:
- What exactly is the ‘core’ and how it works (with video explanation)
- How to tell if you have an effective ‘core strategy’ (or not)
- Some of the common problems that females have in terms of improving their core stability
- What are some of the myths about ‘core strength’
- What are the best exercises to help you build your core strength and stability
Make sure you don’t miss it, and sign up to the SRM Team today! You will also receive access to the SRM Resource Library including workbooks, training plans, nutrition guides and more. Best thing is it is completely FREE!