Pissy Mother Runner: The Running Mother’s Solution to Leaking During Exercise

The Issue

Peeing while you jump, run, sneeze, or laugh is not the sexiest of topics but statistics from the National Association for Continence show that more than 25 million people in the U.S. experience some form of incontinence, 80% of which are women. Many women who are pregnant or have had children have leaking pelvic floor muscles until they are re-trained. The problem is that most women don’t have the knowledge or resources to help improve pelvic floor function after childbirth. In fact, the majority of new moms are cleared for exercise at 6 weeks post-partum, after 40 or more weeks of pelvic pressure and stress to their Transverse Abdominus muscle. To add to that, since it is a common occurrence, most women think that incontinence is a normal symptom that they will have to deal with for the rest of their life after having babies. This is simply not the case. General pelvic floor weakness and diastasis recti without extenuating circumstances such as prolapse, etc. can generally be healed if it is addressed with pelvic floor strengthening exercises. The most common practice known to women are kegels, however doing kegels alone may not be enough to strength the pelvic floor and it is not uncommon for women to perform kegels entirely wrong. So, what’s a mom to do?

First and foremost, you shouldn’t try to return to your pre-pregnancy routine even once you are cleared from your physician. I remember trying to get back into running postpartum and just crying every run because I couldn’t run 200m without major leakage. It was embarrassing and frustrating. I wish I knew then what I know now. One of those things is that there are physical therapists who specialize in pelvic floor rehabilitation and I highly recommend starting there. For most intermediate to advance runners or fitness enthusiasts, the problem is that pelvic rehab seems “too easy” in the sense that it isn’t training, and it won’t make you work up a sweat or lose the postpartum baby weight, however it is THE foundation to allowing you to walk, sneeze, run, and lift weights without incontinence. If you don’t have access to a physical therapist there are tons of free videos online that you can take advantage of. The only problem is the fact that most women don’t activate their pelvic floor the correct way especially when trying to initiate a kegel. To add to that, some women don’t suffer from a weak pelvic floor, but rather a tight pelvic floor and need to focus on the relaxing aspect. As someone who has taken advantage of all of these resources, I was happy to stumble across a new way to train your pelvic floor. After going through pelvic floor dysfunction myself, despite loads of pelvic floor work and rehab with a PT postpartum, I was terrified of what my second pregnancy would do to my pelvic floor and my ability to run while pregnant. It took me over a year and a half to make any significant progress with my incontinence after having my first child and my physician suggested a bladder tact to fix the problem. Fortunately, I was able to find an in network physical therapist that I worked with, but they had no experience working with runners, so I was told to stop running. It can be extremely frustrating to hear that as a runner and racer for that matter. I was fortunate that I was still able to benefit from physical therapy and the free resources I used.

A Solution

Fast forward to 3 and a half years later, I am currently pregnant with my second. When I found the Elvie trainer I was a little skeptical. For starters, how can one device help me train my pelvic floor, but ultimately I thought it would be so easy since I am certified in pre and post-natal corrective exercise and pride myself on my pelvic floor work. The problem was, I was starting to see some incontinence during my runs while training for a 10k this summer. Finally, I reached out to Elvie, coincidentally the same company I purchased my wireless pump from for when the baby arrives, and asked them if I could test their pelvic floor trainer. I began in May, two months prior to the 10k I would run at 8 months pregnant (Note: Elvie’s site states that while the Elvie can be used during pregnancy, it should only be done if you are not suffering from any complications and recommends consulting your qualified medical professional before use). To tell you how skeptical I was, I purchased a pair of fanny pants as a backup for my incontinence during the race. Being 8 months pregnant, I wasn’t trying to set any PRs during the race. I simply wanted to run the race pain free, without leaking or peeing myself.

I started the Elvie in the evening during my first session. The guide gives you the option to stand or to be in a lying position. The egg-shaped trainer comes in a little case with a charger that attaches to the outside of the case. It has a medical grade silicone cover that makes it super easy to clean after each use. And yes, you guessed it, you insert it just like a tampon, although it’s much easier.

You download the Elvie Trainer app to connect to your trainer via Bluetooth. The app itself it very simple, too simple for me as a data nerd but I can see where they would need to avoid it being overly complicated. Once the trainer is in place, simply start the workout on the app. There is a gem shape on the screen that guides you through movement as you contract and relax.

Each ‘workout’ is more like a game that grades you as you pulse, contact, relax, or work on speed and the best part is the chart that shows your progress and achievements. Despite how much I work on my pelvic floor, the first week that I used the Elvie, I received super low scores and it was obvious my pelvic floor was not as strong as I had thought, and I may not have been performing a kegel the correct way this whole time. Talk about a blow to my trainer ego! However, over the course of the next few weeks, I got stronger and stronger at each workout and my scores kept going up. The best part about this trainer is that it doesn’t take up much time, just 5 minutes a day and you can set reminders via the app to remind you to train each day. You start on Training and work up to different levels to learn new skills. On the goals screen, you can choose between three different challenges, from once a week to five. I used the device four times a week for safe measure and sure enough, within approximately 3-4 weeks, I noticed that I could complete my preggo short runs without having any incontinence or having to stop to pee. The biggest test would be my 10k. I knew I would have to stop and pee during this race simply because it was in the middle of July in Georgia, so I would have to drink even more water than usual to avoid any pregnancy complications from dehydration.

I ran the first three and a half miles without having to stop and pee and had ZERO leaking! Once I stopped off at the port-a-potty, I continued downing water and still was able to finish the race without leaking. For 8 months pregnant, I’ll take it!  Now that I am a few weeks further into my pregnancy, I would likely leak simply due to the fact that the baby is head down and much lower than he was just weeks ago during the race. While some incontinence is to be expected during pregnancy simply due to the increased pressure on the bladder from the baby as well as hormones, I was so surprised that I was able to see this kind of results during pregnancy which makes me even more excited to use this to re-train my pelvic floor postpartum and get real-time feedback so that I know that I am engaging the muscles the correct way.

I cannot rave about this device enough. It is a great way for women who are unsure if they are activating the pelvic floor correctly to visualize their strength and progress. Simply put, it takes the guesswork out of pelvic floor exercises. If you have the ability to work with a PT that specifically works with runners, I highly recommend working with one as well but having the Elvie in the comfort of my own homemade me really do the homework that PTs will give you anyway.  At $199 for the trainer, it is definitely the most affordable way to get actual feedback on your “form” during the pelvic floor workouts without pelvic floor therapy. Elvie has incredible customer service as well with knowledgeable staff so if you have questions at any time you can contact them and get fast and reliable answers. For all of you mother runners out there that have to wear all black, leak devices such as pessaries, special undergarments, or other contraptions to protect you from embarrassing leakage, you don’t have to suffer. There are ways to improve or eliminate stress incontinence by retraining your pelvic floor.

Jennifer Wade

Jen Wade is a former competitive bikini athlete and bodybuilding judge who hung up the bikini in pursuit of functional fitness. She is a certified personal trainer and fitness coach.