Resistance training improves pelvic floor strength and, contrary to popular belief, may not cause incontinence in women, a ground-breaking study by Charles Darwin University researchers has revealed.
A team of health professionals assessed the pelvic floor strength of 15 women, including 12 participants with varying levels of urinary incontinence, during a 12-week resistance training program supervised by a qualified trainer.
Lead investigators Dr Daniel Gahreman and Professor Marilynne Kirshbaum said the women who suffered incontinence each reported less frequent incidents by the end of the training program, while the other three women reported no adverse change.
“Our findings contradict advice from the Continence Foundation of Australia, which says people with poor pelvic floor strength should avoid resistance-based exercise,” Dr Gahreman said.
“While the severity of the women’s incontinence did not change when they did experience it, the frequency was significantly less by the end of the study; we will need to conduct more research to find out why.”
Dr Gahreman said the study showed that resistance training, including squats, deadlifts, push-ups and bench press, was as effective as isolated pelvic floor exercises when women were coached to engage the correct muscles.
“The added benefit of weights training is that your entire body becomes stronger, which benefits women in general, and specifically through pregnancy, birth, post-natal recovery and when they are lifting small children,” he said.
Nursing lecturers Donelle Cross and Lolita Wilkander, who helped conduct the research, are undertaking related PhD studies. Ms Cross is continuing to research the links between pelvic floor strength, incontinence and strength training. Ms Wilkander will soon investigate the prevalence of urinary incontinence in female weightlifters, powerlifters and cross-fit competitors.
Dr Gahreman said he hoped the combined research would help inform pelvic floor strength guidelines.