If you stay around lifting circles long enough, you’re bound to eventually confront or witness peeing while deadlifting, especially as a woman.
So, why do some women pee when deadlifting? Peeing while deadlifting, also referred to as urinary stress incontinence, occurs when there is increased pressure build up in the abdomen, often due to high physical exertion. Your pelvic floor muscles release under the pressure and let out some urine as a result.
While it can be an embarrassing experience for some, the awareness of the phenomenon is increasing and attitudes are shifting. Often just knowing that you are not alone can be a helpful first step in managing it. Thankfully, there are strategies to help prevent it from occurring or lessening its severity.
In this article, I will go over what exactly is happening when you pee when deadlifting and whether it’s normal. I’ll also provide some strategies for managing it if it’s something you, a friend, or your athlete are currently dealing with.
Why Do Women Pee When Deadlifting?
Urinary stress incontinence (USI) occurs when the muscles of the pelvic floor involuntarily relax due to increased pressure on the bladder from intra abdominal pressure created by bracing.
The reason it occurs in women more often than men is because of their anatomy. That doesn’t mean that USI does not affect men; it just happens to them less often.
Your pelvic floor is made up of several muscles that are considered part of your core and form a sling that supports your bladder, rectum, and uterus, for those that have one. It spans from your tailbone to your pubic area and is extremely important for controlling your bowels, bladder and sexual functioning.
In order to keep urine inside, the closure pressure of the urethra has to be stronger than the pressure on the bladder. According to Delancey and Ashton-Miller, 2004, when this balance gets flipped, you end up with a passage of urine.
The reason this happens on deadlifts is because they are the heaviest loads most powerlifters have to move. As such, they require the greatest degree of bracing.
The valsalva maneuver that is used to create this intra abdominal pressure creates pressure in the abdomen and places pressure on the bladder, leaving the pelvic floor vulnerable. This can also happen during squats or any high intensity exercise.
To make matters worse, a lot of women also pull their deadlifts in a sumo stance. The wider stance can make it harder to prevent the incontinence and leaves you more vulnerable than a conventional pull might.
There are also other health risks that can contribute to urinary stress incontinence, but the research isn’t entirely conclusive as of yet.
Börgermann et al discovered that in men specifically, it can be triggered after the surgical removal of the prostate since this weakens the sphincter. According to Karl M. Luber, MD, FACOG, some triggers and associations that have been observed in women are pregnancy and childbirth, aging, smoking, and obesity.
Is Peeing When Deadlifting Considered Normal?
Peeing when deadlifting is very common. However, it isn’t technically considered “normal.”
Normal is a pretty vague term to begin with; it suggests that things are functioning as they “should.” When you pee during deadlifts, or any intense exercise, it is essentially an indication that something cracked under the pressure and stopped performing as it should. Therefore, the term normal isn’t the best way to describe urinary stress incontinence.
However, just because something isn’t normal doesn’t mean it isn’t incredibly common, and it doesn’t mean you should be ashamed of it or let it get in the way of your goals.
Research on the prevalence of stress incontinence varies a ton. Most studies report anywhere from 4% to 35% of women dealing with urinary stress incontinence at some point in their lives, whether due to exercise or not. If you’ve ever peed from laughing too hard or coughing, then you are already familiar with the feeling.
It’s also important to know that under-reporting of urinary incontinence is pretty common as people often try to hide that it’s something they are dealing with. It can be affecting your client or athlete without you even realizing it.
If it is impacting an athlete’s abilities to perform or be engaged in training, a conversation about finding solutions and exercise to lessen its severity would likely be valuable.
A 2019 survey done among 134 women in powerlifting found that 41% of the women had experienced urinary incontinence at some point and 37% were experiencing it during lifting activities. This is contrasted to only 11% having incontinence issues outside of lifting activities.
Further, an epidemiological study that took a look at the impact of urinary stress incontinence found that about 10% of women ended up completely abandoning a sport due to it or about 20% altered the way they trained because of leakage.
A more recent 2021 survey of over 400 women again found about 43.9% of female powerlifters experience incontinence due to lifting.
Importantly, the survey did also note that women who were educated in pelvic floor exercises and their ability to perform them experienced less severity of the incontinence, suggesting that solutions are available if this is something you are struggling with.
Therefore, singling out and shaming those who do pee during exercise will only compound the discomfort they likely already feel. The ultimate impacts of USI are significant if it deters women from participating in activities or staying active as a whole.
Finally, keep in mind that while USI is common and often occurs without the presence of any disorder or disease, sometimes the incontinence is a secondary effect of a larger issue.
If you are concerned or are starting to notice more signs and symptoms of a dysfunctional pelvic floor like constipation, painful intercourse, or frequent USI it is highly advised you seek professional help.
6 Ways to Help Manage Peeing While Deadlifting
Strategies for managing urinary stress incontinence while lifting will largely depend on if you are someone who only pees when pulling a big PR or if it’s a regular occurrence. Here are some strategies to help you manage it depending on your current needs:
1. Wear Darker Leggings
A good first step to managing urinary stress incontinence is understanding that accidents can happen to anyone and it’s just a price you sometimes may have to pay for hitting that PR.
Therefore, intentionally opting to wear darker or patterned leggings or shorts on days when you are hitting heavy deadlifts or squats may help you feel less ashamed if it does occur. While you may feel a bit uncomfortable, you won’t draw as much attention to yourself if that’s something that you are concerned about happening.
If you’re in the market for new shorts, check out my 5 Best Workout Shorts For Thick Thighs.
2. Try Leak Proof Underwear
While leak proof underwear is marketed largely for menstruation, they actually can serve a secondary purpose for those of us who lift heavy and experience urinary stress incontinence once in a while.
While they aren’t diapers and you definitely shouldn’t just use them in lieu of going to the bathroom, some passage of urine will be caught by their leak-proof technology.
This will not only hide the fact that anything happened but also spare your bottoms from getting soiled. Leak-proof underwear is also available for men if you are a man experiencing the same challenges.
3. Use the Bathroom Before Your Set
This strategy won’t always work 100% of the time, but a good habit to get into is using the bathroom and emptying your bladder before heavy sets that you suspect may cause some incontinence.
This way, even if it does happen, you’ll at least have less volume of urine trying to come out and it will help you avoid having a bigger mess to clean than necessary.
4. Join a Strength Gym
One of the best things you can do to address your concerns about USI is find a gym that will have management, staff, and members who understand that it’s simply something that happens and is not done intentionally.
Most CrossFit and powerlifting-friendly gyms are already familiar with pee being part of the territory, the same way sweat, saliva and sometimes blood can be. I recommend checking with management about what they prefer you do when it does occur, as some will ask you to clean it up yourself while others may want you to inform staff about it.
Regardless, having a supportive and understanding gym can be incredibly reassuring if this is something you are currently experiencing on a regular basis.
If you don’t have a CrossFit or powerlifting gym near you, you may be able to find a chain gym that will be open-minded and reassuring of your concerns. Check out our in-depth gym membership reviews to find one that may be a good fit for you.
5. See a Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist
If your urinary stress incontinence is persistent, frequent, and/or disruptive to your life or ability to lift, I would strongly recommend looking for a pelvic floor physical therapist in your area for an assessment. A quick Google search will help you find one near you.
Often, women are prescribed “kegels” to fix the problem. However, this can be counterproductive, especially for those with an overactive pelvic floor. And sometimes, they simply aren’t enough to make a difference.
A physical therapist will be able to pinpoint exactly what is the underlying cause of your issue and also can discuss treatments as well as strategies you can use in your lifting sessions for lessening its impact or possibly eliminating it entirely.
Here is a helpful video created by a pelvic floor physical therapist to help get you started on some strategies:
6. Reduce the Load
While this isn’t the answer you want to hear, if incontinence is something that happens very frequently and not just when you’re hitting a PR or a very high percentage of your 1RM, you may need to rebuild your strength foundation or work on adjusting your deadlift technique a bit.
Anecdotally, after taking a long break from lifting due to medical reasons, I found incontinence was creeping up all the time. This was because of my overall strength loss and the relative weakness of my core.
I opted to stick to lower intensities for a few weeks until my muscles were back up to speed, and the incontinence resolved itself through regaining my lost strength.
While peeing during deadlifts, or any exercise for that matter, isn’t “normal,” it is quite common and will likely affect you at some point. It is not a personal failing or something to be ashamed about. However, there are strategies to manage its severity and its impact on your lifting.
There are also treatments and therapies available through the consultation of a pelvic floor physical therapist as well as impact reduction strategies like finding an understanding environment and investing in leak proof undergarments.
About The Author
Elena Popadic has worked within the fitness industry for over 6 years, is co-host of the Squats and Thoughts podcast and trains and competes as a powerlifter. She has a BSc in Life Sciences from McMaster University, a Postgrad Certificate in Public Relations from Humber College and is currently pursuing a MSc Occupational Therapy at Western University. Connect with her on Instagram or LinkedIn.