GC 030: Does Your Gymnast Leak When She Tumbles

Does Your Gymnast Leak When She Tumbles?

When a gymnast leaks during tumbling, running, jumping, or playing, it can be a sign of dysfunction of the pelvic floor. Today, we sit down with Dr. Stephanie Fournier, a women’s health expert, to discuss what the implications of leakage are. Many times, this starts when our gymnasts are young, but creates big problems later in life including pain during intercourse, weak core, back pain, emotional trauma, and relationship problems.

This can also be a big problem for adult athletes as well. Stephanie even quotes one CrossFit coach as saying:

If your not leaking, you’re not training hard enough. 

This of course was said by a male coach who knows nothing about women’s health or female anatomy.

Stephanie gets into why this strategy can create some big problems when it comes to female athletes health. She also delves deep into just what’s happening and how to prevent this problem.

Pelvic floor disorders can also create tightness in the muscles surrounding the hip causing hip dysfunction and a loss in splits and leap ability.

Just for Your Gymnast

We’ve also done something special that we’ve never done before. Stephanie and I recorded a special podcast just for your daughter to listen to and know when leaking is a problem and how they can talk to their parents, coaches, and other athletes about this issue.

GC031: What if I Leak When I Tumble

We thought this important to do because we want your daughter and gymnast to feel comfortable talking to others about this issue because if not corrected, it can have long term implications to health, relationships and intimacy. I want my daughter to enjoy life, and this is part of it!

We encourage you to let your daughter listen to this on her own so it doesn’t feel weird for her! It’s the same information we cover here for you, but in an appropriate manner for a young athlete.

Leave Your Questions

Dr. Fournier works at a very special clinic and cannot give out her email, but she wants to make sure she can answer any questions you might have about this subject. She promised that she’d check here often to see if there are any questions she can answer and help you as parents address this issue at the gym and at home.

Just leave your comment below.

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Dr. Joshua Eldridge

About Dr. Joshua Eldridge

Dr. Joshua Eldridge has specialized in protecting gymnasts from injury. He is the inventor of The X Brace, and has developed a treatment protocol for Sever's disease and heel pain that has helped thousands of gymnasts throughout the world. Dr. Eldridge brings practical, easy injury care and prevention that can be done at home.

  • Merida

    Absolutely wonderful information. I hope all coaches and young athletes listen to this podcast and understand the pelvic floor and how it works. Dr. Fournier you make the terminology and what is happening inside my body completely understandable with your real life and relatable examples.

  • Tiffany Bishop

    This was such a interesting podcast to me. I grew up as the gymnast being told this was “normal”. I have a question however. What can we do as coaches to be proactive for this? I can encourage doctors but I don’t have control if they follow through. Besides them laying down relaxing, is there anything else I can recommend? And how do you know for sure if you are relaxed since the pelvic floor is always turned on? Love this podcast!

  • Yuka

    I really appreciated how you & Dr. Fournier covered what can be such an awkward topic.

    Apart from being a coach, I’m a Pilates (as well as massage) therapist, and so I spend a lot of time with my clients on breathing & cueing pelvic floor activation as part of core activation training. A couple of things came to mind – particularly about the way we train gymnasts (or don’t). Maybe this is all old news to you, but I think about this quite a bit, so thought I’d add my thoughts.

    – One big one is the way we train kids to make their butts tight. Typically we’ll cue ‘squeeze cheeks together’ because that’s easiest for them to understand, but they’re potentially over-firing the deep hip rotators vs glute max. The downside to this is that one of these rotators (obturator internus) interweaves with the pelvic floor, and can contribute to its hypertonicity if we’re constantly contracting it. If this becomes a problem, you can cue glute max to fire more vs the rotators (lift the glutes vs try to squeeze together), but I think it takes one-on-one attention to get this right. The pelvic floor can also become hypertonic from excessive gripping/bracing… if I know I’m going to leak when I land, I’m going to grip everything like crazy to prevent it (and maybe tuck hips under on top of that).

    And all of the time we spend training abdominal strength in a hollow shape (with the butt tight, of course) vs in neutral can also contribute to either a weak or hypertonic PF. We need to train this shape, obviously, but I think there’s a balance to be found.

    – Posture – ribcage over the pelvis, which you’ve talked about before. The diaphragm and pelvic floor should move up & down in coordination if working properly. To do this well, they need to be aligned with each other (one directly above the other), and with gravity (a neutral pelvis so the pelvic floor can react to gravity). The kid who’s ribcage is far in front of their pelvis and/or who’s hyperlordotic isn’t set up for good PF function or core stability.

    – Breath – Breath holding is the obvious one, and if it’s habitual, is no help to the diaphragm or PF – we rarely focus on breathing, but just reminding kids to keep breathing & not hold their breath can help. Brandi Smith-Young spent some time on core/pelvic floor during a regional congress session, and said that one indicator of PF dysfunction – maybe even precursor? – is breathing ‘up’ — seeing overactive neck muscles (scalenes, SCM) during inhalation. Dave Tilley has written a bunch about proper breathing, and as it relates to PF health, improving mobility & function of the diaphragm (which can also be hypertonic), can also help retrain pelvic floor function.

    – Lastly – below is a blog post by another PT who specializes in PF health (also got this one from Brandi). One highlight: In a survey of of almost 300 elite female athletes, over half reported leaking during their sport, and of those, less than 5% reported it or got any treatment.
    http://www.juliewiebept.com/fitness/female-athletes-best-kept-secret/

    I hope this is useful. Again, thanks for shedding some light on this topic, and for all of the other great information you’re sharing!