CrossFit has become increasingly popular, not only among men but women as well. CrossFit is a high-intensity workout program. In addition to improving body composition, it has been shown to improve cardiovascular function in adults (2). However, the effect CrossFit has on a woman’s pelvic floor is uncertain. Pelvic floor muscles help to control your bladder and bowel. Therefore, it is important to keep your pelvic muscles strong and exercise appropriately. High-intensity exercise, such as CrossFit, can increase your intraabdominal pressure. Intraabdominal pressure (IAP) is the pressure within the abdominal cavity. Experts suggest long-term, elevated IAP can predispose women to pelvic floor dysfunction (PFD) (1). PFD causes people to contract their muscles rather than relax them. As a result, there is difficulty in having a bowel movement and urinary incontinence. PFD can affect quality of life and is expensive to treat (3). A 2018 study (1) investigated 10 middle-aged women performing CrossFit exercises in order to determine whether parity, age, or CrossFit experience affected intraabdominal pressure during workout.
So, is there such a thing as too much CrossFit training?
Let’s take a look at some of the science. This study assessed 5 women who regularly participated in CrossFit classes and 5 women who did not. With a certified CrossFit trainer present, each woman participated in an individual session. Sessions included several standard CrossFit exercises and with 10 repetitions. IAPs were measured and recorded throughout all exercises.
What did they find?
Though the ages of the woman ranged from 26 – 48 years old, the study found no significant difference for average peak IAP due to age (1). This suggest the amount of pressure put onto a women’s abdomen from vigorous exercise may not be influenced much by age. If you take a look at the figure on the left below (Figure 1 a), you may notice that nulliparous women (one’s who have not had children) measured higher IAPs compared to the parous women (one’s who have had children). In fact, the study found nulliparous women had significantly higher IAPs compared to parous women (1). This could suggest childbearing/birth reduces how much abdominal pressure a woman’s body takes on during exercise. Therefore, women who have not had children may be at greater risk in experiencing high levels of IAPs during CrossFit training. That being said, parous women did have higher IAPs during pushup and situp exercises (2). In looking at the right figure (Figure 1 b), though differences can be noted between women experienced in CrossFit and those who were not across different exercise, the study did not find a significant difference (1). This implies an even playing field in CrossFit training. Meaning, whether you are experienced or not in CrossFit, you will have similar levels of IAPs. The study also noted significant differences across types of exercises (Figure 1 a, b) (1). So, depending on what your workout entails, you may be at greater risk for higher levels of IAPs.
As participants progressed through the repetitions of a certain exercise, there was a statistically significant change in generated pressures (1). For example, during back squats IAPs significantly increased as repetitions continued. However, during situp exercises IAPs significantly decreased over the course of repetitions (1).
Should you join the trending CrossFit community?
What this study tells us is the type of exercise we do significantly affects the maximum IAPs and duration of increased IAPs our body’s experience. That being said, remember this is a single study and there are lots of different types of people and exercise routines available. CrossFit can be an incredible program and is known to meet the recommended cardiac activity level for adults (1). What is important is knowing your body. Knowing how exercise influences how your body regulates, can help you determine what workout regimes are appropriate for you. Sportavida can help you monitor biological factors in your body with a simple saliva sample. Our goal is to reduce the guess work and actually show you what is happening in your body, so you can progress to optimum performance with a healthy body.
Thank you for reading! I hope you feel more informed and if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave a shout out.
- Gephart, L. F., Doersch, K. M., Reyes, M., Kuehl, T. J., & Danford, J. M. (2018, July). Intraabdominal pressure in women during CrossFit exercises and the effect of age and parity. In Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings(Vol. 31, No. 3, pp. 289-293). Taylor & Francis.
- Smith, M. M., Sommer, A. J., Starkoff, B. E., & Devor, S. T. (2013). Crossfit-based high-intensity power training improves maximal aerobic fitness and body composition. J Strength Cond Res, 27(11), 3159-3172.
- Wilson L, Brown JS, Shin GP, Luc KO, Subak LL. Annual direct cost of urinary incontinence. ObstetGynecol. 2001;98:398–406. PMID:11530119.