Experienced ultramarathoner Lucja Leonard never experienced issues with her pelvic floor until she started running. Now, 10 year on, she knows plenty of other women in the running community who suffer from the same issue. However, according to Leonard, ‘nobody talks about it’.
For her, pelvic incontinence is not only physically debilitating, but mentally too. ‘It affects me when I see other runners pass by,' says the 44 year old. 'To hit a PB during my last road marathon in Manchester, I knew I would have to wet myself at the end of the race.'
Leonard was prescribed pelvic floor exercises by a physio a few years ago, but never understood how to do them properly or how to motivate herself to do them. For the past five weeks, she’s been using an Elvie Trainer. The kegel device is patented with a force and motion sensor system that detects if you are pushing down (rather than lifting up the pelvic floor muscles) and alerts you via the app. The idea is to help women train correctly, and guide their training and progression with real-time feedback.
'I love how easy it is to use,' Leonard told RW. 'The app gives me a reminder when I’m due to do another training session which is great. I treat it like I do my running training, following the programme, recording results and knowing that it won’t happen overnight – I’ll keep at it!
'I think it's really important for women to be aware of the importance of training their pelvic floor muscles just like any other muscle in the body.'
What is the pelvic floor?
Pelvic floor muscles are responsible for supporting the bladder, womb and bowl. When we run, internal pressure places additional demands on the pelvic floor, meaning it needs to work harder than if you were walking, sitting or standing.
According to Elvie’s survey of 2,047 women in the UK, 84% of women experience leaks, with 70% of those women reporting at least one a week (although it’s worth noting that pelvic floor incontinence can also affect men). Despite this, nearly one in five women have never done pelvic floor exercises to prevent and improve symptoms.
How the Elvie Trainer works – Review by RW staffer Ali Ball
Prevention is just as important as a cure when it comes to training your pelvic floor, so I've also been putting the Elvie Trainer to the test for RW. It recommends using the device for five minutes a day, three times a week.
First, you insert the kegel. It's made with medical-grade silicone so it goes in easily and isn't half as uncomfortable as you'd think. You can then use the app to work through a serious of six exercises, with four different training levels (training, beginner, intermediate and advanced) to choose from. Each exercise is gamified to keep things interesting, which might feel odd given the circumstances, but it gives you the motivation to keep at it and makes those five minutes pass quickly. You'll then get a strength score that you can use to track your progress (trust me, it quickly gets addictive). When you're not using the kegel, it packs away neatly in a small, portable box, and charges via USB.
The obvious drawback is the price – it's by no means the cheapest kegel ball on the market. But Elvie have definitely hit a niche when it comes to injecting some fun into a pretty unsexy – but equally important – topic. And for runners like Leonard, this could be pretty game changing in terms of giving them the motivation to train their pelvic floors consistently and regularly.
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