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How to handle common exercise issues

You’ve got your workouts pencilled in your diary, then boom — your body decides to play up. Sound familiar? You’re not alone — women the world over are dealing with the same set of issues. Lyn Collett, personal trainer and nutrition coach from Life Skill Training tells us how to nix those pesky problems that are getting in the way of your workouts.

The problem: Light bladder leakage

Why it happens: LBL is one of the most common issues for women of all ages. It’s usually a product of childbirth, and involves three pelvic organs: the bladder, uterus and rectum. These organs are held in place by fascia and ligaments, as well as your pelvic floor muscles. However, when those fascia and ligaments stretch — like when you have a baby — it can weaken your pelvic floor muscles and lead to “leaking” when you sneeze, cough, or exercise.

How to combat it: Collett says you can regain control of your bladder by doing pelvic floor exercises (also known as “kegels”) on a daily basis. She explains, “Think of your vagina as an elevator. Contract and lift the muscles in this area, and hold for a minute.” Repeat this eight times, three times a day, if you can swing it. There’s no such thing as doing too many pelvic floor exercises. In fact, the more you do, the stronger and healthier your pelvic floor will be. The best thing? No-one will know that you’re doing them — provided you don’t hold your breath or pull funny faces.

Top tip: A huge part of dealing with LBL is confidence. Pop some Poise liners into your gym bag and you’ll never be caught off-guard again.

The problem: Anxiety or a case of the blues

Why it happens: While we all feel sad, moody or low from time to time, some people experience these feelings intensely for long periods of time (weeks, months or years), and sometimes for no apparent reason. Along with affecting your motivation and mental state, anxiety or depression can take its toll on your physical health.

How to combat it: Regular exercise! Physical activity stimulates the brain and gets adrenalin and endorphins coursing through the body, which is exactly what you need. Just lace up your sports shoes and give yourself permission to stop after 10 minutes; chances are, you’ll feel better and keep going. If you’re feeling a little uninspired, make cardio your exercise drug of choice. Why? It ramps up your blood flow for an extended period of time, meaning you’ll feel great both during your workout and for hours afterwards. Walk, run or join a circuit class at the gym for at least 30 minutes. Resistance exercises also increase wellbeing — try push-ups, squats, rowing and shoulder presses.

The problem: Back pain

Why it happens: Many women suffer from back pain (particularly in the lower back) when exercising. This is usually caused by weak core/abdominal muscles or very tight hamstring muscles. It can also be the result of poor technique when lifting weights — dead lifts are a major culprit.

How to combat it: It’s tempting to rest, but Collett says active exercises keep the discs, muscles, ligaments and joints in the back healthy. If you are prone to lower back pain, reduce or prevent it by including these strengthening and stretching exercises in your workout mix. They’ll help to fix stiffness and weakness, and minimise the risk of recurring pain.


  • Lower back extensions — lay on your stomach and put your arms in a “T” position. Keeping your torso still, lift your shoulders, chest and arms off the floor.
  • Opposite arm and leg raises — lay on your stomach and, keeping your torso on the floor, lift an arm and the opposite leg and hold. Repeat on the other side.
  • Planking — this strengthens the core muscles that support the back.


  • Cat stretch — get on to all fours, then curve and flex your back (like in yoga class).
  • Hamstring stretch — lay flat on your back and put one leg up in the air. Loop an exercise band, skipping rope or towel around your foot and hold.
  • Knees to side stretch — lay on your back with your arms stretched out wide and legs together. Twist your torso and drop your legs to one side and hold. Do the same on the other side.

The PT says: “It’s important to develop a customised program of back exercises, and get instruction on using the correct form and technique.”

Want to relax while working out? Check out stress-reducing exercises for every fitness level >>

The problem: Breast pain

Why it happens: Breasts are independent little things with barely any anatomical support. They shift up and down and from side to side whenever we move, and that kind of movement ramps up during exercise. Women with large cup sizes (like E or F) tend to experience soreness the most, as well as those breastfeeding and training at that time of the month.

How to combat it: If your breasts are feeling tender, don’t skip your workout — just reduce the intensity of it. Go for seated forms of cardio — like rowing or cycling — over running, and avoid exercises that involve jumping (like star jumps and burpees). Finally, invest in a supportive sports bra and look into an anti-inflammatory diet to minimise pain.

The problem: Age anxiety

Why it happens: As Collett says, “We don’t stop exercising because we get old; we get old because we stop exercising.” It’s natural to feel nervous about working out due to health conditions or concerns, but that’s even more reason to keep active. Exercise is the key to staying strong, energetic and healthy. It can help you ward off and manage illness and pain, and even slow down the signs of ageing.

How to combat it: When it comes to exercising, consistency is key. Instead of putting yourself through strenuous workouts, just focus on moving your body more every day. Along with walking or swimming, resistance training is an excellent choice for women who’ve been around the block once or twice. With the help of a trainer or group instructor, create a circuit that you can do at your own pace, using weights you’re comfortable with. Aim to do a 30-minute workout three times a week.

The problem: Pregnancy

Why it happens: Pregnancy itself isn’t a problem, but it can leave women feeling moody and less energetic than usual. The fact is, gentle exercise can alleviate some of the issues that lead to that low — such as poor circulation or sleep, constipation, leg cramps, swollen ankles and back pain. It also helps you to maintain muscle tone and strength, which will make losing “baby weight” easier later on.

How to combat it: As always, check in with your doctor before starting an exercise program. If your pregnancy has been a smooth ride, you should be fine to enjoy swimming, walking, low-impact aerobics and yoga. Hatha yoga is amazing — make it your thing! On the flip side, avoid contact sports, horse riding, mountain climbing and anything that puts you at high risk of falling. And don’t forget to keep your fluids up.

SheKnows Expert and founder of Operation Move, Kate Young, has some great tips for sporty mums:

Want to learn more about looking and feeling fantastic? Check out Collett’s Facebook page for insider tips.

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