Empowered By Piss
By Jessica Fithen
“I feel this is avoidable.” – The Gym Guy
I remember the first time I peed at the gym. I was a relatively new lifter, and my coach was watching me deadlift. Afterwards, as he made his way over to me, I started to panic. “Please don’t come over here please don’t come over here please don’t come over here” is all I could think…. Yet when he reached me, he said nothing about the small puddle on the floor, even though it was glaringly obvious. He simply offered his deadlift form critique for next time and walked away. The relief washed over me as I had been certain the entire gym full of mostly male lifters was going to be alerted to my “accident.”
Little did I know how incredibly common it actually is.
Over the past five years I’ve spoken to hundreds of women who battle urinary incontinence while exercising. Squats, deadlifts, atlas stone work, running, jumping jacks – it’s different for everyone and no two bodies are exactly the same. It doesn’t matter if someone has had no babies or five, is “overweight” or “underweight” – most women who lift heavy or exercise intensely at some point have likely had at least a small amount of urine escape when they least expect it.
Even while taking steps to prevent this from occurring (pads, pelvic floor therapy, special bladder supports, going to the bathroom between sets, you name it) – sometimes, we still pee, and sometimes, it still gets on the floor. Cue the horror.
Just Stay Home
Recently, a lifter’s PR deadlift video was shared on Instagram. She bravely fought and fought for this rep – and yes, peed on the floor. The comments were predictably trash.
“If there is no way around it, I think heavy deadlifts should then be done at home. Nobody should have to train where others have peed, even if it is due to an unfortunate condition…. Just because you have an issue it does not mean that others need to suffer consequences if you do not take responsibility for it.” – The Gym Guy
I read these comments in an absolute state of shock. Surely this seemingly “normal” guy (it’s clear when men are trolling for reactions with private profiles, this was not the case) was not suggesting that women remove themselves from the gym on account of this issue? That women “stay home” rather than continue to train and get stronger to save him, Random Man at the Gym, the supposed “discomfort” of having to view and or be exposed (cue more screaming) to a little bit of pee?
I often think back to my first experience and the amount of embarrassment I felt and wonder how my strength career might have progressed differently if The Gym Guy had told me to just stay home if I have this “unfortunate condition.” I wonder if I would have stopped training for the Arnold Strongwoman Pro in 2019 when a particularly strange sumo deficit deadlift setup called a “blob” guaranteed peeing during every training session. And then I wondered how many women have stopped going to the gym and stopped getting stronger because The Gym Guy has made them feel so embarrassed about something they can’t control that they no longer want the negative attention and potential for embarrassment and ridicule.
To be very clear, when anyone makes a mess at the gym, they should clean it up. Pee, sweat, spit, blood, vomit, shit – you make a mess, you clean it up. Men make bodily fluid messes too (*clutches pearls*). Have you ever seen the praise heaped on men who burst a blood vessel while deadlifting and spray blood all over the place? They are heralded as heroes.
This seems ridiculous to point out but women are not rolling in their pee, throwing piss rags at the poor men who happen to be nearby, or wiping it all over equipment. We pee, we clean it up, we move on.
The Never Ending Audacity
As this particular conversation progressed, my shock turned to straight blind anger. If there’s one thing we know The Gym Guy has, it’s the fucking audacity.
“Why do you make peeing on the floor sound like female empowerment? You should help women find solutions, not say ‘we don’t give a fuck’” – The Gym Guy
The Gym Guy has neatly assumed that he has “fixed” women by telling them to just wear a pad during deadlifts (gee wow thanks, we’ve never thought of that!), but now he’s also asserted that the woman he’s speaking to hasn’t actually done this exact thing and searched for her own answers for years and years. Urinary incontinence is not a condition with any easy, quick fix, and women who are peeing during exercise are not doing so for “empowerment” reasons, nor to purposely upset the other gym members.
I have never called urinary incontinence “empowering” before, but am slowly embracing this Gary-ism. Fuck it, it’s now empowerment. If Gary is telling me to stay home rather than upset his delicate sensitivities, well by golly, let’s turn this damn car around and call it empowering.
The most frustrating part of engaging The Gym Guy in his absurdity is how quickly he attempts to devalue, mock and belittle women when they defend a lifter’s right to take up space in her gym. Within a few short comments, women on this thread
- Were called “feminazis”
- Told to stop their “toxic femininity”
- Mocked for “female empowerment”
- Accused of “virtue signaling”
- Referred to as “social justice warriors”
- And my personal favorite, informed by a *man* that they were just “making excuses” for their own incontinence. Because who knows a woman’s body better than a random man on the internet?
The usage of this type of language tells you two things – 1) The Gym Guy has some seriously misogynistic thoughts outside of women and incontinence, and 2) he values your insight and opinion so little as a woman who actually competes in strength sports and has dealt with this subject extensively that as a man he still knows more than you do about your own body.
The Do-Gooders Who Mean Well
When I was preparing for the Arnold in 2019, peeing during the “blob” deadlift was so common it became a joke on my social media account. I chose to acknowledge the issue head on, and not allow it to prevent me for preparing for one of the biggest shows of my life.
During this time, a pelvic floor therapist became irate with me that I was “making a joke” out of a serious condition. The therapist believed that my issue was fixable if I simply tried hard enough. Over $3,500 later of non-insurance approved pelvic floor therapy visits, I still struggle with incontinence issues while lifting.
For me, humor is a large part of how I deal with life. I laugh so I don’t cry. So I don’t feel embarrassed. So I don’t listen to The Gym Guy who is attempting to TAKE FROM ME my space, my right to exist in the same gym, my goals and my dreams. But in their own way, many times these therapists can be also discouraging, making it sound as though you have a choice not to struggle with incontinence – you don’t try hard enough. I’m here as a massive failure in this realm – but I still don’t give a fuck. I’m going to lift and I’m going to get strong as shit, regardless.
I created the “Lift & Pee Barbell Club” line of merchandise for YLLAM to allow women who suffer from this issue some levity. To let them know they aren’t alone, that they do not need to feel ashamed, embarrassed or as if they don’t belong in the world of athletics.
(*side note* MANY women find IMMEASUREABLE benefits to pelvic floor therapy, and while I did see a decrease in incidents, but it did not fix my incontinence. PLEASE do reach out and discuss this with your health care provider, my experience is my own and this does not in any way indicate this intervention is not life changing for others).
Take Up Space
My dear friend Heather (@feefiefofeather) recites a fantastic phrase that has never been more applicable in my life – I just didn’t know it.
Take up space.
Take up YOUR space.
Take up the SPACE The Gym Guy is shaming you out of.
Take up the space the internet is making you feel small for occupying.
Take up that space, run that race, lift the fucking weights, and don’t you dare let a little piss stop you from your PR’s.
Empowerment? Actually, you’re damn right.
Jessica Fithen (@filthy_fithen) is a competitor in the sport of Strongman and creator of You Look Like A Man.