‘Watch these women work out until they wet themselves’

Not everyone finds the concept of the new CrossFit marketing video so hilarious.

Not everyone finds the concept of the new CrossFit marketing video so hilarious. Photo: YouTube

Any exercise program is open to abuse by trainers who are unaccredited, participants who do not follow good technique, or fanatics who deliberately push themselves to injury and beyond, where the goal seems to no longer be pushing themselves but competing with a gung-ho mentality.

And CrossFit, a program where people squat, kettle-bell and high-intensity interval train their way to fitness during timed workouts is perhaps more open to this abuse by virtue of the fact it has a huge following. The ‘military style’ training program seems conductive to a more hardcore mentality, which can be a recipe for injury and unsafe form.

But you would think any brand, including CrossFit, would distance itself from unsafe practises. And with so many female participants, CrossFit would surely avoid anything that smacks of female degradation. Instead, it has firmly sided itself with the extremists and unsafe trainers through a recent marketing video that encourages people – specifically women – to work out until their bodies literally break. Not only that, but the video for the Reebok CrossFit games makes a mockery of a treatable but potentially devastating women’s health condition.

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It’s bad enough that the video reeks of soft-porn spreads in lads mags with its ‘Watch these women go so hard that they pee’ message. The choice of background music and quotes like ‘I get wet during workouts’ and ‘We’re just putting-out’ adds to the sleazy feel. The interviewer then creates a bogus health term – Exercise Induced Urinary Leakage – to describe what is actually called Stress Urinary Incontinence; a serious health issue that the Australian Physiotherapy Association [APA] says affects 5 million Australians. The video quotes a gynaecologist and also shows demeaning footage of a woman cleaning up after herself.

The APA is outraged by the video – which has attracted almost 140,000 views - saying it flies in the face of research supporting rehabilitation for the pelvic floor. Untreated, women with the condition are at risk of bladder problems, loss of bowel control, and prolapsed pelvic organs.  “The video is shocking, disturbing, and normalises this debilitating condition,’’ said specialist continence and women’s health physiotherapist from the APA, Shan Morrison. “It is not normal to lose urine during exercise or at any other time and it should certainly not be seen as a badge of honour. For a company that prides itself on promoting exercise, CrossFit Inc is not sending a positive health message.”

When reading the comments below the ‘promotion’, it is clear many women - and men - are upset by the video and the poor health messages it depicts. If it was supposed to be funny, it has clearly missed the mark for most, bar a few typical YouTube trolls. Imagine if a well-known sports or workout brand posted a video promoting torn ligaments or broken bones as a sign of toughness and strength. That’s what Reebok and Crossfit do with this video, with the added whammy of demoralising women along the way. Despite the disgust, CrossFit have not pulled the video or explained themselves.

“It was most disturbing to see a gynaecologist in the video express that, in her professional opinion, it was ok to urinate when working out,’’ Ms Morrison said. “By stating that we needed to invent something to help these women, she clearly demonstrated that she hasn’t kept up to date with the strong evidence that shows urinary incontinence can be successfully treated by pelvic floor rehabilitation.’’

The video can not be remotely praised for bringing what may be considered an embarrassing issue to light. The purpose of the video is not to educate people about an otherwise unspoken about issue. It is purely there to promote the idea of Stress Urinary Incontinace being a sign of a CrossFit workout well done, of female strength. They deliberately run quotes from women to support this idea. One woman describes incontinence as ‘’a correlate of intensity… maybe [we’re going harder than everyone else].’’ Nowhere does the presenter, who we can only hope is not a trainer, offer helpful suggestions or accurate medical information to women. It will be seriously disappointing if CrossFit tries to claim they were just shedding light on a health issue.

The health and fitness industry has a responsibility to keep its consumers well informed and safe. CrossFit and Reebok have seriously breached this responsibility, leaving thousands of women asking ‘what the hell?’ along the way. They should be held to account as rigorously as any other industry that prides itself on consumer health. And it will be interesting to whether the companies adopt the ‘any publicity is good publicity’ mantra off the back of this colossal stuff-up.

Melissa Davey is a health and medical journalist with the Sydney Morning Herald and completing a Masters of Public Health at the University of Sydney. Twitter @MelissaLDavey

33 comments

  • So basically these women are wetting themselves when they skip? That is no way normal and these women should probably be adding some pelvic floor exercises to their routines.

    Commenter
    JB
    Date and time
    June 27, 2013, 2:34AM
    • America is a weird place!

      Commenter
      Farcough
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      June 27, 2013, 9:10AM
      • Well, as I.P. Freely said, it is the land of the free.

        -----------------

        I just worry that people have really begun to worship exercise.

        Commenter
        Alex
        Location
        Finley
        Date and time
        June 27, 2013, 2:45PM
      • How do you define weird? and? what's wrong with worshipping exercise? I worship exercise and has not been getting myself into any troubles.

        Commenter
        Not_A_Normal_Man
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        June 28, 2013, 8:35AM
    • The Biggest Loser trainers encourage people to train until they throw up, among other unhealthy training and dietary regimes. The 'health' industry as a whole is unhealthy.

      Commenter
      T
      Date and time
      June 27, 2013, 9:22AM
      • This is actually a positive message.
        If 5 million Australians have stress incontinence- they shouldn't feel isolated or ashamed and therefore avoid exercise.
        Videos like this show how common a problem it is -especially women who have had children.
        Your quoted physio needs to be truthful- can pelvic floor rehab completely CURE stress incontinence ....NO.
        The women in the video don't look demoralised- they are proud of their exercise intensity. Maybe the author would like women not to talk about these issues or to give up exercise.

        Commenter
        positive
        Location
        real world
        Date and time
        June 27, 2013, 9:59AM
        • "Maybe the author would like women not to talk about these issues or to give up exercise"

          From the article: "The video can not be remotely praised for bringing what may be considered an embarrassing issue to light. The purpose of the video is not to educate people about an otherwise unspoken about issue. It is purely there to promote the idea of Stress Urinary Incontinace being a sign of a CrossFit workout well done, of female strength."

          Commenter
          Donna Joy
          Date and time
          June 27, 2013, 10:59AM
        • Hi Positive,

          I think you are being unfair to the author. I don’t think the tone of the video promotes women talking about and understanding incontinence. It is oddly sleazy, the producers are not educating viewers about core strength and pelvic floor health – they are exploiting incontinence as a cheap promotion gimmick for the CrossFit games. You're right, the women in this video do not look 'demoralised', but that won't protect their long-term pelvic floor health or help them if they begin to suffer from prolapse or faecal incontinence in the future.

          As for continence physiotherapy, an Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health study has shown that physiotherapy techniques can help up to 84 per cent of those suffering from SUI achieve continence, a success rate equal to surgical techniques.

          Education about incontinence is important, but this video is not the right way to go about it.

          Commenter
          Mary
          Location
          Melbourne
          Date and time
          June 27, 2013, 11:06AM
        • Positive - How can you say this is a positive message??

          Stress incontinence is challenging to manage, distressing for the sufferer, and certainly not a desired outcome from engaging however "intensely" with exercise. As a professional dancer who had her pelvic floor rebuilt through surgery after having my children - I was one of the 10% where rehabilitation didn't work - I know how intense exercise can get.

          But I also know how demeaning and stressful the diagnosis can be in the everyday.

          While it's true that some stress incontinence can not be resolved with rehabilitation or surgery, for many women it can. So for Reebok to launch a campaign where peeing while exercising is presented as 'normal' and somehow doesn't require medical investigation is a dangerous position to take. Many women could miss out on effective treatment through this dreadful campaign.

          Saying otherwise is just plain bizarre. The company is exploiting a serious women's health condition for their own gain. That's just not cricket!

          Commenter
          RMc
          Location
          Melbourne
          Date and time
          June 27, 2013, 11:08AM
        • There's a difference between actively promoting a positive message about incontinence and men pruriently fixating on women wetting themselves while they work out. It's abhorrent to turn women innocently exercising into the latest porn-sick fetish.

          Also, the intense, cultish pressure to perform and 'push yourself at all costs, no excuses' style training that typifies Crossfit is more likely to promote short and long term injury and unhealthy, unrealistic expectations and exercise addiction than it is to promote health.

          Commenter
          Mo
          Date and time
          June 28, 2013, 5:02AM

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