Fluid retention can affect your entire body, or localized spots like hands, feet or legs.

Fluid retention can affect your entire body, or localized spots like hands, feet or legs.

Confession time: I’m a fluid-y girl.  If I put on a couple extra pounds in the course of week, it’s usually fluid retention.  And since I’m also a Pilates trainer, I happen to know that LOTS of women run into the same situation.  Good news: I have a trick that helps your body process out extra fluid.


When you put on weight very quickly, like 2-5 pounds in 2-5 days, it’s probably not body fat. Whew. More likely, it’s water retention.  For those who have forgotten high school or college physiology class, this is primarily lymph — the clear fluids in your body – as opposed to blood. Lymph is super-useful because it’s chock-full of white blood cells that help your body heal on its own. To function well, your body also needs fluid to maintain natural processes, kinda like your car needing oil, coolant and gasoline.   Sometimes, the fluid balance gets wonky, and you might end up carrying around more fluid than you actually need.


  • Carbs – yup, eating too many carbs programs your body to retain more water.  If you’ve ever tried a low-carb diet and found that you dropped a quick 5lbs, that was likely extra fluid that you were carrying around.  Don’t beat yourself up too bad on that – your pants still fit better, didn’t they?
  • Hot and/or humid weather – when the weather changes quickly or you travel to a different climate, you’ll likely retain water to help you acclimate.
  • Electrolyte imbalance – electrolytes are trace minerals that your body needs to run properly.  When you’re running low or high on any electrolyte – sodium, potassium, magnesium, etc – your body will often retain water as a means of trying to rebalance itself to an ideal operating level.  Dang, I wish my car would do this on it’s own. 
  • Hormones – any swing in hormone levels can trigger something similar to an electrolyte imbalance.  If your hormones trigger the occasional carb binge (yup, there’s some science behind why this happens too) you can also blame part of your water retention on those. 
  • Lymph node removal – unfortunately, a common part of many cancer surgeries is removing some affected lymph nodes.  Since the job of lymph nodes is managing your body’s lymph levels, this can cause water retention in localized areas or at a whole-body level. I’ll write a future post about ‘lymph edema’ specifically – for those with lymph edema, check with your medical advisor about whether it’s appropriate to try the Pilates technique below.


No matter what the cause of your water retention, the Power Pulse can work wonders for fluid retention.  The key to this technique is incorporating it in a standing position so that you’re getting the benefit of gravity working with your lymphatic system.  Since the soles of your feet contain many lymph nodes, you’ll get the best results if you Power Pulse in bare feet.

Keep your knees over your ankles, but don't worry about going super-low.

Keep your knees over your ankles, but don’t worry about going super-low.


Stand barefoot and perform a chair squat by sitting your hips backward and reaching your arms forward. Listen to what your knees tell you – you don’t need to squat super low to get the benefit here. Take a quick peek down at your feet – make sure your knees over your ankles.  That means you’ll really need to sit your booty back.  Pull your stomach in and lengthen your spine long.  

To ‘Power Pulse,’ all you need to do is lower 1 inch and lift 1 inch.  Pulse up and down with control for 10 repetitions, then hold your chair sit for a 10-count, and then add another 10 Power Pulses. Push the soles of your feet into the floor; don’t allow your feet to roll or lift up.  Shoot for 3 sets to start and try sneaking in 3 sets several times a day when you’re trying to banish water retention. 


Chair Sit Power Pulses will also:

  • Stabilize your knee musculature
  • Trim your thighs by building dense, but not bulky, muscle


You can add Power Pulses to many exercise formats.  The #1 requested exercise series in my Pilates Reformer classes is the “Skinny Jeans” series where we add Power Pulses to classic standing side leg exercises.  I can’t tell you how many times clients have told me “I must have peed 5 times that night.  And my jeans fit waaay better today!”  The Power Pulse is also seen in all of my Barre Fitness classes and could easily be added to many other exercise formats.

About the Author
Christine Binnendyk is the creator of the Ageless Pilates and Barre Fitness workout programs, taught exclusively at Nike’s World Headquarters in Beaverton, Ore.. Nike employees take her Pain Free Body, Pain Free Athlete and Pain Free at the Office workshops at the Nike Sports Centers. Public workshops are available through Portland Community College, Club Sport Oregon and the Warrior Room. Find her best-selling book “Ageless Pilates” on Amazon.