Bladder training

People with an overactive or weak bladder often have to rush off to find a bathroom because of an urge to urinate. Or they may gradually lose urine drop by drop before reaching a toilet. Bladder training can then help them to regain at least some control over their bladder.

The bladder muscle can be trained to stretch more so that the bladder is able to hold more urine. Bladder training also includes various behavioral treatment approaches and a particular drinking and voiding schedule (bathroom visit schedule).

First step: Keep a diary

The basis of bladder training is keeping a diary. You can use it to write down

  • how often you go to the bathroom,
  • how much urine comes out, and
  • how much you drink throughout the day.

It is also important to record information about any medications you take and about situations in which you accidentally leak urine. These notes can be helpful when talking to your doctor and might provide important clues about the cause of the problem.

Voiding schedule: Regularity matters

  • Regular rhythm: It is important to go to the toilet at regular intervals so that your bladder gets used to a certain frequency. A voiding (bathroom visit) schedule can be helpful here. Bladder training programs often recommend that you empty your bladder first thing in the morning and perhaps again after breakfast, and then try to go at regular intervals after that.
  • Avoid going to the bathroom “just in case”: If you go to the toilet too frequently “just in case,” you might end up making the overactive bladder symptoms worse. The bladder is then “trained” to send a signal that you need to urinate as soon as there is only a small amount of urine in it.
  • Do not go to the bathroom straight away: Even if you have a very strong urge to go to the bathroom, the urge usually only lasts a few minutes and then dies down again. You can practice not immediately emptying your bladder when you feel the need to go. Going to the bathroom calmly and at a slow pace rather than rushing to get there can help too.
  • Increase the intervals between emptying your bladder: You can try to wait longer between trips to the bathroom, but do so at a slow pace and without any stress. A voiding schedule can be helpful here too. You can use it to remember, for example, that you want to try to wait 5 minutes before emptying your bladder for a number of days. You can then lengthen that “waiting period” to 10, 15 and finally 20 minutes.

It takes a lot of effort to stick to the training at night. Positive results are more easily achieved during the day. After some time, the training can then be done at night as well.

Distraction techniques

If you’re trying not to immediately go to the bathroom when you feel the urge, several techniques might help to distract you:

  • Whenever you feel like you have to “go,” you could try to relax and distract yourself with positive thoughts. For example, you could tell yourself: “I will go to the bathroom in 5 minutes, and think about something else until then.”
  • It can also be helpful to sit on a chair and bend your hips to lean the upper part of your body forward as if you were leaning down to tie your shoelaces. You then hold this position until the urge passes. Leaning forward changes the pressure in your abdomen and the position of your urethra, so you have less of an urge to urinate.
  • You could also sit upright and tense your pelvic floor muscles, pulling up and in.

Drinking schedule: Drinking frequently and enough

A lot of people who have a weak bladder drink too little because they’re afraid that they won’t make it to the bathroom in time. But regularity not only helps when emptying your bladder, it is also important when filling your bladder. Because of this, bladder training usually includes both a voiding schedule and a drinking schedule, in which you record when and how much you drink. Many people find it helpful to use a timer that makes a sound to remind them to stick to the schedule.

  • Drinking enough is important for another reason too: If your urine is too concentrated, the substances in it might irritate the lining of your bladder after a while. This can make the symptoms worse.
  • You can try to drink one to two glasses of still water with or before every meal. Juices are okay between meals, as well as small amounts of coffee and black tea during the day.
  • To get the best night’s sleep possible, it can help to drink less or stop drinking about two hours before going to sleep.
  • Coffee, black tea, green tea and alcoholic drinks are diuretics. This means they increase the production of urine. Other kinds of tea have this effect too, such as kidney and bladder teas or stinging nettle tea. It can help to completely avoid these drinks just before going to sleep.
  • It can also be helpful to avoid diuretic drinks before taking part in activities that involve being out and about a lot.

Do not let setbacks discourage you

  • Keep up your diary no matter what. That is the only way to record positive results and gives you an overview of possible setbacks.
  • It is also good to know that setbacks are completely normal, particularly during times when you’re feeling exhausted or stressed.
  • Setbacks can be caused by other things too, like common colds, urinary tract infections or wet, windy weather.

Bladder training isn’t always a suitable treatment for weak bladder. It is a good idea to talk to your doctor about whether this might be a good approach for you.

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Kasper DL, Fauci AS, Hauser SL et al. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. New York: McGraw-Hill; 2015.

Pschyrembel Online. 2022.

Wyman JF, Burgio KL, Newman DK. Practical aspects of lifestyle modifications and behavioural interventions in the treatment of overactive bladder and urgency urinary incontinence. Int J Clin Pract 2009; 63(8): 1177-1191.

Wyman JF, Fantl JA, McClish DK et al. Comparative efficacy of behavioral interventions in the management of female urinary incontinence. Continence Program for Women Research Group. Am J Obstet Gynecol 1998; 179(4): 999-1007.

IQWiG health information is written with the aim of helping people understand the advantages and disadvantages of the main treatment options and health care services.

Because IQWiG is a German institute, some of the information provided here is specific to the German health care system. The suitability of any of the described options in an individual case can be determined by talking to a doctor. can provide support for talks with doctors and other medical professionals, but cannot replace them. We do not offer individual consultations.

Our information is based on the results of good-quality studies. It is written by a team of health care professionals, scientists and editors, and reviewed by external experts. You can find a detailed description of how our health information is produced and updated in our methods.

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Updated on February 13, 2023

Next planned update: 2026


Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG, Germany)

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