Your A-to-Z guide to pelvic floor exercises
What are your pelvic floor muscles and why are they so important?
Your pelvic floor muscles basically function like a belt that supports all the organs in your pelvis like your bladder, bowel, and uterus. They also help with your bladder and bowel control and can have a great impact on your sex life. So, when this belt of muscles gets weak, you might experience things like leaking urine, passing wind involuntary, general pelvic pain, painful sex, or pelvic organ prolapse. As you can see, those muscles down there are quite important which is why keeping them strong is super crucial. And despite popular belief, pelvic floor exercises aren’t a “woman thing”; men will also benefit from doing them.
You might be wondering now what would make your pelvic floor muscles weak? Well, it can actually happen due to a multitude of reasons like having a baby, having any kind of surgery in your pelvic region, or simply because you’re getting older. On a side note: If you’ve just recently had surgery or given birth, speak to your nurse or doctor before starting any pelvic floor exercises. This is to make sure it is safe for you to do so!
Where are my pelvic floor muscles?
As we already know, your pelvic floor muscles sit in your pelvis but how do you know exactly where they are and how you use them? Well, next time you head to the bathroom, try to briefly stop your urine flow while you’re peeing. If you managed it, then you have successfully located your pelvic floor muscles. Make sure to only do this to find where they are, though! Stopping your urine flow regularly leads to urine staying inside your bladder which, in turn, can cause nasty urinary tract infections.
How do you exercise your pelvic floor muscles?
Once you’ve successfully isolated your pelvic floor muscles, it’s time to exercise them. How? Easy! We’ve got some great exercises for you that will give you a strong pelvic floor in no time. But let’s take a look.
The most common exercise: Squeeze & Release
Kegels – who hasn’t heard that term at some point in their lives? Kegels are by far the most popular pelvic floor exercise o all times. And they’re super effective too! When you do your exercises regularly, you’ll soon be able to wave goodbye to leaking urine when sneezing, coughing, or laughing. But how do Kegels actually work? They’re super easy – you simply have to lift and squeeze your pelvic floor. That’s the whole secret! And the best thing about it? You can do them whenever you want, wherever you want, and no one around you will even know that you’re doing it (as long as you don’t pull a face every time you squeeze, that is!). But let’s look at how you can incorporate your Kegels into your daily life.
Slow squeeze Kegels
- Let go of the squeeze when you can’t hold it anymore or after 10 seconds and rest for the same amount of time you’ve held it for.
- Slowly squeeze the muscles you’d usually use to stop your urine flow and the muscles you’d use to stop yourself from passing wind at the same time.
- Hold the squeeze as hard & long as you can; a good aim is a maximum of 10 seconds. Don’t be disappointed if you can’t hold it for that long to begin with. Just start with whatever works for you and try to slowly increase the time.
- Repeat the exercise 10 times.
Quick squeeze Kegels
- Squeeze the same muscles as before but do it quickly and let go immediately. Try to repeat these short & hard squeezes as many times as you can up to a maximum of 10.
- These quick squeezes are a great exercise if you suffer from stress or urge incontinence as it’ll train your muscles to react quickly to sudden urges and stresses like coughing or sneezing.
To get the most out of your pelvic floor exercises, aim to do one set of slow squeezes and one set of quick squeezes 2-3 times per day.
If you do bridge correctly, it’s not just an amazing exercise for your glutes but it’s also great for your pelvic floor muscles. Here’s how to do it:
- When you’re ready to let go, slowly, vertebrae by vertebrae, lower yourself back down to the floor.
- Once you’ve lifted yourself up, your upper back and shoulders, arms and feet should be the only things that touch the floor, and your body should be a straight line from your knees to your chin.
- Start by lying on the floor with your spine firmly against the ground. Bend your legs with knees over ankles, feet flat on the floor and legs hip width apart. Your arms can be straight should be straight at your sides with your palms facing down.
- As a next step, take a deep breath in, push into your heels, and slowly peel your hips off the ground by squeezing your glutes, hamstrings, and pelvic floor as hard as you can.
- Hold it for as long as you can at the top. Don’t push yourself too hard, though, 1-2 seconds is plenty to begin with!
- Aim to do 10 to 15 repeats in 2-3 sets. Give yourself a 30 second to 1 minute rest between sets.
Tabletop is a move that’s used very often in Pilates and it’s great for your core! But with the split included, it doesn’t just activate your abs, it also uses your pelvic floor muscles. But how do you do a split tabletop?
- Slowly bring your legs back up to the starting position so your legs are touching again.
- Now, slowly and with control, split your legs so the right knee falls outwards to the right and the left knee falls outwards to the left.
- Start by lying on your back and lift your legs into a right angle. This means your shins are parallel to the floor, your thighs are perpendicular to the floor and your toes point towards the ceiling.
- Engage your core and inner thigh muscles and make sure your legs are touching.
- Make sure you don’t go further than feels comfortable for you. You also shouldn’t feel this exercise in your lower back. If you do, check that your abs are engaged properly!
- Repeat this exercise 10 to 15 times and do 3 sets with a 30-second or 1-minute pause in between sets.
Bird dog is a great exercise that trains your balance by engage loads of muscles all over your body, including your pelvic floor. Here’s how you do it:
- Repeat the exact same thing on the other side and lift your right arm and left leg simultaneously.
- Hold the position for as long as you can. Don’t push yourself too hard, 1-2 seconds is a great start!
- Then, slowly and with control, start to straighten your left and your right leg at the same time.
- Start the exercise on all fours, knees under hips and wrists under shoulders. Make sure your back is straight and you’re not dipping into your lumbar. Your neck should be in line with your spine; don’t lift your head but don’t let it drop either.
- Engage your core muscles and draw your shoulders back and down.
- Now be super careful that you don’t dip into your lumbar. Your back should still be a straight line, your pelvis should be level and parallel to the floor. Also make sure you’re not leaning towards one side; your arm and thigh that are touching the floor should still be perpendicular to it.
- Slowly bend your arm and leg and lower them back to the floor. You should now be on all fours again.
- When you’ve finished the second side, you’ve done one rep. Try to do 10 reps and 2 to 3 sets with a 30-second to 1-minute pause in between reps.
Exercises to avoid
If your pelvic floor is rather weak, there’s a good chance that some exercises will be too strong for you. So, if you’re still doing these exercises, you risk damaging your pelvic floor muscles which could potentially make them even weaker in the process. So, until you’re 100% confident that your pelvic floor is strong enough, take it slowly with double leg lifts, lifting heavy weights, and sit-ups with your legs lifted off the floor.
Don’t be discouraged or disappointed if your pelvic floor exercises don’t go as smoothly as you imagined to begin with. Just keep going and you’ll soon notice the benefits!
Marques A, Stothers L, Macnab A (2010). The status of pelvic floor muscle training for women. Canadian Urological Association Journal 4 (6): 419-424: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2997838
RCOG (2006). Exercise in Pregnancy: Statement No. 4, London, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists: https://www.rcog.org.uk./globalassets/documents/guidelines/statements/statement-no-4.pdf
NHS Choices. What are pelvic floor exercises? http://www.nhs.uk/chq/pages/1063.aspx?categoryid=52 (Page last reviewed: 14/04/2020. Next review due: 14/04/2023)
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