Pelvic floor exercises may not be something you really want to talk about. As women over 30, we typically focus on keeping our waistlines thin and our upper arms toned. While these are commendable goals, it’s even more important to keep our lady parts toned and strong.
When our pelvic floor is mentioned, our minds usually drift to sex. And yes, a strong pelvic floor can ensure we maintain our sexual health and pleasure well past menopause. And those things are important, don’t get me wrong. But there are other health issues that a weak pelvic floor causes as well.
A weak pelvic floor can lead to stress incontinence (urinating when you sneeze, cough, laugh or jump), prolapse (when the uterus, rectum, urethra, or bladder starts to collapse into the vagina), sexual dysfunction, and lower back and hip problems. Pregnancy and childbirth can lead to weakened pelvic floor muscles, as can aging, obesity, heavy lifting, or chronic coughing.
I should mention that while most pelvic floor advice is aimed at women, a strong pelvic floor is also important for men. It is estimated that up to 30 percent of men suffer from some degree of incontinence, particularly after prostate surgery.
Everyone should be doing exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor!
Friendly reminder: pick up some of these resistance bands to maximize your efforts when doing the exercises!
What is Your Pelvic Floor?
The pelvic floor is a group of 16 muscles that work together to form a kind of cradle or sling to support the organs in the lower half of your abdomen. The pelvic floor works with the diaphragm at the top of the abdomen to form a container of muscle. This maintains the correct amount of pressure within the abdomen so that all your organs function normally.
The movements of the diaphragm and the pelvic floor are coordinated so that when you breathe in the diaphragm expands down toward the pelvis and the pelvic floor elongates to keep the pressure even. Exhale and the pelvic floor lifts, as the diaphragm goes back to its normal position.
What Sort of Pelvic Floor Exercises?
Experts recommend doing pelvic floor exercises, often referred to as Kegels, at regular intervals during the day. It is a good idea to practice the exercises in a number of positions: standing, sitting or lying down, although to start with you might find it easiest to lie down with your knees bent and feet flat. You don’t need special equipment or clothing, and the exercises can easily be done as part of your normal routine.
Simply focus your attention on the muscles of your pelvic floor and tighten them.
- Imagine you are trying to stop urinating midstream. Tighten the muscles around the urethra and anus and try to lift or draw them inside your body. Women should also imagine lifting the vagina higher into the body.
- Try not to hold your breath or clench your abdomen or buttock muscles. Keep breathing normally.
- Hold for a count of three and then relax. Rest for a count of six and then repeat. Do as many as you can.
- Gradually build up the number of repetitions until you’re doing at least three sets of ten repetitions a day.
Many women do Kegel exercises incorrectly, which can end up causing more problems than not doing them at all. If you aren’t sure you are doing them correctly, please check out this video! As well as Kegels, there are other ways you can incorporate pelvic floor strengthening into your daily exercise routine.
Pilates focuses on developing strong abdominal core muscles, including the pelvic floor. Regular Pilates practice helps you tune into your pelvic floor muscles and learn to safely contract, lift and tighten the various muscle groups as well as soften and relax them.
Your Pilates session can be tailored to target these muscles by including variations on scissors, bridge and clam exercises. Pilates is best done under the supervision of a trained Pilates instructor.
Yoga can help to tone and strengthen pelvic floor muscles and make you more aware of relaxing and contracting the individual muscles.
Some of the best yoga poses for pelvic floor muscles include:
Malasana or Yogic Squat
- Start by standing in Mountain Pose at the top of your mat with your feet together and your arms by your sides.
- Step your feet apart, about as wide as your mat.
- Engage your core muscles and drop your tailbone, lengthening your spine.
- Exhale, bend your knees, and lower your hips, coming into a squatting position. Keep your feet flat on the floor and parallel. You can support your heels with a folded towel or blanket.
- Separate your thighs until they are wider than your torso. Lean forwards lightly and bring your upper arms inside your knees with your hands together, palms facing in prayer position. Try to keep your forearms parallel to the floor.
- Open your chest and lengthen your spine. Drop your shoulders away from your ears and shift your weight onto your heels.
- Hold for 30 seconds. Release by bringing your fingertips to the floor, straighten your legs and return to Mountain Pose.
- Lie on your back with both knees bent, and feet placed flat on the floor hip-width apart. Make sure your feet are parallel.
- Slide your arms alongside your body with the palms facing down. Walk your feet in slightly so that, if possible, your fingertips should be able to lightly touch your heels.
- Press your feet and arms into the floor, inhale, and as you exhale slowly lift your hips toward the ceiling. Focus on peeling your spine slowly off the floor, don’t rush or jerk.
- Wriggle your shoulders closer together and press down into the shoulders and arms to continue to lift up the chest.
- Make sure you keep your knees hip-width apart and your shins facing straight ahead. It can help to gently squeeze your knees together, so your legs don’t collapse outwards. You can place a block between your knees to help with this.
- Lift your chest towards your chin (not chin to chest), feel your tailbone lengthen toward your feet and draw up towards your pubic bone.
- Clasp your hands underneath your body, walking the shoulder bones together and extending the arms towards the feet.
- Hold for 4-8 breaths.
- Slowly release the hands and arms and return to having your hands palm down on the floor.
- Exhale as you slowly lower your spine to the floor, vertebra by vertebra. Don’t rush the release of the pose or just drop to the floor. Stay in control of the pose while your spine returns to rest flat on the floor. Allow the knees to come together and relax.
NOTE: try doing this pose with a resistance band around your knees to maximize the results, I did this almost daily when pregnant with my 4th!
Child’s Pose (one of my FAVORITES!)
- Come to all fours, resting on your hands and knees.
- Spread the knees to the outer edges of your yoga mat and have your big toes touching. Sit back on your heels.
- Inhale, lengthening down through the spine.
- Exhale as you walk your hands towards the top of your mat and lean forward, resting your chest between or on top of your thighs. Lengthen your tailbone and relax your pelvis.
- Allow your forehead to rest gently on the mat.
- You can leave your arms extended in front, or bring them back to rest, palms up near your feet.
- Allow your shoulders, upper back and lower back to broaden, soften and relax.
- Breathe deeply and continue to hold the pose for as long as you like.
You can also incorporate exercise to strengthen your pelvic floor into your regular gym routine. Remember to engage your pelvic floor before you start the exercise and keep breathing!
- Wall squats: Stand against the wall with feet hip-width apart. Engage your pelvic floor and slide down the wall into a squat. Hold for 10 seconds and then return to your starting position and release. Do 10 repeats.
- Jumping jacks: Stand with your legs together. Engage your pelvic floor and jump your feet apart, raising your arms above your head. Lower your arms as you jump your feet back to your starting position. Repeat for up to a minute.
- Dead bug crunch: Lie on your back with your arms extended straight up and your legs drawn up to your stomach, knees bent. Engage your pelvic floor and extend your left arm and leg. Return to your starting position and repeat on the other side. Do ten repetitions on each side.
Programs Specifically Designed for Pelvic Floor Strengthening
If you are anything like me, then you love guided instruction. I REALLY wanted a program that laid it all out for me, and when I asked around I actually found two programs that I loved!
- MuTu System: The Postpartum Exercise + Recovery Program. A proven system for Moms to get their bodies in shape + restore body confidence. MuTu System is a global best selling, award-winning, industry acclaimed, holistic, realistic and supportive recovery + exercise program for Moms that truly works! It has been THE BEST program for healing my diastasis recti! Learn more about it HERE.
- One Strong Mama: The definitive online prenatal exercise program. Blending exercise and education giving you the strength to carry and the confidence to birth. This one is AMAZING for prenatal pelvic floor strength! You can learn more about it HERE.
What are the Benefits of Doing Pelvic Floor Exercises?
Strengthening your pelvic floor muscles will help to prevent incontinence and prolapse and enhance sexual function (including erectile dysfunction).
Doing pelvic floor exercises will help you recover more quickly from childbirth, gynecological, and prostate surgery. It will also help to build your core strength and enhance your endurance at the gym. As an added bonus a strong and toned pelvic floor will lead to better orgasms!
If you need to, set a reminder in your phone daily: “Exercises to Strengthen Your Pelvic Floor”
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