Updated: Feb 1, 2019
Extremely overlooked are the pelvic floor muscles yet they are one of the most important muscle groups in the body.
They are SO important to strengthen for both women and men but particularly for women pre, during and post pregnancy and later in life too.
When you hear me talk about 'pelvic floor muscles' are you left slightly confused and wondering what they really do, where they are and how you are supposed to engage them? Read on to learn the answers to all of these common questions.
WHERE ARE THEY?
The PF muscles are a layer of muscles that stretch from the pubic bone at the front of your body, to the coccyx (tailbone) at the back. They are structured like a muscular trampoline/ hammock (see pics below).
WHY ARE THEY SO IMPORTANT?
The pelvic floor muscles provide support to the bladder, uterus and bowel and contribute significantly to sexual response and guiding the baby’s head down the birth canal during childbirth.
A strong and healthy pelvic floor helps you hold on to a full bladder. It also helps you to hold on to wind when you want to(!). Your pelvic floor muscles tighten to prevent the leakage of urine when you cough, sneeze, laugh and move. They basically keep everything where it should be until you take a trip to the loo... so they really are very important.
WHAT CAN WEAKEN THE PELVIC FLOOR MUSCLES?
- Pregnancy and childbirth
- Heavy lifting
- Chronic coughing
FINDING YOUR PELVIC FLOOR
...is not always easy! Exercising them should not show at all ‘on the outside’. You should not pull in your tummy excessively, squeeze your legs together, tighten your buttocks or hold your breath.
Here is what to do... practise this a few times to get the hang of it.
1. Sit comfortably with your knees slightly apart. Imagine you are trying to stop yourself passing wind from the bowel. To do this you must squeeze the muscles around the back passage. Try squeezing and lifting that muscle as if you really do have wind. You should be able to feel the muscle move. Your buttocks and legs should not move at all. You should be aware of the skin around the back passage tightening and being pulled up and away from your chair. Really try to feel this squeezing and lifting.
2. Now imagine you are sitting on the loo passing urine and trying to stop the stream of urine. You should be using the same group of muscles that you used before, but don’t be surprised if you find this harder. (Do not try to stop the stream when you are actually passing water as this may - if repeated - cause problems with correct emptying).
3. Now try to tighten the muscles around your front and back passage and lift up inside as if trying to stop passing wind and urine at the same time. It is very easy to bring other incorrect muscles into play, so try to isolate your pelvic floor as much as possible by not squeezing your legs together, not tightening your buttocks and not holding your breath.
The lower tummy can very gently be drawn in as if pulling away from the zip of tight trousers. In this way most of the effort should be coming from the pelvic floor muscles.
PRACTISING EXERCISES - these are beneficial to everyone but particularly important to practise pre, during and post pregnancy or for anyone suffering from incontinence, involuntary wind or painful intercourse.
Now you can find your pelvic floor muscles, here are the exercises:
1. Your pelvic floor muscles need to have stamina. So sit, stand or lie with your knees slightly apart. Slowly tighten and pull up the pelvic floor muscles as hard as you can. Try lifting and squeezing them as long as you can. Rest for 4 seconds and then repeat the contraction.
LYDIA.PILATES TOP TIP #1 Imagine this as a lift/elevator inside your body and imagine the lift going up to the top level (this is the tightest I can hold my PF muscles), after holding the muscles I allow the lift to travel back down and rest for 4 seconds before I repeat - try to lift/engage the muscles on the outbreath - this avoid tensing up the upper body.
Build up your strength until you can do 10 slow contractions at a time, holding them for 10 seconds each with rests of 4 seconds in between.
2. Your pelvic floor muscles also need to react quickly to sudden stresses from coughing, laughing or exercise that puts pressure on the bladder. So practise some quick contractions, drawing in the pelvic floor and holding it for just one second before relaxing. Try to achieve a strong muscle tightening with up to ten quick contractions in succession.
Aim to do a set of slow contractions (exercise 1) followed by a set of quick contractions (exercise 2) 3-4 times each day.
It takes time for exercise to make muscles stronger. You are unlikely to notice any improvement for several weeks - so stick at it! You will need to exercise regularly for at least 3 months before the muscles gain their full strength.
HOW TO REMEMBER TO PRACTISE YOUR PF EXERCISES REGULARLY
Although it might sound slightly crazy it as been proven to really help...! Place reminder dots in places that will remind you to do the exercises. For example, on the mirror, television, phone or computer; in the toilet (for after you have finished going, not during your flow); in your purse; where you sit to feed your baby or toddler; in your car or anywhere else that will remind you to tighten your pelvic floor and tummy muscles. Using a screen saver, a phone reminder, a note in your diary or on your calendar can also help you to remember to do your pelvic floor muscle exercises.
LYDIA.PILATES TOP TIP #2 Your pelvic floor muscles will work better when your pelvis is in a ‘neutral’ position, that is, when the curve of your back is normal and not flattened or arched. Use the bucket of water method we sometimes do in class to find your neutral spine position (ask if unsure of this)! When you exercise your pelvic floor muscles, your pelvis should not move, and your pelvic floor muscles, which are on the inside of your pelvis, lift up and tighten.
For any questions on any of the above info please get in touch. Otherwise - good luck and now is the perfect time to get practising.