Meet Your Pelvic Floor: Three Common Myths & How To Strengthen These Muscles

Today we will cover what the function of the pelvic floor is; three common myths about the pelvic floor; and exercises you can perform to strengthen your deep core, today! 

What is Your Pelvic Floor and Why is it Important?

One of the foundational principles of exercise program prescription at Pongo Power is the attainment of optimal core strength.  For many people, the word “core” may immediately bring to mind the “six-pack”.  What may not be so apparent is that the core complex encompasses not just the abdominals, but also the lower back, glutes (or butt muscles) diaphragm; the core is made up of the muscles that stabilize the spinal column and the pelvis.  

The pelvic floor is an integral and often overlooked support system for the body. It is important to remember that every part of the core complex needs to be as strong as possible. I like to use the visual of the bottom of a grocery bag: if the bottom collapses, the groceries fall out. Without a solid foundation, the groceries won’t be able to stay put for very long. The muscles of the pelvic floor support all of the sexual organs, as well as the bladder and rectum.  Too often, it is not until there is a problem that the pelvic floor gets attention.

PelvicFloor

Three Common Myths About Pelvic Floor Weakness

There are many preconceived notions and outright myths that are associated with pelvic floor weakness.

Pelvic Floor Issues Only Affect Women

Nothing could be further from the truth.  The pelvic floor resembles a sling that supports the bladder, sexual organs, and the rectum; all of which, both women and men possess.  Therefore both men and women can experience problems caused by weak pelvic muscles.

Having a Cesarean Section Can Help Avoid Pelvic Floor Weakness

It doesn’t matter whether you had a C-section or vaginal birth, pelvic floor weakness can affect any woman who has given birth, regardless of the method.  The weakness that women experience in their pelvic floor post-pregnancy can be caused by the increased weight of the uterus and fetus that creates a huge amount of pressure on the muscles and nerves of the pelvic floor.  While a vaginal birth is more traumatic for the pelvic floor muscles, having a C-section doesn’t preclude a woman from pelvic floor weakness post-pregnancy.

Running Causes Pelvic Floor Weakness

Some studies have shown that running can exacerbate an already weakened pelvic floor, but running alone does not cause the problem. Running is considered a high impact exercise that places a large amount of pressure on the muscles of the pelvic floor.  When the muscles of the pelvic floor are weakened they are not able to support the bladder, rectum, and uterus against this repeated downward pressure.  The result is that the already weakened muscles in the pelvic floor are further stretched and strained.  This can lead to increased symptoms or the development of prolapse when the bladder, uterus, or bowel can fall out of proper position due to the lack of support.

How to Strengthen the Pelvic Floor

Step 1: Learn Proper Breathing - 360 Breathing

(check out our video below on how to perform a proper 360 breathing)

  • Start by sitting in a chair with neutral alignment (ears over shoulders, over hips)
  • Place your hands around your rib cage: thumbs on the back of the rib cage and the rest of your fingers in the front 
  • Inhale through the nose, feeling the air fill your belly, ribcage, and back
  • Exhale through the mouth like you’re blowing out a candle, this will engage the transverse abdominis and your naval will draw in as you exhale
  • Repeat for 5-8 breaths, focusing on the feeling of muscles engaging 

 

Step 2: Pelvic Floor Activation (PFA) - Slow and Fast

  • Sit in a chair with find neutral alignment
  • Start by finding the 4 attachment points of the pelvic floor - front, back, and on the sides
  • To find the front muscles, relax and contract like you were going to stop peeing
  • To find the back, imagine like you’re going to stop passing gas
  • To find the sides, sit on your hands and feel the bony part of your sit bones. That’s where the muscles attach.
  • Take an inhale through the nose and feel the pelvic floor relax
  • Exhale through the mouth and bring all 4 attachment points together and up
  • On the next inhale really focus on the lengthening portion of the exercise to ensure you are working through a full range of motion
  • Keep in mind that allowing the muscles to lengthen is as important as contracting them

PFA Slow: repeat for 5-8 slow breaths (ex: 4 counts inhale, 4 counts exhale). These target the slow-twitch fibers that are responsible for supporting the pelvic organs and stabilizing the pelvic region.

PFA Fast: repeat for 10 fast breaths (i.e. 1-2 counts inhale, 1-2 counts exhale). These target the fast-twitch fibers that help to resist unwanted leakage during movements like jumping, coughing, or laughing.

 

Step 3: Practice Incorporating Pelvic Floor Activations During Other Exercise

  • A glute bridge is a good exercise to use as you start practicing incorporating PFA’s into movements because you are lying on your back and fully supported.
  • Start by lying on your back with your feet hip-width apart and parallel, a neutral pelvis, and shoulders back and down away from your ears
  • Take a practice round just incorporating breath
  • Inhale through your nose to prepare
  • Exhale through the mouth as you squeeze your glutes to press up into your bridge
  • Inhale as you lower down, and as the glutes lengthen
  • Next, incorporate PFA’s into the movement
  • As you exhale, contract the muscles of your pelvic floor as you squeeze your glutes to come up into your glute bridge
  • Inhaling through your nose, lengthen the pelvic floor as you lower back to starting position
  • Repeat 

This can be tricky so keep practicing and let us know if you have any questions!

Weak Pelvic Floor or Something More Serious?

Pelvic floor weakness can manifest in various ways, and many people may not realize that the symptoms they experience are the result of compromised pelvic control.  Common harbingers of weak pelvic muscles include: leaking urine when laughing, sneezing, coughing, running, or jumping, a constant feeling of needing to use the restroom, difficulty in completely emptying the bladder or bowels, and painful intercourse (for women).

You may feel shy when it comes to talking to your doctor about your concerns.  You will thank yourself for accepting the challenge to create clear communication so that the problem can be identified and fixed.  There are more serious conditions which share the symptoms of pelvic floor weakness, so it is important to be open with your doctor or health care specialist about what you’re experiencing. It is important to remember that you are not the only person dealing with this problem, and the first step to solving it is to tell someone about it.

Postnatal

At Pongo Power, we are equipped to help our clients regain stability, strength, and confidence.  This means more than mastering the perfect pull-up or training for that triathlon.  We strive to give our clients individualized programs that target the needs of their bodies.  The only way to get started is to take a deep breath and tell someone what you’re feeling so you can get the appropriate assistance. 

If you are a client at Pongo Power and you’re experiencing pelvic floor weakness, please tell your trainer!  Using exercises that are safe and scientifically sound, your trainer will be able to start teaching you how to target the right muscles in the right way to effectively build your pelvic floor strength! 

If you are interested in training with us, email us at office@pongopower.com today to get started!

Citations:

Michelle Kenway: https://www.pelvicexercises.com.au/prolapse-and-running/

http://www.phoenixpub.com/index.php?page=janet-hulme

https://pronatalfitness.com/

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Kristen Latteri