What is Pelvic Floor?
You hear me talk about pelvic floor quite a bit, and you kinda-sorta know what it is, but you’re a little too embarrassed to figure out the real deal with this muscle group… sound familiar? If so, read on my friend, we are going to get this conversation going and develop some understanding.
I’m going to warn you right now, this conversation might make you blush a bit at first since we’re talking about “down there.” However, it’s important we start a dialogue about this muscle group because we’ve been a little bit too embarrassed to talk about it for a little bit too long. Meanwhile, you’re still tinkling in your pants when you’re jumping on the trampoline (not out of excitement).
In fact, 1 in 4 women over the age of 18 experience incontinence.
I’m here to change all of that and be sure you’re training this muscle group just as often as your biceps 😉 To start, go ahead and claim my free 7-minute pelvic floor workout! By the time you’re done reading this post you’ll be getting it in your inbox.
The pelvic floor refers to all the the muscles that create a hammock shape at the base of the pelvis. There are lots of muscles here, they run from your pubic bone to tail bone and from sit bone to sit bone. “Sit bones,” is not an anatomical name for these bones but you can feel them when you sit on the floor, they are the bottom of each ischium, which are your hip bones. Basically, these muscles encompass your urethra, your vagina, and your anus. Since the muscles encompass these bathroom excretion zones, when these muscles are weak, a little tinkle happens. The real name for this is stress incontinence.
What is “incontinence?”
Incontinence means leakage of urine. There are 3 kinds of incontinence:
- Urge incontinence: leakage with a strong urge to urinate. (similar to the way it’s hard to urinate after you had to hold it way longer than you wanted to and your bladder has a hard time releasing).
- Stress incontinence: leakage during physical activity or when involuntary pressure is put on the bladder such as a cough, sneeze, lift, or laugh.
- Mixed incontinence: A combo of stress & urge.
Major functions of the Pelvic Floor
Some major functions of the pelvic floor include supporting essential organs in the body and controlling waste excretion from the body. These muscles lay the ground work for a TON of muscular firing throughout the rest of the pelvis and into the deep core. A strong pelvic floor serves as the true core of the body and will decreases risk of injury, improve biomechanics and help with muscular imbalances. You can think of the pelvic floor, as literally a floor (or a foundation). You wouldn’t build a house without a strong foundation…right?
Why, oh why, are these muscles weak?
Here’s a list of why these muscles get weak over time:
- Certain surgeries (including hysterectomy)
- Excess body weight
- Injury or trauma
- Sedentary lifestyles
- Natural aging process
What else happens when the pelvic floor is weak? Organ prolapse.
Organ prolapse means that organs such as the bladder, uterus, and/or rectum begin to fall out of place. In some cases, these organs may begin to fall down the vaginal canal and even protrude out of the body. If you are experiencing organ prolapse, it is important to communicate that with your female health care provider, since some cases require a surgical fix.
Organ prolapse becomes more common after a hysterectomy making pelvic floor strengthening of higher importance. Additionally organ prolapse may inevitably be a result from labor complications or other body trauma.
A strong pelvic floor will help prevent common cases of incontinence and organ prolapse, so let’s figure out how to make that muscle group stronger! Click here to receive my 7-minute pelvic floor workout so you can start taking action on strengthening your pelvic floor now!
How do I make this floor stronger?
The pelvic floor muscles can fire up with a “mind-body” connection and it’s super important to make sure you can get that connection going in order to make these muscles stronger (and free yourself to jump on the trampoline again 😉 )
This is where the Kegels comes in!
The term Kegel refers to an isolated pelvic floor engagement. So when I say “engage pelvic floor,” or do a “Kegel,” I’m saying the SAME thing! Interchangeable vocabulary.
This is important:
You should not be working on Kegels if you have any of the following:
- urge incontinence
- trouble initiating urinating
- pain during intercourse
- pain or tension in the pelvic area
If you’re experiencing any of the above, you should seek help from a women’s health professional first in order to tackle the issue in proper order.
How To engage the pelvic floor/perform a Kegel:
(This part it really important to read over before partaking in my 7-minute pelvic floor workout)
Lay on the floor and find a neutral pelvis (where the hip bones and pubic bone are on the same plane). NOTE: There should be NO tipping the pelvis forward or backward, we call this a posterior pelvic tilt/anterior pelvic tilt. Additionally, no engaging the gluteus muscles (the butt cheeks) while performing the Kegel either.
No one should be able to see you doing a Kegel because the pelvis stays still the entire time.
In between each pelvic floor engagement you want to release those muscles all the way! DO NOT maintain the engagement the entire time you are doing pelvic floor exercises.
Every time you perform a Kegel, be sure you lift the pelvic floor on the EXHALE! This balances the intra-abdominal pressure. If you are unclear on the purpose of the breathing and balancing intra-abdominal pressure, read this post.
Imagery for a Kegel:
While performing a Kegel, imagery is the best way to learn how to mind-body connect with these muscles. Imagery techniques for pelvic floor may make some people blush or feel embarrassed but they are super effective in helping you develop that mind-body connection that is essential for this muscle group!
Here are a few imagery techniques that help women engage the pelvic floor:
- Imagine that you are stopping the flow of urine when you fire up the pelvic floor and then letting urine flow again while resting.
- Imagine that you are drawing a marble up the vaginal canal while firing the muscles then allow the marble to roll all of the way out during the resting phase.
- Imagine the vaginal canal as an elevator. During engagement the elevator is moving up the shaft and that the elevator moves all of the way down the elevator shaft.
The imagery takes practice and seems silly at first. Commit 10 minutes of time to lay on the floor and practice using these 3 imagery techniques to see which helps you fire the pelvic floor better. After you have a better understanding of the proper pelvic floor engagement, be sure to get my 7-minute pelvic floor workout below so you can apply them, it’s free!
How will you know if you are firing the pelvic floor well or not?
There are a number of biofeedback techniques to figure this one out. These techniques are both tactile (by feel) and visual (by look).
These techniques discuss the perineum, which is the anatomical term for the muscular section between the vagina and anus. Just to keep it classy for you, the slang name for this is the “taint.” 😉
- Visual: Grab a mirror and look! While you perform the Kegel you should see the perineum move upward and inward towards the very center of the trunk. If there is bulging happening during this movement it is being performed incorrectly.
- Tactile: Place your finger on the perineum (you can even do this with underwear on) and feel the perineum pull upward and inward.
- Tactile: Place your clean finger into the vaginal canal to feel if the canal is clamping onto your finger. You should feel a distinct contract and relax.
- Tactile: The Kegel exercises can also be performed seated on something that touches the pelvic floor. For example, if you sit on a ball, you will feel the pelvic floor resting on the surface, that way when you engage the pelvic floor you will feel it drawing upward and away from the ball.
Practice this kind of engagement for 10 minutes 2 times a day, such as morning and evening. First, see if you can actually turn these muscles on, then begin with repetitions of them.
How many and how often to train the pelvic floor you wonder?
Prescription wise, there are “short” Kegels and “long” Kegels.
- Short Kegels are about 1-2 seconds long. Perform about 6 of the short ones.
- Long Kegels are held for about 8-10 seconds. You can do about 3-6 of those.
Performing both will benefit the fast twitch and slow twitch muscle fibers in the pelvic floor.
Start with 6 short ones, then switch to 3 long ones. Cycle through that series about 3 times total.
Any of my clients will tell you, I’m terrible at counting when I teach, but we do 3 sets of these types of Kegels in my 7-minute pelvic floor workout, so sign up for it now and start taking action on getting your pelvic floor strong the correct way.
If at any point you feel that the muscles tire out, stop the exercises. Rest the muscles, and come back to them later. Continue working at it daily until they no longer tire out and you can complete the entire cycle. Don’t beat yourself up if it’s challenging at first, it takes time to develop a mind-body connection to these muscles and then some time to get them strong once they fire up!
Pelvic Floor During your Exercise:
Once you are able to perform the Kegel prescription easily, it’s important to develop the pelvic floor strength with functional training. The pelvic floor will naturally move with large, dynamic movements such as deep squats, lunges, plies, etc.
While performing exercises such as Pilates and yoga, we only want the pelvic floor to engage a little over 10%. That’s about the effort you would use to pull a tissue out of a box. Often, the “thought” of pelvic floor during exercise creates enough engagement.
Too much emphasis on pelvic floor, such as the effort you are doing during the isolated engagements, will not allow the kinetic chain to function properly. The transversus abdominis may even “turn off” if pelvic floor is firing at 100%.
Bring Intention to Your Pelvic Floor Health:
If you to set aside just 5-10 minutes morning and night to focus on pelvic floor exercises, you’ll be out there jumping on the trampoline in no time 😉
To make it really easy on you, I created a quick 7-Minute Pelvic Floor Workout for you to follow, you can find it below. Be sure to have a clear understanding of the proper way to perform the Kegel/Pelvic floor engagement before following the video. Since this video was made with your busy schedule in mind, I don’t spend time on the biofeedback techniques to be sure you are performing correctly.
7-Minute Pelvic Floor Workout
Here is a FREE 7-Minute Pelvic Floor Workout so that you can make your pelvic floor health a priority in your busy day! Since this is a super quick workout, checkout my blog post on Pelvic Floor to learn more detail on who should be doing this exercise, how to do it properly, and great biofeedback/imagery techniques.