The pelvic floor muscles are like a supportive hammock suspended between your pubic bone at the front and your tailbone at the back. The openings from your bladder, your bowels and your womb all pass through your pelvic floor. The pelvic floor muscles support the bladder, bowl and uterus. They also maintain bladder and bowel control and play an important role in sexual sensation and function.
The first step in performing pelvic floor muscle exercises is to identify the correct muscles. There are several ways which may help you to correctly identify the different parts of your pelvic floor muscles. One way is to try to stop or slow the flow of urine midway through emptying the bladder. Stopping the flow of urine repeatedly on the toilet is not an exercise, but a way of identifying your pelvic floor muscles.
A second method to identify your pelvic floor muscles is to imagine stopping the flow of urine and holding in flatus (wind) at the same time. This can be done lying down, sitting or standing with your legs about shoulder width apart. Relax the muscles of your thighs, bottom and tummy. Squeeze in the muscles around the front passage as if trying to stop the flow of urine. Squeeze in the muscles around the vagina and suck upwards inside the pelvic. Squeeze in the muscles around the back passage as if trying to stop passing wind. The muscles around the front and back passages should squeeze up and inside the pelvis.
Technique is the most important part of pelvic floor muscle exercises, there is no point doing them if you are not doing them correctly. Imagine letting go like you would to pass urine or to pass wind. Let your tummy muscles hang loose too. See if you can squeeze in and hold the muscles inside the pelvis while you breathe. Nothing above the belly button should tighten or tense. Some tensing and flattening of the lower part of the abdominal wall will happen. This is not a problem, as this part of the tummy works together with the pelvic floor muscles.
After a contraction it is important to relax the muscles. This will allow your muscles to recover from the previous contraction and prepare for the next contraction.
Pelvic floor exercises are often also called Kegel exercises, after their originator, Dr Arnold Kegel and are widely promoted as the starting point for building pelvic floor strength. Any woman can try these exercises for herself. Be aware that if they are not done correctly, they can aggravate a problem. If you have mastered the art of contracting your pelvic floor muscles correctly, you can try holding the inward squeeze for longer (up to 10 seconds) before relaxing. Make sure you can breathe easily while you squeeze.
If you can do this exercise, repeat it up to 10 times, but only as long as you can do it with perfect technique while breathing quietly and keeping everything above the belly button relaxed. This can be done more often during the day to improve control.
Pelvic floor muscles are lengthened and weakened during pregnancy and childbirth. One in three mothers suffers incontinence as a result. Even if you had a caesarean section, your pelvic floor has been stretched under the load of carrying your baby for nine months.
Women with pelvic floor problems may experience a range of bladder or bowel symptoms. Common signs or symptoms include:
Accidentally leaking urine when they exercise, play sport, laugh, cough or sneeze
Needing to get to the toilet in a hurry or not making it there in time
Constantly needing to go to the toilet
Finding it difficult to empty their bladder or bowel
Accidentally losing control of their bowel
Accidentally passing wind
A prolapse – this may be felt as a bulge in the vagina or feeling of heaviness, discomfort, pulling, dragging or dropping
Pain in the pelvic area
Poor sensation or leaking during sex
Some exercises place more stress on the pelvic floor than others, especially for people at risk of pelvic floor problems such as new mothers. It is essential that you discuss any concerns with your pelvic floor with your ShapeUp Mums personal trainer prior to commencing exercise to ensure that all exercises and activities are appropriate for you. There is a wide range of pelvic floor safe cardio and resistance exercises. These exercises help to protect the pelvic floor from excess pressure.
Prior to starting any classes at ShapeUp Mums we ask you to complete a pre-exercise questionnaire to ensure we understand if you have any pelvic floor concerns. If you have experienced concerns with your pelvic floor we will encourage you to see a professional such as a pelvic floor physiotherapist for assistance.
It is important that you seek help if you are concerned about your pelvic floor. We work closely with physiotherapist that specialise in pelvic floor and woman’s health. Under our ‘Resources’ section you can find the website details for these physiotherapist.