Let’s get personal for a minute, okay?
If you are like me, and one of the estimated one quarter of American women, you suffer from some form of pelvic floor issue. This could be pain during and after sex. It could be painful periods (not cramps but down there pain). It could be bladder leakage when coughing, sneezing, or exercising. I pretty much had all these issues, and still do if I skip on my pelvic floor exercises. Here’s how to help improve your pelvic floor and greatly reduce all the above issues.
You have probably heard of the term “kegels” before, but what are they and how do you do them? In 1948, Doctor Arnold Kegel published an article explaining how simple exercises could help strengthen and restore the muscles in the pelvic floor. A kegel is a pelvic floor exercise. Now you may be wondering, “what is the pelvic floor?” The pelvic floor is the hammock of muscles at the bottom of your abdomen. They do everything from controlling bowel and bladder movements, to helping the uterus work, and even aiding in sexual pleasure. They run from your pubic bone to your tail bone.
Now that we have the basics out of the way, let’s talk about why we need to do these (and other) exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor. There are many reasons why women have pelvic floor problems. Men have them too, though much less often.
Pelvic floor damage can come from:
- Pregnancy and childbirth
- Family history
- Chronic constipation
- Being overweight or obese
- Hormonal status
Some women, like myself, are born with a physical abnormality that effects the pelvic area (I am double-jointed in my hips, meaning the muscles around my pelvis need to work harder to keep everything stable). You might be thinking, “okay, I fall into one of those categories, how do I know if I have a pelvic floor problem, and how can I fix it?” Here’s how to tell if you need to dive head first into pelvic floor exercises.
The most common signs of pelvic floor problems are:
- Having an urge to frequently urinate
- Not being able to make it to the restroom fast enough
- Not being able to empty your bladder all the way
- Leaking urine when you laugh or sneeze
- Pain during or after intercourse, or while on your period
If that is you, then you need to start exercises right away.
I was in my early 20s when I started my first round of Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy, because I couldn’t stop a flow of urine once it started (yep, pretty embarrassing to be an adult and not have control over your bodily functions).
If you don’t have these problems yet, and I say yet, because a quarter of women will have some kind of pelvic floor problem in their life (hello, Depends!), you can start pelvic floor exercises now to PREVENT them from happening or being bad. Now, on to the exercises. These exercises are all safe to do during pregnancy.
Four Pelvic Floor Exercises to get your Nether-regions in shape
As I said earlier, a Kegel is the most common pelvic floor exercise. A good way to know if you are doing a Kegel correctly is to place your hand on your stomach as you squeeze the muscles used to stop a flow of urine AND the muscles used to hold in gas AT THE SAME TIME. If your stomach tightens, you aren’t doing them right. Get on all fours and let your belly hang, and try the exercise again. It takes practice but you’ll get there. Once you know how to do the exercise, you need to do your 2s and 10s. First hold a Kegel for two seconds, then release, and repeat 10 times. Do three sets of these in a day. Next, hold a Kegel for 10 seconds, then release, and repeat 10 times. Do three sets of these a day. Your 2s will build up your strength, and your 10s will build up your endurance. I like to do these while I’m reading or at a stop light. You can do them on all fours at first, until you are doing them well, then you can sit or lie down, and then move to standing. Total control over your pelvic floor muscles allows you to do these while walking around, but don’t worry if you don’t get there quickly, it takes a lot of work. Like all exercise, these are best done often, if not every day.
2. Clam Shells
Other exercises that help the pelvic floor are any exercises that strengthen the lower core and hip and butt area. Clam shells (Think Suzanne Somers doing the thigh master) are fantastic for strengthening the hip area. Lay on your side with knees bent. Lift top leg while keeping feet together. Lower your leg back down. Do 15 reps three times on each side. Make sure your hips don’t move as you do them, you shouldn’t be rocking side to side. If these seem too simple, or you want to take it up a notch, slide a looped exercise band around your legs for added resistance.
3. Squats, Lunges, and Planks
Squats, lunges, and planks are all great, too. If you are big into weight lifting or Crossfit-type exercise, your squats might cause extra strain on your pelvic floor. Be sure you aren’t feeling any pressure on your pelvic floor as you do your squats. If you notice urination leaking or pressure on your pelvic floor, you can modify your squats until your pelvic floor is stronger. This is achieved by making your squats more shallow, not using as heavy of weights, or by making your stance more narrow. As you squat, keep your pelvic floor tight, and release as you rise back up. Some women like to imagine a flower closing as they squat and opening back up as they stand back up. You can even bounce on a yoga ball to activate those muscles and help them get stronger.
4. Bird Dogs
This exercise is simple. Get on all fours, and raise one arm straight in front of you while lifting the opposite leg straight back. Return to all fours, then repeat on the other side. Do multiple reps of these each time.
More pelvic floor exercises
The internet is full of fantastic pelvic floor exercises that go beyond the basic Kegel. If you notice, most of them are also abdominal exercises, and what woman doesn’t want to tone up that area? I’m happy to do any exercise that gives me multiple benefits, because let’s be honest, we are all a bit lazy, right?
What if these exercises still, after months of diligently exercising, don’t fix or ease your problem? Are you out of luck? No, ma’am. Remember how I said that I had Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy? Well, I’ve had it twice. Once in my early 20s and again after having my second baby. I went in to my OB/GYN and told him I was in pain for days after having sex or the entire week of my period. After a quick exam, he wrote me up a prescription for PT, and off I went. Both therapists used different, but effective methods. If you are in pain, or need to wear bladder leak pads every day of the week, please, please talk to your doctor about it. Programs that can be used to make the problem smaller or go away are readily available.
Remember, that like all exercise, this need to be consistently and continually done to give you life-long results. You can’t do them for a short while, make your problem go away, and then hope it never comes back, because it will. Sometimes as women we are afraid to talk about our problems, but so many of us are suffering in silence, that this needs to stop. Grab a buddy and start exercising. I promise it will be worth it.