Bladder leakage: Exercises to improve your pelvic floor
Both women and men have pelvic floors, but we talk about women’s pelvic floor muscles more often because it is common to have problems with your pelvic floor during and after pregnancy. A strong pelvic floor supports the pelvic organs to prevent problems such as incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse, and working on these muscles can also improve sex. Express.co.uk chatted to Award Winning Pilates Instructor & Founder of Pilates PT & The Bump Plan Hollie Grant (@thepilatespt on Instagram) to find out the most effective pelvic floor exercises for women.
Your pelvic floor health is important and everyone can benefit from doing pelvic floor exercises.
The pelvic floor is the name given to the muscles and ligaments which make up the base or floor of the pelvis.
You’ll have heard of pelvic floor exercises in relation to pregnancy and menopause, and there’s a reason why – these things can weaken your pelvic floor.
The sling of muscles support a woman’s womb, bladder and bowel and it’s important to keep them strong and healthy.
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So why do some women have a weaker pelvic floor than others? Often the cause isn’t known.
Hollie explained: “There are so many reasons this can happen and sometimes we aren’t 100 percent sure why.
“For many women, pregnancy can highlight an issue with the pelvic floor.
“It is a time of growing strain on the pelvic floor musculature and hence will show up any prior weaknesses, or potentially create new weakness.”
Your pelvic floor muscles may weaken during childbirth and other events involving straining of the muscles.
Hollie said: “Childbirth can also weaken the pelvic floor, specifically if via an assisted vaginal birth, episiotomy, or with a significant tear.
“Others may have a weak pelvic floor due to previous injuries, straining associated with chronic constipation, or obesity.
“There is also a link between the onset of the menopause and pelvic floor dysfunction.”
Pelvic floor dysfunction, on the other hand, isn’t always borne from a weak pelvic floor.
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Hollie said: “Those with a very tight, overactive pelvic floor can also have similar symptoms.”
Whether you have a weak pelvic floor or not, pelvic floor exercises will keep your pelvic floor muscles strong.
Hollie commented: “The pelvic floor muscles are just like any other muscles, they must be trained to stay strong.
“If you practice bicep curls you get stronger biceps if you practice pelvic floor exercises you get stronger pelvic floor muscles.
“Because we cannot “see” the pelvic floor, and there are no aesthetic gains (much of the fitness industry promotes aesthetic gains sadly), we often forget to train the pelvic floor.
“Prevention is better than cure and so it’s best to ensure a functional strong pelvic floor before symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction arise.”
Pelvic floor exercises for women
The pelvic floor is made up of both fast and slow twitch muscles, Hollie explained.
She elaborated: “You can think of the slow-twitch muscles as your long shift workers.
“The slow-twitch muscles have good endurance but aren’t always the quickest or strongest in an emergency.
“The fast-twitch muscles are your back-up army – they jump in when there’s an emergency but don’t stay around for long. For example, when there’s an increased demand on the pelvic floor such as during a sneeze.”
To work out the slow-twitch muscles, Hollie recommends doing lots of holding exercises.
To engage the fast-twitch muscles, you’ll need to try a variety of quick flicks and pules.
Hollie said: “Ideally aim for 10 lots of 10 second holds and 10 lots of 10 flicks or pulses two to three times a day.”
When it comes to pulsing and holding your pelvic floor muscles, Hollie recommends doing these exercises in a specific way.
She said: “When practising your pelvic floor exercises start seated and when you have nailed the technique you can try doing them in other positions.
“Close your eyes, focus on your breath, and try to relax and focus.
“Inhale, and as you exhale lift the pelvic floor.
“There are many visualisations you could use. My favourites are imagining sucking a tampon up into the body, sucking a smoothie through a straw, picking up a blueberry with your anus and vagina, or lifting the perineum.
“Breathe as you hold – muscles need oxygen to function – and try to keep your glutes relaxed.”
Holding the muscles for 10 seconds may be impossible at first, and if that’s the case Hollie recommends slowly building up to that length of time.
You should always release your pelvic floor after each move.
Hollie said: “A strong pelvic floor is important, but we must be able to both contract and release the pelvic floor, so do ensure you release the pelvic floor!
“Don’t spend all your time gripping and lifting, without releasing and relaxing.”
Check out Hollie’s Instagram posts here and here to find out more on how to strengthen your pelvic floor.
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