What is your Pelvic Floor and What Does It Do?
You could think of the pelvic floor as a muscular hammock that spans from your tailbone at the back to your pubic bone at the front and from one sitting bone to the other (side to side). It supports your bladder, bowel and in women the uterus; it gives you control over when you empty your bladder and bowel. The urethra (urine tube) and the rectum (back passage) and for women the vagina pass through the pelvic floor muscles, which wrap quite firmly around these passages to keep them shut*. Pelvic floor muscles are also important for sexual function in both men and women.
A weak pelvic floor means your internal organs are not fully supported, and you may have difficulty controlling the release of urine, faeces and gas especially when you laugh, cough or sneeze. Common causes of weakening include childbirth, obesity, and straining associated with chronic constipation, prostate surgery, and age.
Although you can’t see your pelvic floor, it is consciously controlled and therefore can be trained, much like your arm or abdominal muscles. Pelvic floor muscles also work with the abdominal and back muscles to stabilise and support the spine. Which is why in Nordic Body Kinetics classes we do not work on the pelvic floor in isolation because some of these other muscles enhance the contraction of your pelvic floor and others help stabilise the pelvis and lumbo-sacral spine so that your pelvic floor muscles have stable anchors to pull against.
Finding your Pelvic Floor Muscles
The Stop Test – Try to stop or slow the flow of urine midway through emptying your bladder. If you can, stop the flow for a second or two, then relax and continue emptying. This should help you identify your pelvic floor muscles. Note: this is not an exercise for strengthening your pelvic floor.
Activate and Strengthen –
- Stand with your legs about hip distance apart.
- Relax the muscles of your thighs, bottom and tummy.
- Breathe normally and keep breathing throughout the exercise.
- Squeeze the muscles around the front passage as in the stop test above.
- Squeeze the muscles around your back passage as if trying to stop passing wind.
- Visualise a string attached from your navel point down to your pelvic floor, elevate your pelvic floor by pulling it up.
- Now try to do all these things together. Visualise scooping your tailbone towards your pubic bone and pulling your sitting bones together. Then relax and allow the muscles to loosen.
If you cannot feel your muscles contracting, change your position and try again; if you can’t feel the muscles standing up, try sitting or lying down. After each contraction allow the muscles to relax, this allows them to recover and prepares them for the next contraction.
If you cannot feel the muscles hold and relax, please seek the help of a health professional or therapist specialising in pelvic floor rehabilitation, as doing the exercises incorrectly can be detrimental to your pelvic floor.
The Importance of Good Technique
It is common to try too hard and have many external muscles tighten; try to relax and let your tummy and bottom hang loose before you start. Pelvic Floor exercises are internal and when doing them nothing above the belly button should tighten.
Some tensing and flattening of the lower abdominals will happen, which is normal. This is the Transversus Abdominis (TA) which wraps around your abdomen like a corset. A contraction of the TA squeezes like a cone, cinching in your mid-section, and lifting the pressure off your pelvic floor. Your TA and pelvic floor work in coordination, each enhancing the contraction of the other. It is important to breathe normally throughout the exercise because holding your breath locks your ribs down, forcing the pressure in the abdomen down to the pelvic floor, the opposite of what you are trying to achieve.
Now, what about these muscles that provide the stable anchors for your pelvic floor to pull on? They are the multifidus muscles of your lower back, your deepest hip rotators and your inner thigh muscles. You can feel your multifidi contract when you rotate your pelvis slightly, and visualise your tailbone lifting. This is subtle, but you will also feel your pelvic floor tighten slightly. To strengthen your inner thighs and deep rotators while sitting, try squeezing a magic circle or ball between your knees, and alternate with pushing your knees apart against the resistance of your own hands.
Once you have mastered the art of contracting your pelvic floor muscles correctly, try a daily practice of 50 quick squeezes and 10 endurance elevations holding the inward squeeze for up to ten seconds before relaxing.
These exercises should give you a start to pelvic floor activation and strengthening. In Nordic Body Kinetics we go beyond these simple techniques, so that the pelvic floor muscles follow the movement of the diaphragm. By connecting the floors of the body and developing your abdominal corset we create a functional core which supports your centre enabling you to control and stabilise your movements, and breathe more effectively .
* There is also an extra circular muscle around the anus (anal sphincter) and around the urethra (the urethral sphincter)