By Kate Horney
Strong pelvic floor muscles are a crucial part of your body’s internal core stabilizers, so if you want to strengthen your core, you can’t ignore your pelvic floor.
Pelvic Floor & Your Core: 6 Things Every Woman Must Know
1. What is your pelvic floor?
A thin layer of muscles that run from the pubic bone to the Coccyx.
In back they attach to the Coccyx (also known as your tailbone) and in front, they attach to the pubic bone. The sides of these muscles connect to the bottom bones of the pelvis and the Ischium, also known as your sits bones.
The pelvic floor plays an important role in many things including:
- Support the body’s internal organs (bladder, intestines, uterus, etc.)
- Enable you to maintain urinary and bowel control
- Provide support vital for reproductive and sexual functioning
- Bolster your organs during activities that stress them physically, such as laughing, sneezing and coughing
- Play a vital role in supporting the spine
2. Pregnancy Stretches Your Pelvic Floor
During pregnancy, your abdominal wall slowly expands over 9 months. But that’s not the only thing that stretches.
When it comes time to deliver, your pelvic floor muscles also have to stretch to make room for your baby. But their stretching isn’t done slowly over a course of 9 months. They stretch, and often tear in just a matter of hours as your body prepares for childbirth.
In many cases, pelvic floor muscles do not automatically rebound after childbirth. To prepare for delivery and help you recover faster, you need to strengthen them through kegel exercises, comprised of repeated contraction of your pelvic floor muscles, as well as other exercises like squats and bridges that engage your core as well as pelvic floor.
3. Weak Pelvic Floor Muscles Cause Serious Issues
Although many women fall into the trap of thinking that it’s normal to leak urine while laughing, sneezing or coughing, this is NOT normal, and it’s a sign of a serious issue. After pregnancy, weakened pelvic floor muscles often cause Urinary Stress Incontinence. Signs of this issue include accidental release of urine while laughing, sneezing or coughing. Weak pelvic floor muscles can also contribute to uterine or bladder prolapse, which is a very serious condition where one or both organs drop down and sag into the vaginal wall. Unless you adequately strengthen your pelvic floor muscles after childbirth, these types of problems will worsen with subsequent vaginal deliveries, weight gain, and aging.
4. You CAN Strengthen Your Pelvic Floor
Pelvic floor muscles are no different than any other muscle on your body. When your pelvic floor muscles are well conditioned, they have greater flexibility than they would if they were weak. Muscle weakness and atrophy decreases flexibility in your pelvic floor just as as it would any other muscle. If you fail to strengthen your pelvic floor, you greatly increase your risks for the problems mentioned above. It’s important for all women who are pregnant or postpartum to be consistent with pelvic floor strengthening through a program that’s designed to prevent weakness and protect these important muscles. In addition to kegel exercises (see below), women should engage in core and pelvic floor strengthening that involves full body movements to retrain these areas. (Check out my 12 week Mum Tummy Rehab program designed to strengthen both your core AND your pelvic floor!)
5. Kegel Exercises Can Help after Childbirth
As mentioned above, you CAN strengthen your pelvic floor. Kegel exercises alone are generally not enough, and should be combined with other exercises designed to strengthen the core and pelvic floor. Kegel exercises can still be helpful in increasing blood flow to the pelvic floor and helping to speed healing after childbirth. Proper starting position for kegel exercises include any comfortable position that isolates your pelvic floor muscles from the inner thigh and buttocks muscles. It’s best to avoid doing kegel exercises while crossing your thighs, or while standing, as this also engages the large muscles of the hips and thighs and does not isolate the pelvic floor. Try doing your kegel exercises while sitting, lying on your side, or on lying your back with your knees bent.
How to Perform Kegel Exercises Properly:
- Squeeze the anal sphincter (not your butt cheeks) as tightly as possible, then squeeze the vaginal sphincter as tightly as possible.
- Slowly increase the intensity of your squeeze. Imagine an elevator rising up higher and higher as you intensify your effort.
- Hold the contraction as tightly as you can for five or six seconds – no more than 10 seconds.
- Completely relax your effort, allowing your muscles to soften.
- Rest and repeat 10 times.
For optimal recovery after childbirth, experts recommend that you perform 5 sets throughout the day.
6. Connection to Your Core
As you are performing your kegels, you may notice that you feel your deep abdominal muscles contracting simultaneously with your pelvic floor muscles. This is because your pelvic floor and core are so closely connected. You may notice your belly button move, waist narrow, or abdominal muscles tense during kegel exercises. Your deep abdominals (transverse abdominis), pelvic floor muscles, and deep spinal muscles are all designed to work together to provide internal support and stability for your torso. That’s why core-conditioning programs that strengthen the pelvic floor simultaneously with the deep abdominals are such powerful core stabilization techniques.
- If you have an organ prolapsing, you must reduce your impact activities until you have better muscular strength and begin a pelvic floor and core rehab program right away. Once the organ is prolapsing, it is clear that you don’t have the strength to hold up your organs.
- Walk as often as possible, but avoid the treadmill. Leisurely walking is a great way to stay active while you retrain your core and pelvic floor. You need to be cautious, however because studies show that the treadmill can actually do more harm than good for women with pelvic floor issues. Walking correctly means you engage your glutes to move your body forward. On a treadmill because the belt is moving toward you, you are not able to fully engage your glutes to move your body forward. Instead, you are lifting your leg and fall forward. This weakens your pelvic strength.
- If at any point through your workout you notice signs of core or pelvic weakness, STOP and modify until your workout can be completed without any of the following:
- If you are straining from within your abdomen or pelvic floor during the exercise
- If you leak urine when doing any of the exercises
- If you notice pelvic or lower back pain during or after the exercise
- If you feel unstable in the core during the exercise
- If there is bulging or “coning” in your abdomen during the exercise
- Watch your posture. Postural imbalance causes additional pressure to an already weak core and pelvic floor. Remember to focus on proper posture throughout the day as well!
The most common posture issues for moms include:
- Anterior Pelvic Tilt: Restore proper posture positioning your pelvis to a neutral position and stretching tight hip flexors.
- Head Too Far Forward: Restore proper posture by massage and foam rolling tight upper back and neck muscles.
- Rounded Shoulders: Restore proper posture by being mindful of not sitting hunched over and massage and foam rolling of tight chest muscles.
- Posterior Pelvic Tilt (butt tucked too far under): Restore proper posture by positioning your pelvis to a neutral position and foam rolling and and stretching tight hamstrings.
Not sure where to begin? Learn more about Mom Tummy Rehab to get started on Reconnecting, Retraining, and Rebuilding your core and pelvic floor today!