Even if you strength train regularly, you may not be adequately working an important group of muscles that weaken with age. You don’t target these muscles when you do squats and deadlifts. They’re the group of muscles that make up your pelvic floor. You might not think about these muscles, until you develop problems that go along with a weakened pelvic floor.
What happens if this group of muscles lack strength? If your pelvic floor muscles are weak, you’re at risk for symptoms, like bladder issues, that can disrupt your life. In fact, weak pelvic muscles have a significant impact on physical health and emotional well-being – and it’s common. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says around 25% of women suffer from some form of pelvic floor disorder and the incidence rises to 50% by age 80.
Here are a few facts you may not know about your pelvic floor:
The floor of your pelvis is made of muscles that stretch like a hammock from your pubic bone (in front) to your tailbone (in the back). It’s these muscles that support your pelvic organs, including your bladder, uterus, and rectum. These muscles help keep your pelvic organs in place and keep them from falling too low. If the pelvic floor muscles are weak and lack support, your bladder can drop, leading to urinary incontinence. A weakened pelvic floor can cause any of your pelvic organs to drop too low or prolapse.
A Strong Pelvic Floor is Better for Your Health
Your pelvic floor is more important than you might think. The good news is that strengthening your pelvic floor can prevent urinary incontinence and other problems that affect quality of life and overall health. You don’t have to be pregnant or have had children to have a weak pelvic floor–anyone can have pelvic muscles that are weak.
Common symptoms of a weak pelvic floor include:
- Releasing a few drops of urine when coughing or sneezing.
- Stool leakage when coughing or sneezing
- Pain with sexual intercourse
- Increased urination and greater urgency to do so
- Lower back heaviness
- Constipation and straining to have a bowel movement
- Pelvic pressure
Your risk of developing a weak pelvic floor increases with age and menopause. Other factors that contribute to pelvic muscle weakening include childbirth (vaginal delivery especially), being overweight, chronic coughing or constipation, hysterectomy, injury during pregnancy or childbirth, surgery for rectal cancer, and certain neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis.
Strengthening Your Pelvic Floor
Pelvic floor exercises can help improve your balance, posture, and fitness. They’re not just for women who’ve just given birth. Pelvic floor exercises are beneficial for men too. The size of a pelvic floor muscle either increases or decreases in response to the amount of use it gets.While exercises that strengthen your core muscles are important, doing these exercises incorrectly can damage your pelvic muscles. If you have a weak pelvic floor, approach crunches, sit-ups, and even planks with caution, and make sure you’re doing exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor too.
Types of Pelvic Floor Exercises
Pelvic floor muscle exercises are useful for improving the strength of your pelvic floor muscles. They can help stop urine from leaking, prevent prolapse from getting worse and improve recovery after surgery or childbirth.You can do pelvic floor exercises almost anywhere – at home in front of the TV, while you’re sitting at a desk, and even when you’re cooking or walking down the street. Let’s look at some effective exercises for the pelvic floor.
Kegel exercises are the exercises most healthcare professionals and physiotherapists recommend for pelvic floor strengthening. If you do these exercises consistently, they will strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, which support your uterus, bladder, small intestine, and rectum.
You can do Kegel exercises, also known as pelvic floor muscle training, at any time since they require no preparation or special equipment. Always empty your bladder before doing pelvic floor strengthening exercises.
- Contract your pelvic floor muscles and hold for 4 seconds (as if you’re trying to hold in urine)
- Relax your pelvic muscles for 4 seconds.
- Repeat 10-20 times several times per day
- You can this exercise while lying down, sitting, standing, and walking around
- Gradually increase the time you contract your pelvic floor muscles up to 15 seconds or longer.
The bridge is another excellent exercise for strengthening the muscles that make up the pelvic floor. Here’s how to do one:
- Lie down on the floor with your knees bent.
- Place your arms by your side with your palms facing the ceiling.
- Tighten your pelvic floor and lift your hips toward the ceiling as you inhale.
- With your pelvic tight, raise your hips toward the ceiling and hold for 15 seconds
- Slowly lower your hips back down to the floor as you exhale air from your lungs.
- Keep repeating.
Pilates is another effective way to strengthen your pelvic floor and core. It focuses on breath control, good posture, and core strength, as well as building strength in the muscles of your lower body. As with yoga, you will need to take a class or have some type of instruction before you do Pilates at home. Doing it incorrectly can lead to injury.
Pilates can improve:
Tight Pelvic Floor Muscles Can Be a Problem Too
Some women have a tight pelvic floor, where the muscles refuse to relax. This can come from weak pelvic muscles or from muscles that are too contracted. If your pelvic muscles are too shortened or contracted, Kegel exercises could worsen the problem. If that’s the case, talk to your doctor. They can refer you to a physical therapist that specializes in this issue.
The Bottom Line
Keeping your pelvic floor muscles in shape is important for many reasons. One of these is to avoid the problems associated with weak pelvic muscles, including incontinence. Many reproductive age women have stress-induced urinary incontinence, where they leak a few drops of urine when sneezing or coughing. Although you should see your doctor if you have this, it’s often due to weakened pelvic floor muscles that no longer hold up your bladder as well.
Strengthening your pelvic floor muscles can help with this problem and lower your risk of developing weak pelvic muscles and the problems that go with it.
- “Roughly One Quarter of U.S. Women Affected By Pelvic Floor ….” nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/roughly-one-quarter-us-women-affected-pelvic-floor-disorders.
- “Kegel exercises: A how-to guide for women – Mayo Clinic.” 15 Sept. 2020, mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/womens-health/in-depth/kegel-exercises/art-20045283.
- “Step-by-step guide to performing Kegel exercises – Harvard ….” 02 Feb. 2022, health.harvard.edu/bladder-and-bowel/step-by-step-guide-to-performing-kegel-exercises.
- “Pelvic floor muscle training exercises: MedlinePlus ….” 21 Mar. 2022, https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003975.htm.