The pelvic floor is a group of muscles that close off the base of the pelvis. They play a role in managing our continence, supporting our internal organs, contributing to core control and also our sexual response. Several muscles make up the pelvic floor and they are just like the muscles elsewhere in our body. The pelvic floor muscles need a balance between strength, endurance and suppleness. We also need them to be responsive so that they react at the right time with the right amount of force for the task at hand. Many people think of Kegels when it comes to strengthening the pelvic floor. While there is evidence to support the effectiveness of Kegels, there are many other ways to optimize our pelvic floor and keep it working well throughout life’s stages.
Why Are Pelvic Floor Exercises Important?
The pelvic floor has many important jobs and as we age and move through different stages, the muscles can become weakened. This is due to a variety of factors, including pregnancy, childbirth, age-related muscle loss, collagen loss, menopause and obesity. When the pelvic floor muscles are not working optimally it can lead to problems such as urinary incontinence, anal
incontinence, low back pain and pelvic organ prolapse. Many people interpret weakness as laxity, but muscles that are too tight or have more tone than normal are also weak. Both laxity and overactivity can lead to a pelvic floor that doesn’t react at the right time or with the right amount of force. As a result, the pelvic floor is not performing all of its jobs properly.
Pelvic floor exercises can help to strengthen these muscles, which in turn can improve bladder control and reduce the risk of pelvic organ prolapse. They can also help to enhance sexual function by increasing blood flow to the genital area and improving muscle tone.
Are Kegels The Same As Pelvic Floor Exercises?
Kegels were first named after Dr. Arnold Kegel in the 1940s. They are a form of pelvic floor muscle exercise that involve contracting and relaxing the muscles of the pelvic floor. These exercises can be helpful for both men and women, as they can help to improve bladder control, reduce the risk of pelvic organ prolapse, and even enhance sexual function.
Like other muscles in the body, they benefit from correct form, consistent effort, and progressive overload. Unfortunately doing a couple of Kegels at a red light now and then will not do much to improve the function of the pelvic floor. Evidence suggests 3 sets of 10 reps with 10-second holds done three times a day. This will help some but doing Kegels 3 separate times a day is challenging for most and not realistic. Using whole-body movement coordinated with Kegels is a great way to train strength, endurance and reaction time. Training the pelvic floor with this approach also means you can tackle it all in one workout.
How to Perform Pelvic Floor Exercises
The first step is to coordinate the breath with the pelvic floor. Upon inhale, the pelvic floor should lengthen and upon exhale the pelvic floor should contract and lift. Sit on a stability ball (the roundness of the ball helps you feel the movement of the pelvic floor with the breath) with your vulva and 2 sitz bones on the surface of the ball. Inhale and allow your ribs to expand and open like an umbrella. Let your belly be soft and inflate and imagine your vulva blossoming.
You should ideally feel a sense of fullness on the surface of the ball. Purse your lips (the lips on your face) and blow gently as if blowing through a straw. Feel the sense of fullness subside, your belly naturally draw inwards and your rib umbrella close. Repeat. On the next exhale, imagine picking up a blueberry with your vagina and anus. Another visual is to imagine sipping a smoothie through a straw with your vagina. Inhale and let the blueberries go. Repeating these inhales and exhales with the imagery for 30 seconds is a good mind-body activity to do every day. Once you have the hang of it, you are going to incorporate it into exercises like squats, bridges and cat cows.
Stand with your feet pelvis width apart. Inhale and lower down into your squat ensuring you hinge from the hips and stick your bum back. Just before you rise back up, exhale, pick up your blueberries, and then stand up. Inhale, blossom your vulva and sit back in your squat. Exhale, sip a smoothie and stand back up. Contracting the pelvic floor just before you stand back up helps retrain the reaction time of the pelvic floor.
Lay on your back on a mat with your feet pelvis width apart and your shins vertical. Inhale and blossom your vulva. Exhale and pick up your blueberries and then lift your bum off the ground and press your hips up toward the ceiling. Inhale as you lower back down.
On your hands and knees, inhale as you gently arch your back and relax your belly and look up. Exhale and pick up your blueberries then curl your pubic joint towards your navel while hunching your back and looking between your knees.
The above movements strengthen the pelvic floor even without the addition of Kegels, but when you do add Kegels, you get even more bang for your buck. You can do 1-3 sets of 10 repetitions of each exercise. The extra benefit of the squats and cat-cow is that there is extra stretching and lengthening of the pelvic floor which is an important aspect of building strength and function.
The Buff Muff App has more exercises and workouts that incorporate Kegels into whole-body movements that has participants seeing results in as little as a week! Kegels work when done correctly, consistently and coordinated with movement. They are not a quick fix but rather a long-term strategy to maintain optimal pelvic health for life.
If you liked this article, check out:
What is the pelvic floor? | Women’s Wellness
Things I wish I’d known about menopause before I got there | Women’s Wellness
Kim Vopni, The Vagina Coach
Author, Speaker, Pelvic Health Coach