3 moves to strengthen your pelvic floor
You guys, there’s a whole group of muscles you’re forgetting to work – the ones in your pelvic floor. These tiny muscles hidden between your tailbone and pubic bone are responsible for supporting your bladder, bowel and uterus, and having strong ones is linked to fewer incontinence problems, better sex, a stronger core, less back pain and good posture.
Pregnancy and childbirth is often blamed for pelvic-floor weakness, but it can be a problem for sporty girls, too. You might think fit women will naturally have a strong pelvic floor, but research reports otherwise. Some data suggests that women who do jumping sports (think basketball, running or trampolining) tend to have weaker pelvic-floor muscles than non-athletic types. And lunges, squats, planks and high-impact moves can all cause incontinence if the pelvic floor isn’t strong enough to deal with the force involved. Being overweight, heavy lifting and frequent straining on the toilet can also have a damaging effect.
The answer? Regular pelvic-floor workouts to strengthen those important but overlooked muscles. The easiest way to get used to the sensation of activating your pelvic floor is by stopping the stream of urine when emptying your bladder – it’ll help you identify the muscles you need to work. Then try yoga expert Rain Maher’s favourite moves to boost pelvic-floor strength, or check out the exercises at pelvicfloorfirst.org.au.
Do it: While standing in a queue to keep your pelvic floor engaged.
How: Stand with your feet closer than hip-width. Feel all four corners of your feet rooting down as you lift your arches and engage your legs. Bring your pelvis into neutral alignment (reach your tailbone toward the back of your knees and keep the connection of your thigh muscles to your pelvis neither too hard or too soft). This will begin to engage your pelvic floor. Bring the back of your belly button toward your spine and up toward your heart – you should still be able to breathe comfortably in this position. Lift your heart and broaden your chest, allowing your shoulder blades to melt into your back. Hold for several breaths.
Do it: First thing in the morning, when you wake up, to strengthen the abdominals and relax tight pelvic-floor muscles.
How: Start lying on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor – make sure your heels are close to your buttocks, hip-width apart. Draw your tailbone towards the backs of your knees, peel your spine off the floor and bring your heart toward your chin as you push down through your feet and backs of your upper arms. Your hands can either be used to support your sacrum or linked on the ground. Hold this pose for several deep breaths before lowering slowly to the floor, or rise up slowly on an inhalation and lower slowly on an exhalation for several cycles.
Do it: As part of your pre-workout warm-up to open your hips and begin working your pelvic floor.
How: Stand up straight with your feet wide, heels in and toes pointed out. Bend your knees and keep them over your ankles. Lower down, bringing your knees as close to a right angle as is comfortable, engaging your pelvic floor and maintaining a neutral pelvis (tailbone drawing down towards the floor). You can either stay in this position for several deep breaths or pulse up and down with the breath, moving slowly. If it’s within your practice, move into garland pose: lower your bottom down to the ground to come into a squat and press your elbows gently into the insides of your knees, bringing your palms together at your heart. Place the soles of your feet flat on the ground. Engage your pelvic floor by drawing the back of your belly button in towards your spine and up toward your heart. Hold this pose for several slow, deep breaths.
This story appeared in the May 2016 issue of Women’s Fitness