According to Heba Shaheed, co-founder of The Pelvic Expert, which provides online exercise, nutrition and pelvic floor physiotherapy programs, the pelvic floor muscles are the powerhouse muscles of a woman’s body. “They support our pelvic organs, the bladder, uterus and bowel, as well as our spine and pelvis, to keep our body strong, leak-free and pain-free. The pelvic floor muscles also make sex more pleasurable and help with stronger orgasms. But they can become weakened by things like pregnancy, childbirth, ageing and constipation.” Not sure if you’re taking care of yours? Shaheed says these are the most common mistakes women make with their pelvic floor:

1 Not doing enough pelvic floor exercises

Pregnancy and childbirth can put a heavy strain on the pelvic floor. At least one in three women develop bladder or bowel control problems and leak with coughing, sneezing, laughing or exercise. While leaking is common, it is not normal, and research shows doing your pelvic floor exercises is 84 percent successful in ending leaks. You don’t have to recoil in fear when you see a trampoline and you don’t have to wave goodbye to your running gear; simply start strengthening your pelvic floor muscles.

2 Doing too many pelvic floor exercises

Just like any other exercise, you can overdo the pelvic floor exercises too, and just like any other muscle, they can get overworked and strained. The pelvic floor muscles need downtime and relaxation, so holding them up chronically can lead to a tight pelvic floor. Women who experience tightness or pain with sex, pain with periods, recurrent UTIs, or feel spasms in their vagina, are likely to have a tight pelvic floor. Sex should be pleasurable and pain-free, so if you’re experiencing any pain, see your local women’s health physiotherapist. She’ll teach you how to relax release those muscles, and you’ll be back to enjoying sex in no time.

3 Doing pelvic floor exercises incorrectly

Research shows 50 per cent of women do their pelvic floor exercises incorrectly. Instead of squeezing and lifting their pelvic floor muscles, women are pushing out and bearing down on these muscles, but they don’t realise it. Again, a women’s health physiotherapist can teach women exactly how to activate these muscles. A great cue to try is to imagine the straw of a thickshake in your vagina. Try to pull up the thickshake through the straw into your vagina and up towards your cervix.

4 Straining

Women should empty their bowels on a daily basis with relative ease. Straining can cause the pelvic floor muscles to weaken. Women who have chronic constipation or recurrent fissures need to address their diet by increasing their leafy green and seed intake and drinking more water. When emptying your bowels, the pelvic floor muscles need to relax. The best position to allow these muscles to stretch and relax is to sit in a squat position. Place your feet up on a stool so that your knees are above your hips, and lean forwards keeping your head straight. Let go through your pelvic floor and no matter what, don’t strain!

5 Doing star jumps

Jumping jacks and running can make your pelvic floor worse. Sometimes pelvic floor exercises aren’t enough, and some women continue to leak or experience pain and symptoms with exercise. This could be because the woman has an underlying pelvic organ prolapse. Prolapse is when one or more pelvic organs sags lower in the pelvis. Pelvic floor strengthening is important, but if a woman suspects she may have prolapse, she will need to have a support device called a pessary inserted vaginally to lift her organs back up. A women’s health physiotherapist can assess if you have a prolapse and fit you with a pessary. Don’t worry, it’s safe, sterile, painless and you won’t even feel it in there. You’ll feel great, and you can run and jump without a worry!

Try Shaheed’s top pelvic floor exercises:

#1 Pelvic floor coordination exercise
– Breathe in to prepare.
– Squeeze and lift your pelvic floor and hold as you breathe out.
– Drop and relax your pelvic floor and breathe in.
– Repeat 10 times.

#2 Quick lifts
– Squeeze and lift your pelvic floor.
– Drop and relax your pelvic floor.
– Repeat 10 times as quick as you can.

#3 Pelvic floor elevator
– Imagine your pelvic floor is an elevator in a 3-storey building. Feel your pelvic floor squeeze as the elevator doors close, and feel your pelvic floor lift as the elevator rises up to level one.
– Keep the elevator doors closed and lift your pelvic floor to level two.
– Keep squeezing and lift up to the roof.
– Now drop your pelvic floor to level two, level one and down to the ground.
– Repeat 3 elevators.