There’s one very important muscle that most gym trainers don’t mention: Your pelvic floor.
Like any muscle group, your pelvic floor requires routine exercise to stay strong and function properly. And for women, the pelvic floor serves a pretty important function: It’s the sheet of muscle that supports the bladder, uterus, and bowel.
To keep your pelvic floor functioning properly — and to prevent everything from injury, such as pelvic organ prolapse, to involuntary bladder or bowel leakage — here are five ways to keep this key muscle group strong and healthy.
Kegels — done right
Whether you’ve been performing Kegel exercises for a while or have never tried at all, it’s important to make sure you’re engaging the right muscles while doing this exercise.
To do this correctly, try sitting comfortably with your knees and feet spread apart, leaning forward, with your elbows resting on your knees. Breathe regularly and relax your stomach, leg, and buttock muscles.
Imagine you’re trying to stop yourself from passing gas at the same time trying to stop urinating midstream. This should result in a tightening sensation around your vagina and anus. Hold that position for a few seconds, then release, and voila: That’s one successful Kegel!
We recommend aiming for three daily sets of 8-12 contractions. If you don’t have much experience performing Kegels, it’s OK to start with 4-5 contracts per daily set. Here’s an in-depth guide on how to ensure you’re performing Kegels correctly.
Maintaining a healthy weight
Excess weight can place extreme pressure on the organs contained by the pelvic floor. If you’re overweight or lead a sedentary lifestyle, you may be at risk for incontinence or pelvic organ prolapse.
Dietary changes in addition to regular exercise are simple yet long-term steps anyone can take to ensure pelvic floor health.
While Kegels target a specific area, it’s important to remember that the pelvic floor is part of a larger muscle group that holds the pelvic organs in place. The diaphragm, abdominals, and obliques are also connected to pelvic health, so keeping those muscles active is vital to preventing pelvic organ prolapse or incontinence.
That’s where yoga comes in: Prevention Magazine reports that women in one study saw a 70% decrease in their incontinence frequency after a 6-week yoga therapy program. Prevention also broke down the four most effective yoga poses for pelvic floor health: Malasana, Reclined Bound Angle, Legs Up the Wall, and everyone’s favorite, Child’s Pose.
Lower ab and core exercises
Once you’ve mastered Kegels, you can move on to more challenging exercises that engage your pelvic floor muscles.
Three essential pelvic-floor-friendly moves include:
Bridge. Lie on your back with your knees bent and hip-width apart. Inhale, flex your pelvic floor muscles, and lift your hips. Hold for 10 seconds, and do 10 reps.
Wall Squat. Stand against a wall with your feet hip-width apart. Inhale, flex your pelvic floor muscles, and lower your body as if you’re sitting in a chair. Hold for 10 seconds, stand up straight again, and release your pelvic muscles. Repeat for 10 reps.
Jumping Jacks. A gym-class classic. Flex your pelvic floor muscles as you jump with your legs apart, and release them as you hop your legs back together. Repeat for 30 to 60 seconds.
If you’ve tried Kegels and other exercises, yet still struggle to find and isolate your pelvic muscles, biofeedback therapy is a safe, effective method for increasing pelvic muscle strength.
Biofeedback therapy involves biofeedback instruments, from small sensors to stickers placed inside or just outside the vagina and anus, that measure muscle activity and detect contractions of the pelvic floor. This can help reverse the most common error women make while performing Kegels, which is engaging the abdominal muscles rather than the pelvic floor muscles.
When provided by a biofeedback therapist, such as those in residence at The Woman’s Center for Advanced Pelvic Surgery, biofeedback is proven to help women who struggle with accidental bladder and bowel leakage regain pelvic floor strength. Contact us if you or someone you love could benefit from physical therapy for better pelvic floor health.
Dr. Ryan Stratford is board-certified in Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery (FPMRS) as well as Obstetrics and Gynecology (Ob/Gyn) with a wealth of clinical and research experience. Learn More about Dr. Stratford