Ideally our pelvic floor should react to various real life situations. We should therefore train our pelvic floor in different ways and in different positions. You can do these exercises lying on your side, on your back, kneeling on all fours (cat position), while sitting, standing or while walking. Here are 5 different exercises women should be using for their pelvic floor:
1. Lift and Hold
While coordinating your pelvic floor lift with your breath, lift and hold for up to 10 seconds while continuing to breath. You may only be able to hold it for 2 seconds to start with but once you feel like you are no longer holding the lift, relax, rest and try again. Gradually over time, with consistent training your endurance will improve.
2. The Quick Flicks
Lift then relax (don't hold the lift at the top). Repeat 10 times.
Imagine you are going to sneeze and you have to lift your pelvic floor quickly before your sneeze.
3. The Elevator
When your pelvic floor is fully relaxed it is on the Ground Floor. As you exhale gently and slowly lift your pelvic floor to Level 1, Level 2, Level 3 then as you inhale slowly lower you pelvic floor back down through the levels, Level 2, Level 1, Ground Floor. Remember to fully relax your pelvic floor for 10 seconds before attempting another set.
4. Relax it!
We have said it before, but we will say it again. Being able to relax your pelvic floor is just as important as being able to contract it. We want our pelvic floor to have a wide range of motion. Here are three great pelvic floor mobilisations to help your pelvic floor chill out. A great relaxation exercise is to lie on the floor with your feet up the wall (bottom will be up against the wall). Be warned though, if you have a crawler or toddler in your house you might want to do this when they are asleep as they will see it as an invitation to lie on your face!
Squats can be a great exercise for your pelvic floor. Let's compare it to a bicep curl. As you straighten your arm, the muscle stretches, and as you bend your arm to lift the weight, the muscle shortens. This is the same action that happens to the pelvic floor as you squat. As you descend in a squat, you stretch/lengthen the pelvic floor, and as you rise back up, the pelvic floor shortens. And not a single kegel in sight! The trick though is in the squat technique. You can read more about pelvic floor activating squat technique here.
How many Pelvic Floor Exercises should I be doing?
Treat your pelvic floor like any other muscle group. If you were wanting to strengthen your biceps you wouldn't do a set of bicep curls in the morning, then one at lunch and one at night. You would do all of your sets in relatively close duration. Treat your pelvic floor exercises the same way.
General pelvic floor guidelines:
- If you have a weak pelvic floor and are wanting to strengthen it, complete 3 sets of exercises three times a day for three months. By three sets we mean one set of lift and hold, one set of quick flicks and once set of elevator. Yes, it takes time and it can be frustrating. But would you expect to see major improvements in bicep size and strength in a couple of weeks? No! You need to be persistent and consistent to reap the benefits.
- If you are wanting to maintain your pelvic floor strength, then do 3 sets once a day for the rest of your life. Yep, EVERY DAY. They are muscles like any other muscles. Use them or loose them!
Technique No Nos
- Relax your buttocks and tummy. It is important to relax your buttocks and tummy. There should be no contraction of the buttocks or six pack during this exercise. You may feel a very slight tension between the hip bones, this is OK (this is your transverse abdominis (deep abdominals) activating).
- If you are doing your exercises but your incontinence is getting worse then stop and see a women's health physio. You may have a hypertonic pelvic floor (too tight) which requires relaxation exercises rather than strengthening exercises.
- Don't stop your wee midstream. There is a myth floating around that stopping your wee midstream is a good way to strengthen your pelvic floor. While it can be useful to IMAGINE you are stopping a wee midstream to understand what it is like to contract your pelvic floor it is not helpful to ACTUALLY stop your wee midstream. It can cause urinary tract infections and send mixed messages to our bladder.
Want to know more?
Our friends at Pelvic Floor Exercise have lots of info on pelvic floor health and also sell a range of devices to help with pelvic floor strengthening and incontinence management. Of course, it is best to see your local pelvic floor physio so you can have a full assessment first. You can find a list of Brisbane pelvic floor physiotherapists here. You can also find useful information at the Pelvic Floor First website. Your Go Mum trainer can also work with our physio to ensure your workouts are safe for you.
The guidelines above are of a general nature and may not be right for your specific situation. Please see a women's health physiotherapist.
If you would like more postnatal exercise tips and to connect with a group of like minded mums, then join us in our closed Facebook group.
About the Author
Christine is a pregnancy and postnatal trainer with a passion for pelvic floor and abdominal safe movement. Her interest in this area was sparked after her own battles with prolapse and diastasis.
If you have any questions about postnatal exercise or exercising with prolapse or abdominal separation feel free to contact Christine.