If someone asked you how strong your pelvic floor was, you might not immediately know how to respond. Who thinks of their pelvic floor? What if you never even heard about it before? Even if you know what the pelvic floor is, it is possible you don’t have a very strong one, especially if you are an older adult or have given birth before.
Of course, there are more benefits to working the pelvic floor than just strengthening those muscles. Let’s get into why you should strengthen your pelvic floor and how.
What Is The Pelvic Floor?
First, we need to discuss where these muscles are located and what they do. Men and women both have pelvic floor muscles. These muscles support the organs within the pelvis. Those pelvic organs for men are the bowels and bladder, and for women, it is the bowel, uterus, and bladder.
You can imagine that the pelvic floor is kind of like a trampoline or a stretched-out sheet that attaches at the tailbone and the pubic bone. Like a trampoline, the pelvic floor will move up and down. It contains a few passages for orifices, namely the urethra and anus in men and the same for women, with the addition of the vagina.
What Does The Pelvic Floor Do?
There are a few functions that the pelvic floor is capable of doing. Typically, the pelvic floor muscles will wrap around the holes firmly to keep the passages tightly sealed until they need to be used. The bands of muscle around the urethra and anus are called sphincters. These sphincters give us control over releasing the bladder and bowels whenever it is convenient. Contracting the pelvic floor will tighten the hold on the bladder and bowels, as well as the vagina. Relaxing these muscles does the opposite.
This is why the pelvic floor muscles are essential. Additionally, these muscles have a sexual function. The pelvic floor works for men during erections and ejaculations. For women, any voluntary squeezing of the pelvic floor can increase arousal and sensation.
During pregnancy, the pelvic floor helps support the baby, and it even assists during birth.
Lastly, the pelvic floor can be used in conjunction with the back and abdominal muscles for supporting the torso and spine.
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How Do The Pelvic Floor Muscles Get Loose?
Some common causes of loose pelvic floor muscles include the following:
- Pregnancy and childbirth
- Chronic coughing
- High impact exercise
- Heavy lifting
- Straining to use the bathroom
What Are the Symptoms of Weak Pelvic Floor Muscles?
How do you know you have weakened or dysfunctional pelvic floor muscles? Here are some symptoms:
- Constipation or strain during bowel movements
- Feeling that you need to continuously go to the bathroom
- Unable to complete bowel movements
- Leakage with or without awareness
- Painful urination
- Frequent urination
- Pain during sex
- Pain in the lower back
- Continuous pain in the pelvis, genitals, or rectum
How Do I Find My Pelvic Floor Muscles?
Since it can take a while to find your pelvic floor, especially if the muscles are indeed weak, you need to learn how to engage them consciously before starting training. Both men and women can use the same process described below:
- Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down. Keep the muscles in the core, thighs, and glutes relaxed.
- First, squeeze the muscle that you use to stop yourself from passing wind. Hold for a few seconds then release. Repeat a few times to make sure you can locate this muscle. Do not squeeze the buttocks.
- Next, while you are sitting on the toilet (or you can imagine doing this), attempt to stop the flow several times while emptying your bladder. If you can successfully cut off the stream, you are using the correct muscles.
When doing these exercises, you should feel a “squeezing and lifting” sensation. If you cannot feel this or the muscles are failing to do as you imagine, it is best to call a physical therapist or a doctor to discuss your symptoms.
How Can I Do Pelvic Floor Muscle Training?
There are two methods you can choose for training your pelvic floor muscles. You are most likely familiar with them, as well. Women have usually heard of Kegel exercises by now, and both men and women know about squatting. These two exercises—Kegels and squats—can help you strengthen the pelvic floor.
Both men and women can use the same motion in Kegels to work their pelvic floor. To do Kegels, otherwise called “squeezing and lifting,” use the following instructions:
- Find the muscles that you used to squeeze and lift during urination. Think about drawing these muscles up and in, towards the belly button. The lifted sensation should be apparent.
- Hold this lifted position for a count of 8 then relax. You should feel that the muscles release and create space.
- Repeat this squeezing, lifting, and letting go several times. If you find you can no longer hold for 8 counts, drop down to 6 or 7 counts.
- Do three sets of 10-12 squeezes each.
You can do the squeeze and lift while laying down, while sitting on the toilet or in a seat, or even while standing upright. Remember that you should never hold your breath while doing these exercises. You also never want to squeeze the buttocks together or clench the thighs.
Alongside doing Kegels, you want to balance the training with primitive squats. Why? Often, doing only Kegels will cause gripping in the pelvic floor, which will only cause more problems. You need to balance out the pelvic floor with strong glutes and core. The less lumbar curve you have, the better your pelvic floor will be—as well as your hips, back, spine, and abdominals.
It’s a win-win.
So, how do you do a primitive squat? It’s the same one you see in yoga, called Garland pose or Malasana. If you cannot get your hips down past the knees, you can always use something to lift the heels, like a rolled-up edge of a yoga mat or a thin book. The shin should be vertical, align with the ankle, to help untuck the pelvis and recruit more the glutes.
You can sit in Malasana/Garland pose for a bit, or you can do a few reps in and out of the primitive squat. Either way will strengthen the pelvic floor and your glutes.
Wrapping It Up
The pelvic floor is often overlooked, despite being helpful and necessary in a number of daily behaviors. If your pelvic floor is weak, you will have trouble getting business done and moving on with your day; so you need to strengthen those muscles. Work with Kegels and squats, and you should have no trouble utilizing the pelvic floor again.
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