Pelvic floor exercises are like flossing, it’s something we should be doing every day, (especially when pregnant), but often skip. We caught up with Jane Wake, fitness professional and pelvic floor expert to find out more about the pelvic floor exercises we really should make time for.
Where are my pelvic floor muscles?
These very important muscles support all the muscles in your pelvis area including your womb, bowels and bladder, which is why it's so important to take care of them.
Why are pelvic floor muscles important?
When we think of the core, we often think of the superficial core, i.e the abdominals or ‘washboard stomach’ muscles. However genuine core strength comes from working the muscles that lie underneath. These help you breath, pee, poo, have sex, give birth, flatten your belly and stop from getting all sorts of aches and pains.
I like to refer to this all-important inner core unit as the ‘3D core’. It is made up of the diaphragm at the top; the deep abdominal muscles at the sides; the transversus abdominis (TA); the multifidus, which runs up your back; and the pelvic floor, which sits at the base of the 3D core.
The pelvic floor muscles are quite possibly our body’s biggest unsung heroes. They are shaped like a hammock to hold the pelvic organs – the uterus, bowel, vagina and bladder – in place. In a nutshell a strong pelvic floor means everything is kept firmly in place and you should have full control over when, where and how often you visit the loo.
How to find your pelvic floor muscles
The easiest way to feel your pelvic floor muscles in action is when you're on the loo. As you pee, try to stop the flow of urine for a few seconds. The muscles you use to stop them are your pelvic floor muscles. Just don't do this too often as stopping the flow of pee isn't good for your bladder and can sometimes lead to a UTI.
Why are the pelvic floor muscles important during pregnancy?
During various times in a woman’s life – including pregnancy and childbirth – these muscles can be weakened which can lead to urinary incontinence. This can vary from occasional little leaks to total loss of control and is something 1 in 3 women in the UK suffer from (making it more common than hay fever!)
What can I do to strengthen my pelvic floor muscles?
There are a number of exercises you can try, even when you're just sitting at your desk or watching TV (there's really no excuse not to work them out, they're that easy).
Rather than holding in a real wee, try holding in an imaginary one, practising the same motion as you did on the loo as if you're stopping the flow of pee. It's a similar sort of movement to how you'd squeeze your bottom if holding a poo, which might work if you find it easier to think of this feeling instead.
Nobody will know that you're doing them, so you can literally do them anywhere you happen to be.
Exercises to help strengthen your pelvic floor
Dr Masarat Jilani, the Selfcare Doctor, who has partnered up with Jude as their in-house doctor to tackle the taboo around pelvic health and educate on the importance of pelvic floor exercises adds, “Pelvic floor exercises are a great way to prevent future issues such as incontinence. There is still not enough education on how people can take care of their pelvic floor and stigma around bladder health may be part of the problem. Here at Jude, we have a range of free resources on the Jude blog and in the free Bladder Care Handbook which can help you learn the facts when it comes to your pelvic floor”
This is perhaps the easiest way to keep your muscles in check. Simply perform one quick contraction of your pelvic floor muscles, squeezing the muscles inwards and upwards. Pause for a second once you've contracted before fully relaxing.
This one is a little harder to get the hang of, but is ideal to do when you're pregnant. Start by slowly tightening your muscles inwards and upwards into your tummy, hold for 4 seconds before slowly releasing. It's okay if you feel like you need to build-up to the full 4 seconds, and the more you practise, the easier it will become.
It's ideal to repeat both of these squeezes 5-10 times, 5 times per day.
There are also a number of apps you can download that will remind you to take the time to do more discreet exercises on the go. What’s more, if you are really suffering from urinary incontinence, there are a number of different therapies to try, including INNOVO, a non-invasive therapy that is clinically proven to work.