A strong pelvic floor – especially before, during and after pregnancy – is important to prevent incontinence at any stage of life. According to the NHS, pelvic floor exercises strengthen the muscles around your bladder, vagina, and bottom. Exercising them regularly can also help to treat symptoms of a pelvic organ prolapse and improve your sex life!
What is Pelvic Floor?
Our pelvic floor is that set of muscles and ligaments that interlace in our lower abdomen to support and protect our internal organs, such as the bladder, bowel and the uterus in women.
With the exception of the uterus, this affects men as well, who may suffer incontinence and even erectile dysfunction if their pelvic floor muscles aren’t strong enough, especially later in life.
Your pelvic floor forms the base of that set of muscles that generally get referred to as “the core” and strengthening them will greatly benefit not only your lower abdomen and genital area, but the health of your entire body!
Weak pelvic floor symptoms
Pelvic floor dysfunction causes a series of symptoms from mild to severe, which in most cases are the same for women and men. The most common are:
- Incontinence or urinary issues, such as pain and discomfort
- Pain in regions such as your lower back, rectum, or genitals
- A feeling of pressure in the pelvic floor region
- Discomfort or pain during sexual intercourse(for women)
- Difficulty maintaining an erection (for men)
Benefits of pelvic floor exercise
A strong pelvic floor has many benefits and will help you enjoy life to the fullest. Here are some of the benefits of strengthening your pelvic floor muscles:
Pelvic organ prolapse refers to organs like womb and bladder moving out of place and pressing on your vagina – which means that weak pelvic floor muscles can prolapse into your bladder and cause incontinence. However, with the right exercise you can strengthen your pelvic floor muscles.
Alleviate lower back pain
Weak pelvic floor muscles can cause or aggravate lower back pain, and even affect our posture. Exercising muscles around your bladder will strengthen and improve pelvic floor.
Staying strong during pregnancy
Carrying a baby can put an enormous amount of pressure on our pelvic floor, which if not strong enough, can be weakened. A strong pelvic floor also helps recover after delivery. Therefore, it is extremely important to exercise your pelvic floor before and during your pregnancy.
However, it is incredibly important to be able to relax your pelvic floor muscles too, as this will help you push during labour and you won’t run the risk of having tight and contracted pelvic floor muscles slowing down the birth of your baby.
Better enjoyment of sex
Your pelvic floor is also responsible for the muscles contractions felt during an orgasm, so the stronger the muscle the stronger the orgasm. Strong muscles will also help vascularise (provide more blood flow) the area and will increase arousal and sensation during sex.
In men, strong pelvic muscles will help with erectile dysfunction by making it easier to maintain an erection.
When to start pelvic floor exercises?
Anyone can benefit from pelvic floor exercise at anytime. However, if you find that you’re struggling to hold it in when you need the toilet, or if you’re experiencing urine leakage at any time or while sneezing, coughing, laughing or performing physical activity – then it’s definitely worth taking some action to strengthen your pelvic floor right now.
If you’re expecting or have recently given birth, your midwife or health visitor should be able to advise you on how to address signs of any weakness in your pelvic floor and you should quickly notice an improvement if you do them as instructed. Having a strong pelvic floor before pregnancy will also help you recover more quickly. For more information of exercise during pregnancy can be found here.
If you’ve tried following the advice of your midwife or health visitor and the situation isn’t getting better with exercise, contact your GP and ask for a referral to an obstetric physiotherapist, who will examine your body and assess how best to regain the strength in your pelvic floor.
How to do pelvic floor exercises correctly?
Now that you know why a strong pelvic floor is important – whether you’re just wanting to strengthen your weak pelvic floor muscles during pregnancy or want to perform a specific pelvic floor dysfunction exercise – let’s explore how to do it correctly through our step by step guide below:
- Lie, sit or stand with your knees slightly apart, make sure to be in a comfortable position and don’t hold your breath while performing the following exercises
- Tighten your back passage (as if trying to stop passing wind)
- Tighten your front muscles (as if trying to stop passing urine)
- You should feel a ‘squeeze-lift’ motion from your back passage toward your pubic bone
- Fully release and then squeeze again
- Repeat 5 times
How many pelvic floor exercises a day should you do?
Do as many repetitions of 5 as you can – little and often is always best. Build up the number of repetitions you do as your muscle gets strong and you find them easier to do.
Once you are able to do your pelvic floor exercises with ease, you can move onto the following regime:
- Long squeezes: tighten and hold for 10 seconds, relax for 5 seconds and then repeat – build up to 10 holds for 10 seconds/ relax for 5 seconds
- Short squeezes: tighten and hold for 1 second, relax for 1 second and then repeat – build up to 10 holds for 1 second/relax for 1 second
Always make sure to keep your core relaxed and not hold your breath, as to engage the right muscles without causing strain on the rest of your body. You might find it easier to perform the exercises on an exhale.
Once you have mastered these exercises aim to do 3 lots of long squeezes and 3 lots of short squeezes at least 3 times a day, or if you prefer 1 set of 10 long squeezes followed by 1 set of 10 short squeezes repeated at least 3 times a day.
And remember, consistency is key. It’s better to do less every day than a lot of exercise just once in a while. In order to remember to do your pelvic floor exercises, you can set a timer at a time that is convenient for you, use an app or partner with a friend of a new mum to hold each other accountable.
There are also a series of products you may want to consider using, such as pelvic floor weights and a pelvic floor trainer, but we strongly believe consistency and patience is all you need!
Top tips for doing pelvic floor exercises
If you don’t get the hang of it straight away, don’t worry, it’s easy to use the wrong muscles when you first start. Follow our tips below and you’ll be a pro in no time:
- If you feel like you are bearing down (like you need to have your bowels open), holding your breath, squeezing your legs together and/or clench your buttocks, your exercises won’t work. You need to stay relaxed and don’t hold your breath in.
- If you are finding it hard to locate your pelvic floor muscles, seek help from a health professional.
- Don’t try to find your pelvic floor muscles by regularly stopping and starting the flow of urine while urinating as this can damage your bladder. However, you can try once just to make sure you located the right set of muscles.
- Once you’ve mastered it, you can do them anywhere! Washing up, watching TV, brushing your teeth, or feeding your baby.
Now that you know how to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, you are ready to perform these pelvic floor exercises anywhere and at any time and enjoy the wonderful benefits that a strong pelvic floor has to offer.