You do bicep curls to keep your guns up and crunches to keep your core strong. But there’s another muscle group that isn’t mentioned in the gym: the pelvic floor.
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Should you exercise your pelvic floor muscles regularly? Amy Park, MD, a gynecologist specializing in pelvic floor disorders, explains what happens when this muscle group weakens and how to start an exercise program to keep it in shape.
What is pelvic floor dysfunction?
The pelvic floor is a layer of muscles in your pelvis, the lower part of your torso between your abdomen and your legs. It forms a kind of hammock to support the bladder, bowel, uterus and other pelvic organs.
When your pelvic floor is weak or injured, the function of the pelvic floor muscles may be affected. This can cause bladder problems, including urine leakage and an overactive bladder. But if the pelvic floor muscles are too tight, it can lead to muscle spasms and pelvic pain. Trauma or surgery can cause the pelvic floor muscles to contract excessively.
Whether your pelvic floor muscles are weak or painfully tense, pelvic floor exercises can help.
Kegel exercises for men and women
Pelvic floor problems tend to be more common in women, especially after childbirth or menopause. However, men can experience it as well. So, everyone can benefit from a pelvic floor exercise routine.
How to do Kegels
The movement of choice is known as the Kegel exercise. It’s not particularly difficult, once you’ve identified the right muscles to contract. To begin with, pretend you want to take a pee. Now squeeze the muscles that you would use to hold it. These muscles are your pelvic floor.
“There are many different treatment regimens for Kegels,” says Dr. Park. For a basic starting routine, try these steps:
- Sit or lie down.
- Contract your pelvic floor muscles for up to 10 seconds, then release.
- Do a series of 10 Kegel presses.
- Repeat the exercises two or three times a day.
- As your muscle strength improves, you can hold each pressure longer or add more reps.
The gift for stress incontinence
There is another tip to use if you have stress incontinence, which causes urine to leak during activities such as coughing, sneezing, or lifting objects. “Some people with stress incontinence benefit from an exercise called ‘the trick,’ says Dr. Park.
The trick is just a quick, strong Kegel done right before the activity that scares you away. Tickle in your nose? Try to squeeze before sneezing.
Kegel exercises during pregnancy
After pregnancy and childbirth, many women find that their pelvic floor is not what it used to be. Can you do something to keep it from weakening?
Unfortunately, maybe not, says Dr. Park. Studies have shown that doing pelvic floor exercises during pregnancy does not prevent pelvic floor dysfunction from developing. “But if you already have a problem with stress incontinence, pelvic floor exercises during or after pregnancy will help,” she says.
Pelvic Floor Therapy: How Experts Can Help
Kegels are safe to do at home, but many people benefit from working with a physiotherapist trained in pelvic floor dysfunction. “It is important to learn the proper technique and it helps to be guided by a qualified professional,” says Dr. Park.
Seeing a physiotherapist who specializes in pelvic floor problems is especially important if you experience pelvic pain. “The underlying back and hip pain can contribute to pelvic pain. A specialist can make sure you fix any problems, ”she says. “For pelvic pain, physiotherapy is really a mainstay of treatment.”
Tools for pelvic floor exercises
Physiotherapists sometimes use additional tools to help you target the right muscles. These may include:
- Biofeedback: This process uses sensors to monitor your muscle activity. These comments can help you target the right muscles to perform the exercises correctly.
- Vaginal weights: Some women use cone or teardrop-shaped weights to train their pelvic floor. After inserting the weights into your vagina, you will need to squeeze your pelvic floor to hold them in place. Some women swear by vaginal weightlifting, but it’s not necessary for a strong pelvic floor, says Dr. Park. “It’s just one more way to identify the right muscles and learn to do the exercises correctly.”
Whichever method you choose, working your pelvic floor is the best way to keep it in great shape.