Thinking of trying for a baby soon? Now is the perfect time to start strengthening your body in preparation for pregnancy and childbirth. And even if you’re not quite at that stage yet, the moves listed here are great for anyone to improve pelvic floor and core strength.
The pelvic floor acts as a basket of muscles that help support the pelvic organs (your uterus, bladder and bowels). Keeping them toned can not only help ease pregnancy discomforts (like urine leakage and hemorrhoids), but it can also help you later on in life as your body naturally changes due to hormones, and age. The moves below work not only the pelvic floor, but also other important muscles connected to it to ensure overall core strength.
There’s a reason that you’ve heard again and again that kegels are important. This exercise has long been touted by professionals as one of the most vital exercises in increasing your pelvic floor strength. Follow the instructions below to be sure you’re performing them correctly.
- Identify your pelvic floor muscles by attempting to stop your urine flow mid-stream. If you can do this, you’ve found the muscles! (Note – don’t practice your kegels in this way on a regular basis – it should only be done to identify the correct muscles.)
- Performing with an empty bladder, your first goal should be to tighten your pelvic floor muscles for 5 seconds. Then relax them for 5 seconds. Try to do 5 reps on your first day. As you gain confidence from your new routine, aim for 10 seconds at a time, relaxing for 10 seconds between contractions.
- Be careful not to flex the muscles in your abdomen, thighs, or buttocks. Also, avoid holding your breath. Breathe freely during the exercises to keep from stressing the rest of your body.
- Aim for at least 3 sets of 10 repetitions per day. The beauty of kegels is that they can be done anywhere, anytime. Try performing them during your downtime, such as waiting in line, or sitting at a stoplight.
- Give yourself encouragement. These exercises will feel foreign in the beginning. But the longer you stay with this, the better your bladder health will become. As a bonus, Kegels have been reported to increase sexual pleasure as well.
Strong glutes and hamstrings are very important to the overall health of your pelvic floor. And one of the best exercises to develop these muscles is the deep squat. Squatting is actually one of the most natural forms of movement there is, however our modern-day lifestyle, characterized by long hours of sitting at a desk or on a couch, has made the squat virtually extinct. By strengthening your glutes and hamstrings, you’ll be adding additional support to your pelvic floor. Follow the instructions below to make sure you are performing squats safely and correctly.
- Stand with feet slightly wider than your hips, toes pointed slightly outward.
- Keep your spine in a neutral position – don’t round your back, and don’t over accentuate the natural arch of your back.
- Extend your arms out straight so they are parallel with the ground, palms facing down.
- Balance your weight on the heels and the balls of your feet.
- Taking a deep breath, begin sending your hips backwards as your knees begin to bend.
- Keep your back straight, and your chest and shoulders up.
- Be sure to keep your knees directly in line with your feet as you squat.
- Continue lowering your hips until they are slightly lower than your knees to perform a deep squat.
- Use your core to push yourself back up, keeping your bodyweight in your heels.
- Congratulations! You have just completed 1 rep!
It may help to watch yourself in a mirror as you first perform this exercise, as it is easy to perform squats incorrectly. Some things to watch for are not dropping low enough, leaning your body too far forward, allowing your knees to drift inward, and performing the exercise too quickly. Aim to complete about 2-3 sets of 10 reps daily.
Finding Your TA
Your transverse abdominus, also known as the TA muscle, is the muscle that is located deep within your core, below the six-pack muscles. This muscle is often overlooked, but it serves a vital role. The TA muscle helps to stabilize the core, pelvis and lower back, and is recruited almost anytime a movement is made. Strengthening your TA muscle will ensure that you are protecting your back and spine from extra force or pressure when you move, and will help aid in pelvic floor stabilization.
The following steps provide a very basic way to locate your TA muscle and give it a workout:
- Lie on your back, with your knees bent.
- Place your hand on your stomach, just over your belly button.
- While you exhale, tighten your stomach muscles and pull your belly button inward. You should imagine that you are tightening a corset and flattening your stomach.
- Repeat 3 sets of 10 reps each.
Once you have a good feeling for where your TA muscle is and how to activate it, you can begin incorporating the action into your everyday life - while sitting at work, standing in line, etc. Also try to practice tightening your TA muscle, like a brace, every time you perform a movement such as lifting, sneezing, squatting, etc. With practice, this action can become automatic and will aid in your core stability.
The multifidus is one of the most important muscles in aiding spinal support. The muscles are attached to the spinal column and are called upon when bending backwards, turning, and bending side to side. These muscles work with the rest of your pelvic floor muscles and TA muscle to help you hold good posture, and to stabilize your lower back and pelvis during movement. Try the exercise below to strengthen the multifidus muscle:
- Lie on your stomach, with your forehead on your hands, or a towel, looking straight down. (Not to the side)
- Very slowly, rotate your pelvis back slightly so that your tailbone lifts toward the ceiling. This should be a very subtle movement.
- Hold for one second, then rotate your pelvis back to the floor.
- Complete 3 sets of 10 reps each.
Practice activating your multifidus muscle throughout your day by keeping good posture.
Even before you’ve had children, there may be times when certain pelvic floor exercises are not appropriate. And, it’s important to know that there is no “one” exercise alone that will strengthen your pelvic floor as it is supported by many muscles. Always check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program. And, if you have concerns about your pelvic floor, no matter what life-stage you are in, consult a trained physical therapist specialized in women’s health. Your Physical Therapist will also be able to ensure that you are performing the moves correctly so that you are getting the most out of your workout. Use the NAFC Physician Locator to find a doctor in your area.
Note: Even before you’ve had children, there may be times when certain pelvic floor exercises are not appropriate. Always check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program. If you have concerns about your pelvic floor, no matter what life-stage you are in, consult a trained physical therapist specialized in women’s health.