There’s one part of your body that you can’t condition by simply hitting the gym.
Say hello to your pelvic floor. This area encompasses the muscles, ligaments, connective tissue and fascia that run from your pubic bone to tailbone, forming a sling at the base of the pelvis.
“In females, the pelvic floor muscles form the sphincter around urethra, vagina and anus,” explains Anna Scammell, women’s health and pelvic floor physiotherapist and founder of Whole Mother.
While most of us don’t give this region much thought, Anna says there are quite a few important reasons why we should be putting our pelvic floor first.
What happens if we ignore our pelvic floor?
Since the pelvic floor muscles are important in controlling our bladder and bowel, supporting pelvic organs, creating stability for our spine and pelvis, contributing to sexual arousal and orgasm, and creating the passage for childbirth, there are a few things that can wane if the pelvic floor is ignored.
“Common issues women experience are prolapse and incontinence,” Anna says. “Prolapse is the descent of one or more of the pelvic organs into the vagina due to weakness in the pelvic floor muscles and 50 per cent of women will experience a prolapse after having a baby, so learning how to do your pelvic floor exercises correctly is essential to prevent it.”
Another common issue is incontinence (bladder leakage). “Unfortunately many women have been led to believe that this is 'normal' after childbearing, however this is not the case,” Anna exclaims.
Instead both these issues are preventable by doing pelvic floor exercises correctly.
What’s the best exercise for the pelvic floor?
You may have heard the word “kegels” before and Anna says they are the best way to maintain a strong pelvic floor.
“Many women perform pelvic floor exercises incorrectly, which can cause more harm than good,” she explains.
Anna details the things you need to focus on to do kegels with good technique:
Firstly, you need to focus on lifting all the different areas of your pelvic floor muscles: Lift as if you are stopping the flow of a wee; lift as of you are sucking up a straw with your vagina; and lift as if you are holding in wind.
Focus on lifting these areas together rather than squeezing, as squeezing tends to bring on your bum, thighs and upper abdominal muscles instead.
Now you’ve got that part down pat, Anna says you should be doing these three exercises while maintaining that technique:
Endurance: Lift your pelvic floor muscles and hold this contraction for as long as you can, until you feel your muscles start to fatigue, then release your muscles completely. Your endurance is likely to range between 1 to 10 seconds. Make sure you keep breathing as you hold. Repeat this 10 times; three times per day in lying, sitting and standing positions.
Fast: Lift your pelvic floor muscles and rather than holding, release them straight away. Repeat this 10 times; three times per day.
Functional: Lift your pelvic floor muscles before activities or exercises such as lifting, squats and lunges.
For a more personalised approach, Anna recommends that every woman has a pelvic floor assessment with a specialist Women’s Health Physiotherapist. “We will assess your pelvic floor using a Real-time ultrasound machine or internal examination, and give you an exercise program specific to you,” she explains.
“My other top tips to maintaining a healthy pelvic floor are exercising safely during pregnancy and postpartum,” she says. “During your entire pregnancy and early postpartum (the first 12 weeks at least), it is essential you only do low-impact exercise that does not strain your pelvic floor. Safe examples are brisk walking, stationary bike, swimming, aqua aerobics, Pilates, yoga and light weights.”