What are pelvic floor exercises?
Pelvic floor exercises are often a mystery to people because you can’t see them being done. Many people aren’t even sure where the muscle is and what it does, which is not surprising given its unseen. It runs front to back, between your legs inside your pelvis and is often engaged (that is, used) unconsciously. In other words, until it’s pointed out, we just don’t think about it.
As you can see in the illustration below, (it’d be ideal if we could update this illustration to give greater emphasis to the pelvic floor muscle) the muscle sits like a sling or hammock, at the base of the pelvis, attached to the pubic bone at the front and the coccyx, or tailbone, at the back. It plays a key role in supporting the pelvic organs, as well as controlling the closure of the urethra and bowel – that is, the ability to ‘hold on’ when you need to urine, pass a bowel motion or wind.
Pelvic floor exercises are designed to give this core muscle a ‘work out’, to either regain or maintain its strength.
Why is a strong pelvic floor muscle important?
A strong pelvic floor muscle means you have optimum control of your bowel and bladder. It also ensures your organs are securely held in the right position. If it becomes weak and organs fall out of place, called a prolapse, that can also cause incontinence.
There are many reasons why a pelvic floor can lose strength over time, including:
- Carrying an additional load from being overweight or pregnant
- Downward pressure from persistent constipation or a smoker’s cough
- Jarring from high-impact sports like running, netball or tennis
- Damage from childbirth, surgery or pelvic injury
- Continual lifting of heavy weights, including small children
Locating your pelvic floor
The first step is to find the right muscle. When you’re next on the toilet, try stopping your urine mid-stream, paying close attention to the muscle you use to do it – that’s your pelvic floor! While this is a great exercise to identify the right muscle, regularly stopping your urine flow isn’t ideal, so once you’ve located it, don’t repeat the exercise unnecessarily.
Another way to find it is to imagine you’re trying not to pass wind, again taking note of the muscle you clench to do this. With this exercise, just note that you need to be squeezing the muscle on the inside and not just clenching your buttocks.
When using the right muscle, you should be experiencing a sensation of drawing in (front and back) and upwards.
If you’re having difficulty finding the muscle, are unable to stop your urine stream or clench, make an appointment with your doctor and ask for a referral to a continence physiotherapist who’ll be able to assist, as well as develop an exercise plan to get you on your way.
How to do pelvic floor muscle exercises
The good news about pelvic floor muscle exercises is that you don’t even need to be in sports clothes. There’s no special equipment required - you can do them sitting up, lying down or standing, so they’re quite easy to incorporate into your everyday routine.
When starting, pay extra attention to keep your pelvis in a neutral position (neither tipped forward or backwards) and your buttocks, stomach and thighs relaxed.
Begin by clenching the pelvic floor muscle and holding for a slow count of six. If you don’t have the sensation of ‘letting go’ when you reach six, the grip has slipped away before the end. If that happens, try shortening the count until you do experience the feeling of letting go at the end. Don’t worry if your count is only one or two – you’re making a start and, with persistence, the muscle’s condition will gradually improve, and you will be able to hold for longer.
Try and do six of the ‘clench and hold’ exercises in a row, with a slow count of six in between to allow the muscle to recover.
Next, do six strong clenches in rapid succession – then rest. Again, if you can’t do six, just do as many as you can manage.
The combination of slow and fast exercises makes one set. Aim to do six sets across the day.
Take care not to overdo it when you start. If your muscle is starting to feel fatigued, give it a rest and do a few more later.
As the muscle becomes stronger and the exercises easier, start to increase the ‘hold’ time for slow clenches, as well as the number of repetitions and sets, aiming to take both up to ten.
Make them part of your daily routine
Once you’ve identified the right muscle and mastered the exercise technique, the real challenge is to remember to do them!
There are all kinds of innovative ways women remind themselves, including:
- At every red light when driving
- Every time you pop the kettle on or have a glass of water
- If you’ve recently had a baby, when you’re changing a nappy
- Putting coloured dot stickers in doorways to catch your eye and prompt you
- When answer or make a phone call
- If there’s a particular game you like on your phone, every time you play
- Every time you respond to an email
- Before, during or after your daily walk, swim or other exercise routines
Also try to get in the habit of clenching and holding your pelvic floor when you sneeze, cough or laugh. This keeps you dry and protects the muscle by bracing it against the downward thrust of these activities.
The pelvic floor is part of your ‘core’
There’s been increased attention on core strength in the health and fitness world over the last decade or so, and for good reason. Strengthening the muscles around your lower back, hips, trunk and pelvis, including the pelvic floor, assist with stability and balance as well as control to prevent sporting injuries.
For many years, the emphasis on aerobic fitness and weight training ignored the importance of a strong core, but that has since been addressed with the rising popularity of Pilates and yoga. Both of these low-impact disciplines have a focus on core strength and better yet, are suitable for most people. If you’ve not exercised in years or are looking to add some core strengthening to your activity routine, try a beginner’s class and see if you enjoy it.
How to know if the exercises are working?
You should experience an improvement within two to three weeks of commencing exercises. The sets should become easier and your bowel and bladder control should increase.
If you’ve not noticed any change, make an appointment with your GP and ask for a referral to a continence physiotherapist, who’ll be able to check your technique and set a program to suit your needs.
In the meantime…
Leaks may continue to be an issue until your pelvic floor is strong enough to keep you dry. If that’s the case, you might feel more confident with disposable, absorbent protection.
All products in the TENA range have been designed to handle the thinner, faster flow of a weak bladder, locking fluid away and keeping you dry. They’re soft, made of breathable fabric and are highly absorbent to minimise bulk and maximise discretion. They all contain odour-control which doesn’t mask but prevents odours from developing.
For women, the TENA range includes super small TENA Liners, which are ideal for a few drops or a small gush, an extensive range of TENA Pads and TENA Pants that looks and feel just like regular underwear.
To find the best product for your needs, check out the TENA Product Finder Tool, where you can also order free samples.
Asaleo Care makes no warranties or representations regarding the completeness or accuracy of the information. This information should be used only as a guide and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional, medical or other health professional advice.