A recent survey of 1,000 UK women has found one in six don’t know where their pelvic floor muscles are.
The pelvic floor muscles hold all your important pelvic organs in place; including the bladder, uterus and rectum. If these muscles are weak, you’re more likely to suffer from bladder incontinence, prolapse and see your sex life deflate.
Just like brushing your teeth or getting your 5-a-day, looking after your pelvic floor should be an important part of your daily routine. Approximately 25% of women suffer from pelvic disorders worldwide, yet many women are still in the dark.
Whether you’re choosing between weights and cardio or pilates and yoga, it’s important to make pelvic floor exercises part of your health regime, no matter your age or fitness level.
Here’s how you can do it…
#1 Get squatting
Narrow or shallow, unweighted squats can promote a stronger pelvic floor and buttocks, with health experts explaining strong glutes and hamstrings are important for overall pelvic floor health.
To perform the perfect squat stand with your feet hip-width apart and bend at the knees, bringing your buttocks toward the floor. Keep your back straight and your knees in line with your toes. Tightening the butt as you return to the standing position increases pelvic floor contractions and tones your glutes.
Those with weak pelvic floors should avoid weighted squats, as these can put excessive strain on the pelvic floor, leading to urine leakage.
If you are in this position, seek the help of a health expert or fitness professional, who can tell you which exercises to avoid or modify and ensure you have the correct technique before beginning any exercise programme.
#2 Walking hip raises
Start by lying flat on the ground with your knees bent at a 45-degree angle. Alternate your legs by lifting them until your thighs are vertical. Your knee should be at a 90-degree angle.
You’ll be able to feel yourself lift through your pelvic floor, as you connect through the muscles between your hips.
#3 Try some yoga
Some women have overly tight pelvic floors, because of bad posture or long periods of sitting. In these circumstances, learning to release their pelvic floor before doing any kind of strengthening exercise can be beneficial.
Simple yoga moves like Malasana (a deep squat with elbows pressed against your inner thighs) and Reclined Bound Angle (lying down with the soles of feet together and the knees falling out to the sides) lengthen and stabilise the pelvic floor, so it contracts and will stretch in controlled extension as you lower closer to the floor.
Child’s Pose also opens the lower back, allowing the pelvic floor to expand and stretch as you breathe.
According to research, women who participated in a 6-week yoga-therapy programme experienced a 70 percent decrease in incontinence issues.
#4 Practice manual Kegel exercises
It’s never too early or too late to learn how to exercise and strengthen your pelvic floor by practising manual Kegel exercises.
There are slow and fast Kegel exercises and it’s best to alternate between the two, ideally for 5 minutes at least three times a day.
First, sit, stand or lie with your knees slightly apart. Slowly tighten your pelvic floor muscles starting with your anus (as if you are trying not to pass wind – the biggest part of your pelvic floor muscle is located here), then tighten around your vagina, squeeze both areas and lift (or ‘suck-up’ your muscles) as hard as you can. Hold for the count of five, then relax, repeat 5 times.
Then, repeat but more quickly. Hold for two seconds, then relax for two seconds. Repeat five times. As your Kegel muscles become stronger increase the length of time you ‘squeeze and lift’. You should aim to hold each slow Kegel for a count of 10.
#5…then take these to the next level
Offering pre-programmed sensation, exercise and pain-relieving programmes, pelvic floor toners deliver electrical impulses internally via a probe, or externally via pads, to stimulate a contraction within the pelvic floor.
Think of toners as a sat-nav for your pelvic floor muscles, exercising them even if you can’t feel them yourself. These contractions exercise the muscles and, as with any kind of exercise performed regularly, build strength and tone.
Costing on average between £80 and £200, pelvic toners are recommended for all women.
#6 Brush up on your breaststroke
A fan of swimming? Well, try brushing up on your breaststroke skills. The simple motion of bringing your legs together causes thigh and pelvic floor muscles to contract, thus strengthening them.
All swimming strokes help to tone pelvic muscles to some extent as you’re continuously engaging these muscles to keep yourself balanced in the water.
Swimming also brings weightlessness, reducing pressure on the pelvic floor, perfect for those suffering from a weak pelvic floor or pelvic organ prolapse.