The reality is, a lot of us don’t know how, or haven’t been properly taught how to engage the pelvic floor, because we never talk about it. It’s a pretty important part of the body (remember how it holds our bits in the right places?) but we kinda forget about it, unless we’re having serious issues with it.
Maybe because we can’t see it, like some of the “sexier” muscle groups, such as our abs or glutes, which we talk about ALOT. Um, but, aren’t the pelvic floor muscles actually the sexiest muscles? 😉
Or, maybe, it’s because we get a bit uncomfortable talking about our vaginas, bladders, rectums, etc? No need! They’re just body parts. I liken talking about incontinence or pain during sex, to talking about it like a sprain or strain.
Think about it like you have a sprained vagina (but, nothing like that, really…). How would you talk to your trainer about having a sprained ankle? There’s truly no difference, to your pre/postnatal health specialist!
Alright, back to it. In Part 1, we chatted about what the pelvic floor is, what it does, and how we want it to function. Today, in Part 2, we’re going to talk about how you can start “engaging” your pelvic floor in your exercise routine.
Pelvic Floor Physio For The Full Picture
FIRST. I know I’m a broken record on this buuuut, you must, must go see your friendly, neighbourhood pelvic floor physiotherapist for a real understanding of what’s happening with your floor. I can’t tell you with any true certainty WHY you’re having incontinence/low back pain/pelvic pain/prolapse without an internal exam. That’s the physio’s job. I can absolutely use all the information I have to make my best guesses and to properly plan your exercise program, but let’s not “just guess” when it comes to your lady bits. Capeeche?
The First Step In Engaging Your Floor
The first step in engaging your floor is realizing that’s it’s about more than just contracting the muscles between your pubic bone, tailbone, and in between your “sitz” bones.
What do I mean by this? I mean that we have to learn how to relax the pelvic muscles, as well. The majority of my postnatal gals have hypertonic regions of the pelvic floor = they have muscles that are contracting hard, all the time. This is like your muscles being chronically caffeinated. They’re drinking coffee all day long, and can never calm down, or chill out. This can lead to shortened, tight muscles, which isn’t awesome.
Think about if you were contracting your biceps muscles all. day. long. They’re going to be stuck, locked up, and stressed. Pretty much the same thing happens to your floor in those hypertonic spots, which affects the function of your bladder, uterus, vagina, and rectum (and lots of other places in your bod).
We can have difficulties relaxing and releasing these muscles that are turned ON all the time, and likely compensating for other areas of the floor or core that are a bit too lax, or not functioning quite right. These parts could be hypotonic = not contracting with enough strength, or at the right time.
We want balance. We want muscles that can contract fully and relax fully. It’s just like how you squat all the way down and come all the way up. You don’t squat down, come halfway up, and then just keep moving through that tiny range of motion, right? We want muscles that can work through full range of motion, as that’s when they’re strongest and function best.
STEP 1. Learn how to relax the floor first, in order to contract it just enough to do a job well done.
The Second Step to Engaging Your Floor
I want you to sit in a hard chair, or on a stability ball, or on a bench at the gym. You’re going to sit in great posture with a “neutral spine”. Neutral spine = gentle arch in the lower back, and feeling like you’re growing tall out of the crown of your head. Feel a tripod between the sitz bones and your perineum. You want your bum UNtucked = shouldn’t feel your tailbone, but not crushing your pubic bone either.
Below is a pic of me standing in neutral spine. Bum is untucked. Slight arch through lower back. Ribcage over hips. This all should be kept while seated, too.
Below is a pic of me standing with my bum tucked under. Low back is flattened. The difference is subtle, yet important.
INHALE: With one hand on your belly and one hand on the side of your ribcage, take an inhale breath and breathe into your hands. Your ribs should expand through the sides and your belly will gently rise. You should feel some “feedback” or a bit of pressure on your perineum, on whatever your sitting on. Feel your sitz bones get wider apart and your perineum soften.
EXHALE: With your exhale breath, imagine that you’re picking up berries with your vagina and your anus. Why, berries? Because blueberries are gentle and we don’t want to crush them. You’re contracting the floor with about 20-30% of your max effort. 30% is not 100%. Nothing will change through your posture. You will feel your abdominals get some “tension”, naturally, as they co-contract with your pelvic floor. How cool is that? 🙂
Step 2: Deep core breathing. Inhale to expand and relax. Exhale to contract and feel gentle tension.
*NOTE: If you are having a tricky time with the relaxation, just keep your focus there for a couple of weeks. Don’t do the active contraction on the exhale breath, until you feel like you can really control and “let down” the floor.
The Third Step to Engaging Your Floor
Adding this into your exercises at the gym. Eventually, this will just become second nature, but at first it will take some concentration.
On the “effort” part of your exercise, is the exhale part of the deep core breathing. For example: if you are doing a cable row, you are going to inhale at the top of the movement and exhale + blueberries to pull the weight into your body.
Step 3: Incorporate deep core breathing into your exercises.
Berry picking for everyone!