Pelvic Floor Exercises For Women
The pelvic floor also referred to as the pelvic diaphragm comprises of muscle fibres and other connective tissues separating the pelvic cavity from the perineum. The pelvic muscles and ligament provide support to the bowel, uterus and the bladder.
The pelvic floor is able to stretch and bounce up again in response to the weight exerted on it. This makes it essential to exercise the pelvic floor muscles on a daily basis throughout one’s life. This will help to prevent any weakening of the pelvic floor and generally improve its strength.
The main purpose of the pelvic floor is to control the openings of the organs listed below;
- The anal opening, which acts as a back passage for bowel movements.
- The vagina, which is essential for intercourse as well as acting as a birth canal.
- The urethra, a tube which urine passes through.
What is The Purpose of Pelvic Floor Muscles
It is important to have a strong pelvic floor because it gives you control over bladder functions. A strong pelvic floor provides support to the pelvic organs by preventing any problems associated with it such as;
- Prolapse of the uterus, bowel, and bladder
- Incontinence, which is the involuntary loss or leakage of urine.
The Risk of Weakening Pelvic Floor Muscles in Women
There are various reasons why your pelvic floor muscles might become weak. One of the most common causes is a lack of exercise after childbirth, especially through a hysterectomy operation. Being overweight or a chronic cough can also lead to the weakening of the pelvic floor muscles.
As a result of this weakening, several symptoms might show up including leaking urine due to a cough, a sneeze or even when laughing. These are generally stomach stress incontinence symptoms.
Weak pelvic floor muscles can cause quite some discomfort especially when you leak urine. More so, it may lead to an increase in the urge to frequent the toilet during the day or at night.
Other effects of weak pelvic floor muscle are;
- Inability to pass wind
- Faecal incontinence characterized by the urge to empty bowels and leaking stool before reaching the toilet.
Who Can Benefit From Pelvic Floor Muscle Exercises?
Pelvic floor muscle exercises can have great benefits to the following groups of women;
- Pregnant women and post-partum women - these exercises will tone loose vaginal muscles if you have just had a baby and if you’re preparing for delivery, keeping your pelvic muscles strong can help to prevent urine leakage at the end of your pregnancy.
- Women suffering from urinary incontinence.
- Women looking to prevent prolapsed bladder.
- Women involved in heavy object lifting careers.
Women who are not pregnant also need pelvic floor exercises to remain healthy because, with ageing, your muscles tend to loosen and they become weak.
Strengthening of Pelvic Floor Muscles
There are multiple ways through which you can strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. However, in this guide, we have included two sets of exercises to get you started. In our first set of exercises, you will be guided on how to tone and tighten your pelvic floor area while the second set of exercises helps with generally strengthening and toning of the pelvic area.
If you are looking forward to trying out some pelvic floor exercising, you will be happy to know that there are only two main exercises you will have to learn. These sets of exercises are grouped into;
- The Fast Twitch
- Slow Twitch
To get these exercises right, we have come up with specific positions in which they should be performed.
It is worth noting that it is important to always perform the pelvic floor muscles exercises in a specific order each time you exercise. Always start with the slow twitch and then finish with the fast twitch.
Performing the Slow Twitch Pelvic Floor Exercises
The slow twitch, start-off exercise, is not as difficult as most people might think. You can perform it effectively even without much assistance.
Before performing these twitch exercises the best way forward is to sit on a chair and ensure your feet are flat on the floor. With your legs slightly spread apart, you can now rest your elbows on your knees and lean forward.
To start the slow twitch exercise, draw up your external anal sphincter muscles as if attempting to prevent passing wind. While doing this, be sure to prevent contraction of the buttock muscles. The other set of muscles that need to be drawn is the vaginal pubococcygeus muscle and the urethra. Hold the contraction of these muscles as long as you can and then relax for the same period.
With each subsequent contraction and relaxation of these muscles, try to increase the length of time for holding the contractions. Carry out this exercise repetitively until your muscles feel tired.
Mastering the Fast Twitch Pelvic Floor Exercise
Once you are through with the slow twitch, it is now time to perform the fast twitch.
You will have to draw your pelvic floor muscles once again just as before and then hold the contraction for at least one second before letting go. Repeat this process 5-10 times and only stop if you feel that your muscles are tired.
Once you try out these pelvic floor exercises long enough, you will begin to notice that a lot of concentration is needed to perform these exercises correctly. Similarly, those who are keen enough may realize that at the beginning of this exercise, the pelvic floor muscles will get fatigued very quickly. You shouldn’t be worried about this because it is a normal experience which many people find easier with time.
There are a few more things which will become apparent once you start getting more comfortable with this exercise. For instance, you may find that the slow twitch cannot be held for five straight cycles. Well, if you find this to be a hurdle it is also sound practice to just hold the cycles of contraction for as long as you can. This means that folks who are using three seconds burst should make that their baseline of exercises.
What to Avoid When Performing the Pelvic Floor Exercises
When performing your exercises, there are a number of things you should try to avoid. Avoiding them will help you contract your muscles correctly as well as improve the efficiency of your exercises. Therefore;
- Avoid holding your breath
- Avoid bringing your knees together
- Don’t attempt to squeeze your buttocks together
- Try not to lift your shoulders or toes upwards.
How Often Do You Need to Perform Pelvic Floor Exercises
It is highly preferable that you perform pelvic floor muscles daily. The exercises should include both the fast twitch and the slow twitch exercises.
To fully regain the strength of your pelvic floor muscles, you may need several weeks of regular exercising. These regular exercises are crucial in preventing the floor muscles from getting weak ever again.
Are Your Pelvic Floor Exercises Working?
You may have exercised for a reasonable duration of time and could be wondering whether or not the exercises are working. The simplest check is to gently slide two fingers into your vaginal opening when you shower or take a bath. You will notice a difference by tightening your pelvic floor muscles you’ll be able to feel the vaginal pubococcygeus muscles squeeze your fingers together.
Alternatively, if you don’t feel comfortable inserting two fingers into your vagina, then you can test if the strength of your pelvic muscles has improved by trying to stop urine midstream. Although stopping the flow of urine entirely may be nearly impossible, you should still be able to slow the flow. And with subsequent weeks of exercising, you will notice that there is a marked improvement in your ability to stop or slow the flow of urine.
Note, however, that the test described above to test the strength of your pelvic floor muscles should only be done once in a span of two weeks.
What Other Exercises Can You Do Along With Slow And Fast Twitch
There are a few more exercises which can help to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. Try out any of the following exercises to improve the effectiveness of the slow and fast twitch exercises.
These exercises will also keep your muscles well toned.
The knack is a muscle exercise that can be performed at any time you feel that you can do it. If you are suffering from stress incontinence, brace your pelvic floor muscles before coughing, sneezing, laughing, lifting heavy objects or doing any activity that could result in leakage of urine. The stronger your pelvic floor muscles get, the more effective the knack exercise becomes.
The Bridge is an exercise where you have to lie with your feet flat on the floor, knees bent and hip-width apart. You are then required to inhale slowly while contracting your pelvic floor muscles and with your hips in a lifted position. Maintain this position for ten seconds and remember to keep breathing.
Now lower your hips and gently relax your pelvic floor muscles. For this bridge exercise, as your muscles get stronger, increase the cycles from five upward.
The Wall Squat
With the Wall Squat, stand with your back leaning on a wall and your feet hip-width apart. Now inhale slowly and contract your pelvic floor muscles. Lower into a squatting position while still maintaining the inhale-exhale action. Hold this position for ten seconds then slowly rise back up and relax your pelvic floor. To complete this cycle, take a rest for ten seconds and repeat the exercise.
Stand and bring your legs together then contract your pelvic floor muscles as you jump while spreading your legs apart and your arms overhead. You can then relax your pelvic floor muscles while you hop your legs together. Repeat this exercise for about 45-60 seconds.
Dead Bug Crunch
Just like most of the other exercises, the dead bug crunch is fairly simple. All you’ve to do is lie on your back and extend your arms towards the ceiling. Now inhale and contract your pelvic floor muscles with your right arm extended beyond your head, and the right leg stretched forward.
Relax the pelvic floor muscles and then draw your arm and leg back to the position you started in. Finally, repeat while extending the left leg and arm. Do this exercise for ten seconds on each side.
Yoga has been hyped and recommended as an overall keep-fit and flexible exercise all over the world. With this in mind, you can also try out a few yoga exercises to help boost the strength of your pelvic floor. All you need is a yoga mat, and you’re ready to go.
Malasana is a simple exercise where you stand with your feet spread mat-width apart, toes off the mat and heels on the mat. To perform the exercise, squat and move your thighs apart, so they are slightly wider than your torso. Press your elbows against your inner thighs and bring your palms together in front of your chest.
Increase the spine length by moving your tailbone towards the floor and lifting the crown of your head towards the ceiling. With a deep breath, hold this position for a whole minute.
The Malasana exercise works because it lengthens your pelvic floor hence enabling it to contract forcefully.
Prevent Damage to your Pelvic Floor
Prevention is always better than cure and if you are looking for ways to prevent weakening of your pelvic floor muscles here are some tips to get you started;
- Avoid constipation by maintaining a health diet.
- Avoid lifting very heavy objects regularly
- Restrain from repetitive coughing
- Don’t put on too much weight
For many women, it is crucial to follow a specified exercise program that is tailored to your individual needs. If you are unsure whether or not you’re exercising your pelvic floor muscles correctly, you should make an effort to see your physiotherapist. In addition, the listed exercises do not provide a positive result after at least three months of regular exercising; it is advisable to seek professional help from a physiotherapist or nurse.