In a world that's all about flexing biceps, flaunting six-packs, and sweating through cardio sessions, it's time to shine a spotlight on a rather underrated and often overlooked part of your body that packs quite a punch when it comes to your overall well-being – the pelvic floor! These humble muscles might not be fitness magazine cover stars, but don't underestimate their importance.
From achieving better control over your bladder to giving your core a power boost, we speak to Monica Donaldson and Tamara Gerdis, both experienced pelvic health physios, and founders of Physio Down Under, to share with us the secrets unlocking the power to your pelvic floor health! Discover why giving your pelvic floor some extra love and slipping in some simple exercises into their daily routine can be the best thing you do for yourself. So, if you’re ready to strengthen, steady, and pleasantly surprise yourself with the perks of tending to a muscle group you've probably never thought much about, all while enhancing your wellness (and even boosting your bedroom prowess), keep reading on!
What is the Pelvic floor Muscle? (For him & her)
Image credit: Continence Foundation of Australia
Meet the pelvic floor muscles – the unsung heroes of your pelvis! These muscle buddies are like the rock-solid foundation of your lower half, forming a hammock-like structure that stretches from your tailbone (that's the coccyx) in the back to your pubic bone in the front. And guess what: EVERYONE's got 'em! Both males and females possess these pelvic floor muscles, they are universal.
For the female, these muscles are like a trusty support crew for your pelvic organs, including the bladder, uterus, bowel, urethra (the gatekeeper for your pee), vagina, and the backdoor exit, aka the anus – they all rely on the pelvic floor muscles.
As for the male, these muscles are there to lend a hand in supporting the bladder and bowel, while also providing a passage for the urethra and the rear exit, the anus. So, no matter your gender, these pelvic floor muscles are the unsung MVPs holding things together down there!
Why is training your Pelvic floor muscles important? (For him & her)
Training your pelvic floor muscles is like doing a secret handshake with your body, and it's essential for everyone. Think of it as the superhero of muscles below your belt, responsible for preventing embarrassing leaks when you laugh (or sneeze!) and boosting your intimate moments when they are in healthy conditions.
In men, robust pelvic floor muscles can enhance sexual performance, extend endurance, and address concerns like premature ejaculation.
For women, it plays a crucial role in post-pregnancy recuperation, preventing awkward leaks during laughter (or sneezing), and intensifying orgasms!
Tips on getting a beginner started
The wonderful thing about doing pelvic floor muscle exercises aka, kegels, is that they can be done in any position, however when you are starting out, lying and sitting tend to be a bit easier than upright or standing positions.
Now that you've become aware of your pelvic floor muscles, let's give them a little workout!
Sit or lie on your back with your knees bent and legs comfortably apart or kneel on your hands and knees.
For women imagine you have a jelly bean at the entrance of your vagina that you are trying to lift up towards your head.
Squeeze those muscles around your front passage, vagina, and back passage with all your might, and hold that squeeze for a solid three to five seconds. As you do this, you should feel your pelvic floor muscles almost lifting you up from the inside, and then be sure to release fully for the same amount of time, allowing your muscles to relax. If you're up for it, you can try holding that squeeze for a bit longer, but never more than ten seconds – and remember, that squeeze should stay strong, and the 'let go' feeling should be definite.
For men, stand in front of a mirror with no clothes on. Pull in your pelvic floor muscles strongly and hold them. You should see the penis draw in and your scrotum should lift. It can be helpful to think ‘lift your nuts to your guts’ or imagine you're walking into a very cold sea and you try to lift your testicles before it touches the cold water.
For everyone, imagine you are in a lift full of people and that you don’t want to pass wind or you are trying to stop a pee mid stream.
If you're one of the rare few who aren't sensing anything down there, you can try a little experiment: try stopping your urine midstream when you're on the toilet, just to locate those elusive pelvic floor muscles. However, please don't make a habit of this as it could lead to a pesky urinary tract infection.
Oh, and here's a little tip – make sure you're not recruiting your gluteal or thigh muscles while you're doing your Kegels! We want those pelvic floor muscles to do all the heavy lifting. And don't forget to breathe while you're at it; we don't want you turning blue.
By the way, it's worth noting that not everyone's pelvic floor muscles are weak. Some people with overactive pelvic floor muscles can experience discomfort during intimacy, trouble with tampons or menstrual cups, battled constipation, struggled to empty your bladder properly, or just had some persistent pelvic pain. If you suspect you're in the 'too tight' category, hold off on the pelvic floor muscle strengthening routine for now. It might actually worsen your symptoms. Instead, schedule a visit with a pelvic health physiotherapist for a proper evaluation. They'll set you on the right path!
Can everyone benefit from doing pelvic floor exercises and what are the benefits of it?
Yes, absolutely! Everyone can benefit from doing pelvic floor muscles exercises on a daily basis, as long as you don’t have overactive pelvic floor muscles (as mentioned earlier). In fact, in 2021 the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), released new guidelines where they recommended that women of all ages should do pelvic floor muscle exercises regularly for the rest of their lives as it helps to prevent symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction.
Doing your kegel, such as contracting your pelvic floor, can help to prevent the involuntary leakage of urine, help in the control of passing urine, gas, and bowel motions. It can even lift the internal organs of the pelvis and tighten the openings of the vagina (in females), anus and urethra! More importantly, while lots of emphasis is usually placed on strengthening your pelvic floor muscles, relaxing them (through breathing techniques and massages) is just as crucial and also helps to keep your pelvic health in check.
And wait, there's more! These pelvic floor muscles aren't just about bodily functions; they play a pivotal role in the bedroom too! Pelvic floor muscles are important for sexual functions in both men and women. In men, it is important for erectile function and ejaculation. In women, voluntary contractions (squeezing) of the pelvic floor muscles contribute to enhanced sexual sensation, arousal and even lubrication.
So, in essence, by keeping your pelvic floor in shape, you're not only preventing mishaps but also setting the stage for a more exciting and satisfying love life. How's that for multitasking muscles?
What is the recommended length of time and frequency to be doing this exercise?
In the pelvic floor, we have two types of muscle fibers: fast twitch and slow twitch. Fast twitch fibers are critical for sudden increases in intra-abdominal pressure, such as when you sneeze, cough, or lift objects. To strengthen these muscles, perform strong contractions of your pelvic floor muscles. Instead of trying to sustain the contraction, focus on squeezing and then releasing. Allow a brief rest between each squeeze. Repeat this sequence 10 to 20 times or until you sense your pelvic floor muscles becoming fatigued.
On the other hand, slow twitch muscle fibers provide endurance to our pelvic floor muscles. To target these fibers, aim to maintain your pelvic floor muscle squeeze for up to 10 seconds. Remember to maintain your breathing and experience a satisfying release of tension in the muscles before moving on to the next squeeze. Repeat this process up to ten times or until you feel your pelvic floor muscles getting tired. Take short breaks between each repetition.
It's recommended to perform these exercises 2-3 times daily, and it's important to note that research indicates it may take 3-6 months of consistent pelvic floor muscle exercises to achieve noticeable strengthening. So, stay committed and don't give up!
The pelvic floor muscles, much like other muscles in the body, don't operate independently. Engaging in exercises that focus on the glutes (buttocks), adductors (inner thighs), transversus abdominis (deep abdominal muscles), and the diaphragm (a major breathing muscle) can be beneficial in improving the strength and stamina of the pelvic floor muscles.
After ensuring that you can correctly contract your pelvic floor muscles and that they aren't excessively tense, you can begin incorporating them into comprehensive body workouts.
The following are common exercises that target the above mentioned muscle groups:
- Stand with your feet hip width apart, consciously relax your pelvic floor muscles first with a belly breath.
- As you sit back into your squat, exhale and engage your pelvic floor (‘lifting the jelly bean with your vagina’ or ‘lift your nuts to your guts’) and keep your pelvic floor switched on as you rise up from the squat.
- Relax your pelvic floor muscles again once you are back in standing.
- Remember, pelvic floor muscles need to ‘move’ so they can create more force, rather than continuously clenching them throughout the exercise.
- Build up your endurance gradually by aiming to do 3 sets of 15 reps with some pulses at the end of each set.
- Do your pelvic floor pulses (10 reps of fast contractions) whilst holding the squat position, try doing short and sharp exhales each time you squeeze and lift your pelvic floor muscles, but remember: you must relax the muscles in between each contraction.
- Relax your pelvic floor muscles and take a belly breath
- Exhale and contract your pelvic floor muscles as you lunge
- Inhale and relax the pelvic floor muscles as you return to the start position.
- After 10-12 repetitions on each side, hold the lunge position and, again, do your pelvic floor muscle pulses for a count of 10. Do 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions on each side.
3. Glute bridges with adductor (inner thigh) squeezes
- Lying on your back, knees bent and feet flat on the ground.
- You can place a pilates resistance circle or a soft and small pilates ball between your knees (this adds more resistance for your inner thigh muscles).
- At the start, relax and take a belly breath, exhale and engage your pelvic floor muscles as you lift your hips off the floor and squeeze your inner thighs together into the ball or pilates circle.
- As you return to the start position, fully relax your pelvic floor muscles.
- Do 3 sets of 10 repetitions with pulses at the end of each set.
- With each pulse, hold the glute bridge position and maintain your inner thighs squeeze but slightly release the tension by dropping your hips a fraction and releasing the inner thigh squeeze, at the same time allow the pelvic floor muscles to relax and quickly squeeze/lift them again (with an exhale of course!).
- Do the pulses for 10 counts and fully relax before you do the next set.
- The most important aspect of integrating your pelvic floor muscles into planks is to focus on your breathing and awareness of tension and relaxation of your pelvic floor muscles.
- It’s also important to consider your lower and deep abdominal muscles (transversus abdominis) while planking. If you cannot feel these muscles ‘working’ during a plank hold, try placing your knees down on the ground first and holding a plank in an easier position.
- As you inhale, let your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles gently relax or ‘let go’ and on exhale ‘lift and draw those muscles up and in’, keep repeating this through the breathing cycle as you hold the position.
- Make sure you do not over arch your lower back, flare your ribs or drop into your shoulder blades. It can be helpful if you can do this whilst checking yourself out sideways in a mirror.
- The objective here is to let your pelvic floor move gently up and down with your diaphragm as you breathe in and out. A deep long inhale in a plank position will feel hard to sustain, so aim to shorten your inhale a bit and make the exhale a little longer as you engage and lift those deep core muscles.
If you wish to enhance your pelvic floor muscles, increase your mindfulness and even intensify orgasms, consider incorporating Kegel Balls into your exercise regimen. It's essential to ensure that you don't suffer from overactive pelvic floor muscles, which might manifest as discomfort during intercourse, difficulty inserting tampons, pain in your pelvis, vagina, testicles, or penis during extended periods of sitting, or challenges in bowel movements. If you're free from these issues, Kegel Balls can be a valuable addition to intensify your pelvic floor workouts and boost your training.
When using kegel balls, be sure to use them correctly to maximize their benefits. Avoid placing them too high inside, as they should challenge your pelvic floor muscles rather than just resting on them. Opt for positions that engage the muscles against gravity, like standing or being on your hands and knees. If you experience pelvic or hip pain, it's wise to consult a healthcare professional for a pelvic floor assessment before using weighted vaginal devices. So, remember to exercise safely and enjoy the journey to a healthier pelvic floor!
Interested in gaining a deeper understanding of pleasure and enhancing your intimacy and connection with your partner? Join us in our pleasure-focused workshops to empower yourself with valuable knowledge and insights.
Physio Down Under is Singapore’s first and only pelvic health physiotherapy clinic. With 6 experienced pelvic health physiotherapists, women, men and children are all able to get their pelvic health concerns addressed in a safe, calm and caring environment. Follow their Instagram or Facebook to get their latest news and updates!