For the first couple of years of my Pilates journey I assumed that the best way to a healthy pelvic floor was to squeeze and hold as often as possible.
When I was walking, driving, riding my bike, standing at the supermarket check out and practicing my Pilates I was diligently lifting my new found Pilates muscles and holding the contraction thinking that my pelvic floor strength was the answer to everything.
After all, I was going to pIlates classes and my instructor kept cueing me to ‘lift up pelvic floor’ in every exercise we did. Surely she knew what she was talking about?!?
I took this ‘expert’ information into my first couple of years of teaching and I too instructed my students to ‘squeeze’ their pelvic floor at every given exercise. I never took into account what the health of their pelvic floor was already and I thought I was doing service to all of these women who wanted to ‘strengthen their core’.
Fast forward 10 years and my teaching style has changed dramatically. I now truly understand pelvic floor function and I know that my instruction can improve or damage the pelvic floor health of my students.
Just like any muscle in our body, the pelvic floor is not designed to be contracted all the time. Think of your bicep (upper arm). If you want to get stronger in your bicep do you walk around all day long with it switched on? NO! This would fatigue the muscle and cause strain and stress. To strengthen any muscle we want to work it dynamically, with other muscles in my body in a way that creates functional tone that is strong and has endurance. We want our muscles to have depth of tone, elasticity and the ability to relax. All of this is important for function.
Also, when I want i.e. my arm muscles to work, I don’t talk to them. I don’t say ‘okay bicep, lets switch on’. Instead, I move in a way to make the bicep work. I pick something up and bend my elbow, while keeping my shoulders in good alignment. And, wallah – my bicep contracts just like that. I would only have to ‘talk’ tp my bicep if it did not function properly.
The same is true with my pelvic floor. It will switch on when required and relax when appropriate. A muscle needs to be in a normal resting state in order for the muscle to generate appropriate and needed counter force during sport or aerobics. I only cue my client to actively connect with their pelvic floor if they are clinically lax, have had abdominal surgery or recently given birth.
The function of pelvic floor is:
support internal organs
assist with pelvic lumbar stability
There is a difference between switching on or squeezing and feeling or being aware. You may be aware of your pelvic floor then and if you are being challenged you may feel a connect deeper or longer creating endurance tone, but you certainly shouldn’t have to walk around all day long ‘sucking up’ your pelvic floor. This will not strengthen it and may in fact create a hyper tonic or over toned pelvic floor. So, what does this mean?
A hypertonic pelvic floor is associated with:
- frequency or urgency to urinate
- pelvic pain
- poor endurance tone
- pelvic instability
- painful intercourse
- upper body weakness
- acidic bladder environment resulting in frequent UTI’s
Whats the solution?
Pilates exercises, when performed correctly and with mindful intention on movement will strengthen your pelvic floor. No ‘sucking up’ required.
– Focus on pelvic, lumbar stability and perfecting each movement ie when you lift your legs to table top your pelvis and lower back should maintain a neutral position – thats your deep core’s job including pelvic floor.
– Pilates exercises when performed properly look beautiful. If your movement is uncontrolled, too fast or sloppy, you are not allowing your body to connect with the correct muscles.
– Slow down, breathe and reduce the load.
– If you are using a machine, it should be moving at a smooth, even pace. The tension should stay the same when you are moving in both directions ie, the ropes are never lax.
– Be aware of your pelvic floor tone during movement and feel how it increases and decreases depending on what you are doing but realise that you do not need to ‘squeeze or suck it up’ for it to work effectively.
- Pelvic floor tone can not be seen by your instructor so if your abdominals are sucking in that your tummy is moving you are doing it wrong.
- Practice relaxing your pelvic floor. You want to work on normalizing the muscle tone first through lengthening or relaxation exercise for the pelvic floor.
- Inhale to prepare – exhale draw up pelvic floor over 5 seconds – inhale – exhale relax pelvic floor over 5 seconds – inhale – exhale relax pelvic floor even more (without baring down) over 5 seconds – repeat x5
– Group classes assume correct pelvic floor tone and function so if you are weak in your pelvic floor (over toned or low tone) then you need some one on one attention to rectify the issue.
– If you have any of the above signs, book in with a pelvic floor specialist and get an internal assessment.