Recently, a friend of mine mentioned that she didn’t like running that much. It wasn’t because she wasn’t in shape, or she wasn’t fast, or she didn’t have the time…it was because she felt like she had to pee every time she took a step and that was holding her back from doing what she once loved to do years ago.
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Ladies, if you had to pick ONE exercise to do every single day, it should be training and toning your pelvic floor.
I used to think that the pelvic floor, or “doing your Kegels” had more to do with enhancing your sexual pleasure than really anything else. We’ve all seen Sex and the City and heard the talk (mainly from Samantha) about the importance of doing Kegels and why. It’s true that having a strong pelvic floor can definitely help in this department but that’s only one reason. The other (in my view, even more important) reasons why having a strong pelvic floor is so important isn’t really discussed as much, or at least as openly, as it should. Yet it affects everyone (men and women, of all ages), not just post partum or post menopause women. Especially if you are active, here are some reasons why strengthening your pelvic floor NOW is so helpful:
●The pelvic floor is part of your general core. When you think “abs” and “core”–this also includes your pelvic floor muscles. In fact, your Deep Core Stability Muscles include the pelvic floor. Having strong pelvic floor muscles help support your overall core stability and strength. When you have a strong core, it helps with your overall stability, posture, and form, all of which make you a better runner and athlete. If you want to be a faster and stronger runner, you should be doing your pelvic floor exercises.
●The pelvic floor supports your lower back (lumbar spine area) and your hips. If your pelvic floor is weak, it further increases your risk of injury to this area (or other areas that are supported by the pelvis, lower back, and general core…like glutes, hamstrings, groin). Doing pelvic floor strengthening can also help with any pain management you may have in your have lower back pain or pain in your hips.
●A strong pelvic floor will help with incontinence issues. Just because you feel like you may need to urgently pee when you are exercising at a higher intensity doesn’t mean you’re exempt from training your pelvic floor. Or that one time you sneezed and you felt like you needed to pee (or maybe you even leaked a bit of urine)…or even worse–you sneezed during exercise, that’s probably when you really noticed an issue. Developing a stronger pelvic floor can help with any incontinence issues, no matter how minor they may seem.
●A weak pelvic floor can make constipation worse. The pelvic floor muscles are really a hammock of support for your bladder, uterus, vagina, and rectum. So if your pelvic floor muscles are weak, these areas won’t function as well as they should. When you train your pelvic floor, you are more able to have a healthy elimination.
●A strong pelvic floor helps with childbirth and postpartum recovery. If you are thinking about having a child, whether you are a first time mom or not, having better control of your pelvic floor will help with delivery (it helps move the baby down the birth canal, and during the “pushing” phase of birth). And doing pelvic floor exercises immediately after giving birth can be a great way to help regain strength in this area (again, it’s part of your core), and also promotes healing from any tearing sustained during childbirth. Your pelvic floor muscles get stretched out in just a matter of hours during childbirth vs. the 40 weeks that it takes your abdominal muscles to stretch out, so it’s extremely important to begin a regular strengthening routine for your pelvic floor. Once you are “cleared” for other exercise, having a well-established deep core routine and stronger pelvic floor muscles will be so beneficial to a mother’s mental and physical wellbeing. While there is a lot of discussion in our culture about “getting our bodies back” and “getting rid of our mommy’s pooch,” working towards a strong pelvic floor should be the primary go-to exercise in the postpartum exercise routine.
●Your pelvic floor muscles will get weaker with age and non-activity. Just like any other muscle, if you don’t focus on strengthening or using it properly on a regular basis, it becomes weaker over time. And hormones won’t help, which is why postmenopausal women suffer more from pelvic floor dysfunction.
So, how do you begin? There are lots of variations, but the most basic one is that of a Kegel. You can do this sitting or standing, anywhere and everywhere. Begin by tightening your pelvic floor muscles, starting from the back to the front (anal sphincter to vaginal sphincter), and hold for a few seconds. Then release, allowing your muscles to soften and then gradually relax for a few seconds. Remember to breath throughout this process (have your breath start with your diaphragm, then chest), as you would when you are doing any other strength training exercise. You can repeat this sequence 10 times, and do 3 reps. You can gradually work up to tightening your hold for more seconds at a time, increasing the intensity of your effort, and the frequency of these exercise. Like any strengthening routine, it takes time to see results. But doing them on a regular basis, especially combined with diaphragmatic breathing, will eventually give you a stronger inner core.
For those that think they have more of a severe issue, the good news is there is additional help out there. You can talk to your OB GYN (who should be checking your pelvic floor strength as often as they see you, but many of them do not), or you can also go to a Physical Therapist who specializes in the pelvic floor. If you also practice yoga or Pilates, you can also talk to your instructor about additional exercises to do to help with pelvic floor awareness and strengthening.
In my own practice, I have found that incorporating them into my daily activities like putting my makeup on, eating breakfast, riding the subway, or washing dishes help me to be as regular about doing them as I am about brushing my teeth. Aside from the stated benefits above, training my pelvic floor has helped me become more aware of my entire body, especially my core, and not just the “outer unit” muscles. As an athlete, it’s extremely important to be attune to not only the muscles that you think you may use in a specific exercise, but to be aware that your body is a system of interconnectivity. If one area is (or becomes) weak, it’s going to eventually affect another area that is more dominant. The pelvic floor is unfortunately a very common weak area for most everyone, and yet if affects us in so many ways when we’re exercising or going about our daily lives. The benefits of doing these exercises on a regular basis last a lifetime, so start today.