Disclaimer: This information isn’t a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You shouldn’t rely on this article for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.
Ladies, you’ve probably heard a lot about the importance of kegel exercises (Gwyneth Paltrow’s jade egg anyone?) and the truth is that working those muscles can be super beneficial for women of all ages. As we age, our pelvic floor naturally weakens, and this is compounded by pregnancy and childbirth. A strong pelvic floor can help counteract issues like incontinence (involuntary peeing, like when you have a powerful sneeze). Plus, it may be the key to kicking things up a notch in bed by allowing more powerful and frequent orgasms!
Read on to learn how kegel exercises and pelvic floor therapy work and how to make sure you’re working out the right muscles.
What Is Pelvic Floor Therapy?
Pelvic floor therapy involves contracting and relaxing the muscles of the pelvic floor in order to build strength, just like any other type of strength training. The trick here is targeting the right places with your exercises, as your pelvic floor isn’t the easiest body part to identify. It’s essentially a hammock or bowl-shaped set of muscles at the bottom of the pelvis that supports and surrounds the uterus, anus, and bladder. With such important contents, you can see why it’s important to keep your pelvic floor at top-notch performance!
How to Find Your Pelvic Floor Muscles
Just clenching up your butt muscles is not a good way to work out your pelvic floor, though that’s close to the basic idea. There are a couple of methods you can use to identify exactly which muscles you’ll want to focus on.
The Stop and Go Test
This is pretty much what it sounds like. The next time you’re peeing, try to stop the flow for a couple of seconds and pay attention to which muscles you use to do so. These are the muscles you’re going to want to target with the pelvic floor exercises. It should be noted that this practice isn’t an exercise in itself — it’s just a good way to get a feel for the right muscles. Doing this too often can actually lead to incomplete emptying of the bladder and a potential urinary tract infection!
The Tampon Test
You can just imagine you are doing this one, or use a tampon to actually try it out. Pretend that you’re inserting a tampon, but didn’t put the applicator far enough up. When you walk out of the bathroom, you can feel that the tampon is slightly out of place. Now, imagine that you are contracting your pelvic muscles to try to get it into just the right spot. The muscles you’re squeezing are part of the pelvic floor.
Now that you know what to feel for, here are a few of our favorite strengthening exercises.
6 Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy Exercises to Strengthen and Tighten
Though these exercises are made for beginners, it’s important to note that you shouldn’t go all out right away. Physiotherapist Renata Nunes tells her clients that “muscle training should have a frequency and intensity, from the easiest to the hardest, starting in a gravitational position and progressing to an anti-gravitational position.” This is because you can actually strain your pelvic floor muscles by pushing them too hard and too fast.
Physical therapist Cathy Stedman adds that “these muscles do need rest breaks, especially from firing at higher intensities. When training/exercising your pelvic floor muscles, make sure the exercises are pain-free and that there is just as much of a focus on relaxing these muscles after contracting them.”
Now it’s on to the fun part! Below are our top six pelvic floor exercises you can start today.
1. Shallow Squats
- Stand and place your feet shoulder-width apart
- Slowly bend your knees and push your hips back like you’re going to sit in a chair
- Go as low as you comfortably can, then straighten up into a normal standing position
2. Back Bridge
- Lie down on your back with your arms at your sides and palms facing down
- Bend your knees so your feet are flat on the floor, about hip-width apart
- Squeeze your butt and press your feet into the floor to lift your pelvis toward the ceiling, and hold for five seconds
3. Fast Kegels
- Sit in a comfortable position and concentrate on finding your kegel muscles (it’s helpful to first do the stop and go or tampon test outlined above)
- Contract and release the muscles as quickly as possible without holding the contraction
- Rest for one minute in between sets
Target Muscles: Kegels
Repetitions: Two sets of 10 reps/day (you can do this one at your desk at work!)
4. Slow Kegels
- Sit in a comfortable position and concentrate on finding your kegel muscles
- Contract your kegels and hold for five seconds
- Release the muscles and rest for three seconds before repeating
Target Muscles: Kegels
Repetitions: Two reps of 10 sets/day (another good one for the office!)
- Start on all fours with your knees aligned with your hips and your hands aligned with your shoulders
- Keeping your head down and your back neutral, extend your left arm and your right leg out
- Slowly bring your arm and leg back to your starting position, then extend opposite arm and leg
Repetitions: 20x/day (completing each side counts as one rep)
6. Table Top Split
- Lie flat on your back with your knees bent, so that your thighs and shins make a right angle
- While activating your thighs and abs, slowly let your knees fall to each side into a comfortable stretch
- Slowly bring your knees back together into your starting pose
Holistic Pelvic Floor Therapy Practices
In addition to the exercises above, there are other ways you can get in touch with your pelvic floor muscles and stay tuned to the needs of your body. Here are a few of our favorites, along with tips from the pros.
1. Deep Breathing
That’s right, you can strengthen your pelvic floor just by focusing on your breath! This is because our diaphragm, the parachute-shaped muscle that controls our breath, actually pushes down on the pelvic floor when properly inflated.
Yoga specialist Kelly Bryant explains that “breath is one of our most important and under-used tools when it comes to treating the pelvic floor. First, you want to make sure that you can take big, deep diaphragmatic breaths, meaning that when you inhale, your lower ribs, belly and sides all expand.” Taking deep “belly breaths” causes the pelvic floor to expand and contract, and this constant stretching keeps it strong and healthy.
2. Happy Baby
If you want to take your deep breathing to the next level, you can incorporate it into one of the best (read: easiest) yoga poses out there. To get into happy baby position, lie on your back and make sure your head and neck are comfortable. Bend your knees out so you can hang onto your feet, and just enjoy the gentle stretch.
Chiropractor Rachel Sparks recommends that “when you feel proficient in breathing throughout the abdomen and low into the pelvis, add a brace to the end of your inhalation. Achieve this by imagining that someone is pressing their hand onto your abdomen and you are resisting that pressure.”
3. Butterfly Stretch
If you want to switch things up from the happy baby pose, you can also start to incorporate your breath into a butterfly pose. This pose is amazing for stretching and relaxing the pelvic floor. Keeping the above breathing techniques in mind, sit on the floor and bring the bottoms of your feet together in front of you. Slowly push your knees to the floor to reach a comfortable stretch. You can do this one laying down as well.
4. Pelvic Floor Diet
Yes, even your diet can have an effect on the strength of your pelvic floor. The good news is that most of these foods are not great for us in general, so you’ll be doing the rest of your body a favor by avoiding them.
Foods that are good for your pelvic floor include:
- Herbal tea
- Low-acid fruits like melons and bananas
- Foods containing Omega-3 fatty acids
Foods that can weaken your pelvic floor include:
- Caffeinated beverages
- Carbonated beverages
- Artificial sweeteners
To keep all of these pelvic floor exercises and practices in mind, you can download our full guide below.
Committing to these easy pelvic floor exercises every day can help keep you healthy for years to come, and can also give you the confidence you need in the bedroom! Though of course you should talk to your doctor if you’re dealing with severe incontinence issues, these practices should give you a head start on your pelvic floor health. Visit Rory to learn more about our tailored health treatments made just for you.