When it comes to strengthening muscles, our pelvic floor often gets neglected. Squats, lunges and sit ups all get a lot of airtime, which is why our legs, butts and abs are pretty covered by numerous workouts. But our pelvic floor is an essential muscle, and looking after it can be key to our physical health (yes, even if we’re not pregnant).
It seems we’re all pretty awkward when it comes to talking about an area that, as Miranda from Sex And The City explains, “helps you stay tight down there”, but it’s a topic that could benefit from some loud, shameless conversations – because if you’re not already talking about it with your mates, you should be.
But what is your pelvic floor and why is it important? As Sian Marshall, founder and owner of U-Pilates says: “Your pelvic floor is made up of ligaments, connective tissue, and muscles that are vital in supporting your bladder and bowel. In women, the pelvic floor also supports the uterus and the vagina. A strong pelvic floor is also necessary for optimum sexual function.”
Having a weakened pelvic floor can significantly reduce your mental and physical wellbeing, and symptoms being urine leakage and incontinence. “It can can also lead to lower back pain and a weak tummy, and having a strong pelvic floor can also make sex more enjoyable and improve the ability to orgasm,” adds Sian.
Engaging the pelvic floor muscles lifts the internal organs, tightening the sphincter muscles which in turn tightens the opening of the vagina, anus and urethra. When we relax, we are able to pass through our wee, poo and gas.
That’s not all – the muscles are vital during pregnancy to support the baby while in the uterus and play a big role during the birth itself, as Tania Boler, founder of smart pelvic floor trainer Elvie, found out. “I’ve worked in women’s health my entire professional life, but I’d never heard of my pelvic floor until I was pregnant with my first child,” she says. “I was shocked that incontinence and pelvic floor issues affect such a large percentage of women in the UK.”
According to Tania, pelvic floor muscle training improves symptoms of stress urinary incontinence in up to 70% of cases and increases the chance of an improvement in prolapse stage by 17%. “Every woman who wants to feel stronger from the inside, improve and maintain their bladder control, sexual sensation, or reduce back pain can benefit from regular effective Kegel exercises. They really should be part of every woman’s daily routine.”
So what exactly is pelvic floor training and how do you do it? “The great thing about doing these exercises is that you can do them anytime and anywhere without anyone even noticing – whether that’s whilst filling the car with petrol or sitting on the train,” says Marshall.
“The most effective way to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles is to take a big breath in, and then imagine you are squeezing and lifting the muscles that surround a tampon. Then, as you breathe out, concentrate on squeezing the tampon and lifting the deep internal muscles upwards. The lower tummy muscles will automatically engage and flatten,” explains Marshall. “Aim to do 10 slow squeeze and lifts at least twice a day and you’ll feel the benefits very quickly. Always remember to release the squeeze every time you breathe in, and to squeeze and lift as you breathe out. You can do these exercises whilst sitting, standing or lying down.”
If you’re struggling to stay motivated, there are also a selection of new devices that can help you to workout properly and track your progress. “The Elvie Trainer pairs a sleek, easy-to-use device with an app that visualises your workout in real time and allows you to view your workout history and progress over time,” says Tania.
Either way, there’s no time like the present to get cracking. We’re doing our kegels right now…
This article was originally published on Glamour UK.