Pelvic Floor, the Core and More……
The pelvic floor muscles are an essential part of the group of ‘core’ muscles that help to provide us with control and stability during our functional Pilates exercises. In addition, they are the very muscles that help to unload the spine, regulate abdominal pressure and maintain continence, or in other words, our ability to control when we go to the toilet.
Do you know how to recruit your pelvic floor muscles?
Firstly, it helps to understand where the pelvic floor muscles sit within our body. Consider them as a group of muscles shaped like a trampoline at the base of our bony pelvis – hence the term ‘floor’. The group of muscles have openings for our anal and bladder outlet (urethra ) and in women, the vagina. The muscles encircle these passages and it is at these areas and within the pelvis that one should feel the muscles recruiting when doing pelvic floor muscle exercises.
You can be sitting, standing or lying down to these exercises. The best position is the one where you feel a distinct activation and relaxation of the muscle action. If sitting, ensure that you are not slouched and that you feel that you are resting through your sitting bones. Relax your abdomen.
Start by gently squeezing around the anus as if you are trying hold in wind. When you do this, you may also feel a gentle tension build up just in front of this area. Recruit and maintain the tension here and imagine you are trying to lift up towards your naval from this area.
Become familiar with the action of the exercise by gently squeezing and lifting for a second then rest for 3 seconds before repeating. Ensure you perform the exercise whilst breathing normally. Once you can do this try to hold the squeeze and lift for 2-3 seconds, resting in between repetitions for 3-5 seconds. Repeat 8-10 times.
The pelvic floor muscles also have to react quickly to some activities we perform during the day, such as lifting, laughing , coughing, sneezing and pushing. It does so to prevent downward pressure and movement on the pelvic organs but also to reduce loading on the spine and soft connective tissue in our pelvis. Therefore, we have to add a fast activation and functional component to the exercise.
Perform the squeeze and lift quickly and strongly for 1 second then release for 1 second. Repeat 10-15 times or until your muscles tire or technique becomes affected.
Functional activation means squeezing, lifting and holding this contraction before and while performing an activity that would typically load the pelvic floor such as squatting, abdominal crunch, lifting, pushing or pulling. Make it a habit to do with your day to day task.
Throughout the exercise it is important that you;
- feel the activation AND relaxation part of the exercise
- Continue to breath normally throughout
- Do not use your upper abdominals or buttocks to do the action (no one should notice that you are doing anything )
You can progress your exercises by holding for longer, increasing the power in your contractions, and challenging it with higher load activities.
So, next time you are finding a particular exercise movement difficult, try recruiting first from your pelvic floor muscles with the deeper abdominals.
You might find you get more from your core !
**be mindful not to over work the back of the pelvic floor as this can lead to posterior pelvic pain and problems related with too much tone.
For core control in classes think low level activation only, maybe the cue ‘slow the flow’ may help.
*Please note that if you experience pelvic pain, these exercises may aggravate your symptoms so please seek advice from a trained pelvic floor physiotherapist prior to commencing.
Written by Susan Duchateau – Pro-align Teacher – B.Applied Science (Physiotherapy), Clinical Pilates Instructor
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