You’ve probably heard about Kegels and kegel exercises about a million times. Women are supposed to strengthen kegel muscles (the muscles that contract the vagina and stop the flow of urine) for a variety of reasons – preventing urinary incontinence and increasing sexual pleasure being the two most important.
While this is great information, it is also a bit shortsighted. Kegels are, indeed, important pelvic muscles, but they’re only one part of the pelvic “whole.” In truth, more emphasis should be placed on strengthening the pelvic floor, including the Kegels, for a comprehensive way to prevent pelvic issues that can arise later on in life.
To clarify: your “pelvic floor” consists of a series of muscles, ligaments and connective tissue that act together like a hammock – holding pelvic organs in place. When these tissues are injured and/or weakened, pelvic organs begin to sag or collapse. This is referred to as pelvic organ prolapse. It can be minor, or it can be very severe. In the minor- to moderate- cases, women experience incontinence, pain or discomfort
Strengthening your pelvic floor yields multiple benefits
The good news is that strengthening your pelvic floor has multiple benefits that go beyond incontinence prevention or more pleasurable sexual intercourse. Most of the exercises that strengthen the pelvis also work to strengthen the abdominals and lower back, which improves core strength in general.
Additionally, women with stronger pelvic floors are less susceptible to a myriad of issues that can crop up later in life – often around menopause or just thereafter – such as vaginal prolapse, pelvic organ prolapse or, yes, incontinence. These issues are largely the result of weakening pelvic muscles that hold everything in place, and that help you to control the various sphincters that work to keep urine and fecal matter in place until you’re ready to evacuate.
When and if these muscles become weak, due to age, having babies, and/or hormonal changes during and after menopause, they can shift in ways that affect your daily life. Fortunately, the same exercises that benefit your pelvic floor can be easily integrated into your current exercise schedule. In many places, supplementing five minutes of one exercise here or there with an exercise that strengthens pelvic muscles will be all that’s needed.
Ideally, women would begin focusing on pelvic floor health long before they ever get pregnant or need them because a stronger pelvic floor now will encourage stronger pelvic floor muscles in the future.
5 Simple exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor
For the purposes of this article, we’re going to skip Kegels because they’re the most widely known of the pelvic floor exercises. However, we do want to highlight that Kegels are only effective if they’re done correctly. Otherwise, you’re wasting your time. Also, over-exercising Kegels can result in muscles that are too short and too tight, causing other problems. Follow the Mayo Clinic’s How To Guide…, for simple and instructions about how to do effective Kegels.
The Bridge, engages the pelvic floor as well as your abdominals and back muscles. In yoga, this pose is held for 30-seconds to a minute. For pelvic floor strengthening, we recommend holding it for 10 full seconds and then releasing, repeating the process 10 times. Added benefit is toned quads and glutes.
The Plank Pose is another fantastic core strengthening exercise that engages pelvic muscles. Again, holding the Plank pose for ten seconds is ideal for pelvic floor purposes, and you can repeat 5 to 10 times. Added benefit is toned arms and legs!
We like Wall Squats because they’re easy to do anywhere, including at work in the cubicle or in the restroom on a bathroom break. For pelvic tone, hold each squat for 10 seconds and work up to 10 reps. Or, even better, you can build up the time you hold the squats as per the instructions in the linked exercise instructions. Added benefit is toned thighs.
The Dead Bug Crunch
The Dead Bug Crunch doesn’t have the prettiest title but it sure will make your abs and pelvic muscles prettier, and it improves overall posture to boot. It’s also popular with those who have lower back trouble (isn’t that just about everyone?). This crunch alternates movement between sides. Once you’ve raised an extended each arm, you’ve done a set. Do at least 10 sets every day.
The Garland Pose
The Garland Pose is good for the pelvic floor but it’s also good for those with tight hips. If you’ve ever been to Asian or Asian island countries, or Latin America, you may have seen people waiting in line or doing their washing, talking or cooking in the Garland Pose. These countries are also known for having fewer incidences of pelvic organ prolapse. You can hold for 10 minutes, release and repeat for 10 reps or simply hold for a solid minute, actively engaging pelvic muscles and breathing deep.
Finally, we bring you Cow Pose, which is good for the lower spine as well as the pelvis. You can pair it with Cat Pose for a successful series. It can be repeated (or Cat & Cow can be alternated) 10 to 20 times. It’s a good way to start and end any workout.
These five poses are simple and anyone can do them, regardless of fitness level (Plank is the hardest but we linked to a site that shows beginner techniques if you aren’t able to complete a full plank just yet). In many cases, exercises like these will be enough to eliminate or relieve symptoms of pelvic prolapse, and can certainly be used to prevent it. Your body and your pelvic floor will thank you.