There is a group of muscles that are rarely talked about in your exercise classes or anywhere else for that matter, but they are hugely important for both women and men during daily life, while exercising and while at rest. These are your pelvic floor muscles.
Where are they?
These hidden muscles of the pelvic floor are located in the base of your pelvis. They stretch like a muscular trampoline from the tailbone (coccyx) to the pubic bone, from front to back, and from one sitting bone to the other sitting bone, from side to side. These muscles should be firm and thick.
What do they do?
The muscles of the pelvic floor have 4 main functions in both men and women:
1)They help support the abdominal and pelvic contents from below.
2)They work with the abdominal and back muscles to stabilize and support the spine.
3)They help control bowel and bladder function.
4) They are involved in sexual response and function.
Like other muscles in the body, if they get weak they are no longer efficient at doing their job.
What causes weakened pelvic floor muscles?
Common causes are childbirth, obesity, chronic constipation, aging, a history of back pain, heavy lifting ( body builders or heavy labor), chronic cough, previous injury to the pelvic region, as in a fall or surgery and finally- not keeping them active.
How do you know if they are weak?
•You accidentally leak urine when you exercise, laugh, cough or sneeze.
•You need to get to the toilet in a hurry, not making it there in time or
constantly needing to go to the toilet.
•You find it difficult to empty your bladder or bowel.
•You may have pain in your pelvic area or painful sex.
• In men, erectile dysfunction and dribbling after urinating.
How do I locate and recognize these muscles?
This is relatively easy. These are the muscles you use to hold back gas or stop the flow of urine. While sitting, envision the trampoline shaped muscle at the bottom of your pelvis, squeeze and lift it up, as if you are trying to make a space between the chair and your pelvic floor. Feel the contraction from front to back. Avoid tightening your buttocks and abdomen to do this. If you are lifting up in your chair you are using your glutes and not your pelvic floor.
How do you strengthen them? THESE ARE TWO EXERCISES YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
Although the pelvic floor is hidden from view, it can be consciously controlled and therefore trained, much like any other muscle in your body by doing the contraction mentioned above. Oh and by the way, no one will know you are doing them. So they can be done anywhere.
Here are a couple of exercises that if done 3 times a day, for 3 months can drastically improve if not eliminate your pelvic floor weakness.
THE CLENCH: This exercise works on the holding ability of the muscles, building a strong dam to hold back urine. Exhale as you slowly tighten and lift the pelvic floor and the hold for a count of 10 while breathing naturally. When you release you should feel the muscle relax down. At first you may notice that the muscles do not want to stay contracted for very long. This is a sign of weakness and as you practice this exercise you should be able to hold for longer periods of time.
QUICK FLICKS: This is just as it sounds. You will quickly tighten and lift the muscles and then release, 10 times. This works the muscles that quickly shut off the flow of urine to help prevent accidents.
What is the hardest part about doing the exercises?
REMEMBERING to do them. Go to your smart phone apps and find an app that will ring a reminder for you 3 times a day. SO no matter where you are or WHAT you are doing you can do the exercises. This is fun since you will find yourself doing the exercises while maybe working, cleaning, in the car, shopping, etc ! No one will know you are doing them.
Only exercise the muscles of the pelvic floor, do not tense or contract leg muscles, buttocks or belly. If you are having trouble, do the exercises lying down so there is less stress on the muscles. Bend your knees so you are comfortable and your legs are relaxed.
Keep in mind that these exercises are not just for urine flow problems but help to cover all the other problems listed. Keep in mind when exercising as in Pilates and Yoga, lifting, coughing/sneezing or even just walking, you can practice contracting your pelvic floor.
If your problems persist or are getting worse you should of course seek medical attention from someone trained in pelvic floor dysfunction. There are many treatments available from physicians and physical therapists trained specifically in this area. So there is help out there for you. Clench and flick and you can strengthen up good as new !!
Donna Gambino is a licensed physical therapist, certified Pilates instructor and fitness author. CHECK OUT the her new E-BOOK- “On a Roll @ Home Stretch and Massage” – http://my.bookbaby.com/book/on-a-roll–home
For more information visit http://www.infinityhealth.org for fitness classes and private training in your area.