Some muscles get all the press!
If you are a regular WatchFit reader then you already know how important the glutes are and why you need to squat and deadlift. And you’ve probably read articles about strengthening the back muscles by doing rows to help counteract the hours of texting and slouching we do every day. But it’s probably safe to say that you haven’t heard about the group of muscles at the bottom of the pelvis. Those would be your pelvic floor (PF) muscles and I’m here to tell you that their fitness (or lack thereof) can greatly effect your quality of life.
A well-balanced PF supports the weight of your organs, prevents leakage during jumping and sneezing, helps transfer forces from the lower to the upper body, and stretches to accommodate a baby while it’s on its way out into the world. And if all those cool functions didn’t blow you away, a strong and supple PF will help improve your sex life.RELATED: RECOMMENDED PLANS FOR YOU
Now that I’ve got your attention, let’s take a peek at these modest muscles:
Your PF muscles attach to your “sits” bones (the bones you should be sitting on if you aren’t slouching), your pubic bone in the front, and the base of your spine in the back.
The Original Kegel
Kegels are contractions of the PF muscles and were created by American gynecologist, Dr. Arnold Kegel, in the early 1940s. He noticed that his post-partum patients had weakened PF muscles and they were able to reduce symptoms of incontinence on a PF strengthening regimen within 2-4 weeks.
An unintended, yet glorious, side effect emerged:
– these women were having easier, more frequent and stronger orgasms.
Thank you Dr. Kegel!
To do a kegel try stopping the flow of urine next time you are in the loo (just do it once so you don’t develop any urinary tract infections). That closing of the holes (both front and back) is what a PF contraction feels like.
Kegels are usually recommended for pregnant women in order to counteract the downward weight of the growing baby and so that they can recover their muscular integrity more quickly after delivery. However, they are a great exercise to add to your arsenal even if you aren’t pregnant now (or ever plan to be) so that you enjoy all of the benefits laid out earlier.
The Updated Kegel
While the original kegel focused entirely on contracting the PF muscles more recent practitioners have begun integrating the diaphragm, combining the “core with the [pelvic] floor.” In order to maximize the support of the PF you want to coordinate its contraction (and relaxation) with your breathing pattern.
To practice the updated kegel you can either lie down on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor or you can sit in a neutral spine position. It’s critical that you learn how to breathe properly in order to pattern the right muscles.
Let’s do a quick rehearsal.
Place one hand on your ribs and the other on your belly. When you inhale through your nose you want to expand 360◦ at the ribs, pushing into your hand (or bra strap). Pay special attention to opening the ribs out to the sides and to the back.
The belly will rise a little but focus on rib expansion. Also, you want to limit how much the shoulders rise to the ears. When you exhale through pursed lips blow all the air from your lungs. This will cause your belly button to move toward your spine.
Repeat 4-5 times.
Now that your rib breathing is solid you are ready to perform the updated kegel.
Step 1: Inhale through the nose and expand the ribs 360◦
Simultaneously relax the PF muscles like you are about to pee
Step 2: Begin exhale (mouth) and contract PF muscles by stopping the flow of urine
Step 3: Fully exhale, moving the belly button toward the spine, while squeezing the PF muscles up
So inhale with a relaxed PF, exhale with a contracted PF.
The updated kegel can be done on its own for sets of 8-10 reps in order to coordinate this new pattern and to strengthen the PF. However, to get the most benefit for the core and floor you will want to incorporate it into your workouts so that the PF gets tested in a variety of positions and movement patterns.
I’ve selected 6 of my favorite patterns which vary the types and directions of the loads placed on your PF, creating strong and responsive lady parts.
A key point when applying the core and floor integration to these (or any) exercises:
Inhale and relax PF during the easier phase of the movement
Exhale and contract PF just prior to and through the exertion phase
For example, on the bent-over row you will inhale and relax the PF as you lower the weight and exhale and contract the PF just prior to lifting the weight up. For the pushup, you will inhale and relax the PF on the descent, exhale and contract the PF just prior to the ascent.
This coordination will take some practice (it did for me during my post-partum recovery) so be patient with yourself.
The Top 6 Kegel Movements
This movement is great for coordinating your core and floor with your mighty glutes (which will get mightier if you do these bridges).
Rows should be a staple in your workouts and holding this trunk position against gravity is a real challenge for your stabilizing muscles.
A great way to improve upper body and core strength, pushups require you to stiffen the core while breathing and relaxing the PF muscles on the descent.
The PF muscles are at their most lengthened position (from front to back) at the bottom of the squat, making it the ideal movement to strengthen them.
Like the squat, side lunges stretch the PF muscles but in a sideways direction, making them another important addition to your kegel arsenal.
This highly-functional movement forces the core and floor to absorb the forces created from walking, developing a responsive PF that must adjust with each step.
If you just love to kegel and want more information about how to fire up your pelvic floor check out physiotherapist Julie Wiebe (www.juliewiebept.com) and biomechanist Katy Bowman (www.nutritiousmovement.com).
Connect with Expert Carolyn Appel.