For some, strengthening the pelvic floor can dramatically improve quality of life. Often linked to incontinence from age, surgery, or childbirth, a weakened pelvic floor can actually be improved without invasive procedures or expensive visits to the doctor. In fact, a few simple exercises can often help strengthen the pelvic floor – all from the comfort of home!
What is the Pelvic Floor? And Why is it Weak?
The pelvic floor is a small group of muscle fibers that supports the uterus, bladder, small intestine, and rectum. As you can imagine, it’s important to keep the pelvic floor strong in order to remain in control for bathroom duties. In other words, the pelvic floor allows you to ‘hold it’ when you feel the urge to go.
There are many reasons why this distinct muscle group weakens over time. Age can be a major factor; like other muscle groups in the body, the pelvic floor can naturally lose its elasticity and strength as the years go by. But other events can trigger a problem with the pelvic floor as well – most notably, childbirth. In addition, men that have undergone prostate surgery may have a weakened pelvic floor.
Other conditions may also put strain on pelvic floor muscles, causing them to wear out faster over time. For example, chronic coughing or straining during constipation – both of which engage those specific muscles – can cause the pelvic floor to weaken. Obesity can also put additional strain on the pelvic floor.
Most Common Reasons to Strengthen the Pelvic Floor
A weakened pelvic floor can lead to urinary and fecal incontinence – which can vary from a slight accident triggered by a laugh or sneeze, to a severe and oftentimes embarrassing loss of bowels that can happen without warning. No matter where you may be on the spectrum, a weakened pelvic floor can certainly compromise quality of life, so it’s something worth addressing.
But addressing incontinence isn’t the only benefit that comes from strengthening your pelvic floor. Studies show that strengthening the pelvic floor muscles can also increase sensitivity during sex, leading to stronger orgasms. For men, a stronger pelvic floor may help reduce the symptoms of erectile dysfunction as well. So, a stronger pelvic floor may contribute to better sexual health overall.
Kegel Exercises to Try at Home
The good news is that many people notice improvement without the need for invasive procedures. Popularly referred to as Kegel exercises, completing reps of intentional muscle engagement can help strengthen those muscles. Here’s how:
- Empty your bladder. Do this first before attempting Kegel exercises.
- Find the pelvic floor muscles. Imagine trying to stop the flow of urine when you’re using the restroom – those are the muscles! It’s a slight but distinct movement ‘down there’ that can help you identify the feeling of flexing the pelvic floor.
- Take a comfortable seat. No need to be on the toilet for these exercises, as you’re not actually going to release any urine – only flexing the muscles to simulate stopping the flow.
- Complete a rep of 10 pelvic floor flexes. Activate the pelvic floor muscles and hold each flex for a few seconds. Do not squeeze any other muscle groups, like your buttocks or abs. And don’t hold your breath! Try and activate the pelvic floor only.
It’ recommended to do a rep of 10 flexes once a day before adding a few reps each week to strengthen the pelvic floor in a healthy manner. Most people notice results within just a month or two.
While kegels are the most well known and the most directly beneficial, there are a few other exercises you can add to your routine to build up strength in your pelvic floor:
Bridges- Most people think of bridges as a glute exercise, but they can be a workout for your pelvic floor as well! To do them, lie on your back with your knees bents and feet close to your butt. Lift your butt in the air as high as possible, trying to create a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Hold for a few seconds and then return to your starting position.
Heel Slides- To do these, lie on your back with your legs straight out, like a savasana pose. Keeping your core and pelvic floor engaged, slide one foot up towards your butt by bending the knee. Return to the start and then alternate legs.
To build a stronger pelvic floor and reap all of the associated benefits, start incorporating these exercises into your routine several days a week. Your body will thank you!