Pilates for Pelvic Floor Strength
Pilates for Pelvic Floor Strength
Pilates is often a go to form of exercise when it comes to strengthening the pelvic floor. However, if you are suffering from pelvic floor dysfunction, it is important to make sure you go to a teacher who specialises in this area.
Firstly, they will screen you fully and possibly refer you on to a Pelvic Health Physio. This is really crucial if you are experiencing any symptoms in your pelvic floor. Secondly, they will not just focus on the strength of the pelvic floor. They will also understand that the function of the pelvic floor is key so they will work on releasing it as much as strengthening it (if not more). Finally, they will have a level of understanding of how to improve your pelvic floor health that isn’t covered in most Pilates training. In most Pilates trainings, the level of detail taught around pelvic floor dysfunction is simply not enough for you to know that your pelvic floor is benefitting from your Pilates classes.
All movement (including the movement of the breath) creates a level of Intra-Abdominal Pressure (IAP). When we move dynamically or add a lot of load to our body, it becomes harder to control the IAP. This is why people often talk about postnatal people avoiding sit ups. When you do a sit up it creates a reasonable high level of IAP and most postnatal people would not be able to control this.
It is also key to understand that actually a lot of “non-postnatal”people also can’t control the IAP created by a sit up. And remember our saying “once postnatal, always postnatal” means that even if your baby is ten years old your core may still be recovering. When you can’t control the IAP, it causes your abdominals to push outwards and your pelvic floor to bear down. If you are doing abdominal exercises and your abdominal muscles are ‘doming’ you are potentially aggravating pelvic floor dysfunction. This is true however old your “baby” is.
How can Pilates help?
Pilates is a wonderful method for the whole body. However, the majority of the classical work involves a lot of ‘sit up’ type actions, as well as using the legs to create a heavy load for the abdominals. When doing Pilates for pelvic floor health, there are some key points to be aware of.
- Breathing matters. How your breath moves through your torso is absolutely crucial when it comes to your core function. If your breathing patterns are dysfunctional and you are belly breathing or chest breathing, you may struggle to make significant changes to pelvic floor function.
Wrap a dressing gown cord around your ribcage for feedback. Try to breathe into the whole of your ribcage. Think of a 360 degree breath and notice the areas that you find more difficult to connect with.
- You need to release as well as strengthen. You cannot effectively strengthen a muscle that is locked and tight. Make sure you have some movement in your pelvic floor before you try to strengthen it.
On all 4s. Inhale to internally rotate one thigh bone. Exhale to bring it back to centre. Repeat 10 times on each leg.
- You shouldn’t need to consciously contract your pelvic floor the whole time. A conscious contraction (one that you think about) can be a really useful tool in rebuilding strength in the pelvic floor. But we want to teach our pelvic floor to support us unconsciously too. We can use the breath to do this. We want our pelvic floor to be reflexive and reactive. It should respond to the movement we are doing and work hard when it needs to but relax when it doesn’t need to.
Squat – Standing with your feet in parallel slightly wider than hip distance apart, inhale to bend your knees and squat down, exhale to push up again. On the inhale your sit bones will widen and gently stretch your pelvic floor. On the exhale they will draw together and your pelvic floor will contract.
Centred Mums Pilates classes for Pelvic Floor Health
Our Pilates classes for pelvic floor health are always here for you to gain more understanding and help you to retrain your pelvic floor. You may be interested in Postnatal Pilates, Centred Pilates or Your Core Matters online programme.
Pilates for Pelvic Floor
Is your Pelvic Floor functioning properly?
Pilates is often touted as the best way to strengthen your pelvic floor but that isn’t necessarily true. The best way to get stronger in your pelvic floor is to make sure it is functioning properly, which means a few things:
* You need length as well as strength – your pelvic floor muscles can’t contract effectively if they are over tight
* You need your pelvic floor to work in conjunction with your diaphragm. They work in synergy and if one isn’t moving properly then the chances are the other one isn’t either.
* You need your pelvic floor to be reflexive – it isn’t just about strength. It needs to react to the movement you are making – i.e. it needs to be relaxed when you are relaxed. Conversely, it needs to switch on and offer support when you need it. This can happen both consciously and unconsciously.
Working within the realms of your body
When you are exercising it is important that you are working within the realms of your own body. If you create too much intra-abdominal pressure (or IAP – the pressure created within our core when we move) for your core to control, this can cause problems. So while Pilates CAN be brilliant for the pelvic floor, it can also be unhelpful as lifting both legs off of the floor and then lifting your head creates lots of intra-abdominal pressure and that pressure has to go somewhere. It may go out and make your abdominals dome or it may go down and cause you to bear down into the pelvic floor.
Why Pilates is effective for your Pelvic Floor
One reason Pilates is so great for the pelvic floor is that it strengthens so many other muscles – the pelvic floor doesn’t stand on its own in the way we are often led to believe. By strengthening your gluts, your legs, your abdominals and improving your posture, you are making a difference to your pelvic floor health.
Checklist when considering doing Pilates for your Pelvic Floor:
* If you are experiencing symptoms you need to go and get specialist advice on this – any leaking, feelings of dragging/heaviness are not to be put up with
* When you are exercising, check your abdominals. If they are pushing outwards you are not controlling the IAP and you need to modify the exercise accordingly.
* Make sure you are co-ordinating the breath with the movement – exhale on the effort because when you exhale your pelvic floor naturally lifts and offers support
* Make sure you are working on releasing your pelvic floor as well as strengthening it. We are looking for a well-functioning pelvic floor, not just a strong one!
4 Must-Do Pilates Exercises for Pelvic Floor Issues
Here are my favourite Pilates exercises for pelvic floor health:
On all 4s with a neutral spine, keep your pelvis neutral as your shift your weight forwards and backwards, making sure you don’t allow your tailbone to tuck under. This is a great way to release the pelvic floor, especially if you have spent much of the day sitting down
Lying in neutral spine with your knees bent up and your feet in parallel. Exhale to relax and ten connect to the pelvic floor and tuck your pelvis under feeling your sit bones draw together. When you have found the tucked pelvis press into your feet to lift your pelvis off of the floor and think of peeling your spine up one vertebrae at a time. Make sure that you don’t lift your ribcage at the top. Inhale at the top then exhale to soften your ribcage and slowly peel the spine back down making sure your pelvis stays tucked until you release back into neutral. Repeat about 8 times.
Double knee openings
Lying in neutral with your feet together. Inhale to open both legs about half way to the floor. Exhale to allow your abdominals to drop then draw your sit bones and hip bones together, connect to your centre and pull the legs back together again. Think of the legs being heavy and using your pelvic floor and abdominals to pull them back to the middle. Repeat 8 times.
Lying on your side with your knees bent up and your feet roughly in line with your sit bones. Try and think of your pelvis being level so you are reaching your top hip away from you and getting a sense of lift in your underneath wait. Inhale to spiral your top leg outwards to open the knee. Exhale to close the leg (You could put a ball or cushion between your legs here and gently squeeze with your inner thighs for more pelvic floor connection). Think of the opening action coming from your hip joint so you are focusing on mobilising while keeping your pelvis stable. Repeat about 10 times on each side