The pelvic floor, like any muscle in the body needs to be worked otherwise it can lose tone.
Like any muscle in the body if you overwork it, it will become fatigued, so it is best to give breaks when cuing the pelvic floor and not cue it throughout the entire session. Also, as with our preferred work in Pilates we should work the eccentric muscle phase in order to have optimal muscle function. We want elastic and strong pelvic floor muscles – we don’t just want tight muscles but ones that can lengthen out too!
During pregnancy the pelvic floor muscles weaken due to:
- The increasing weight of the pregnancy on the pelvic floor
• The presence of the hormone relaxin which causes the pelvic floor muscles to relax in preparation for giving birth
One of my favorite ways to work the pelvic floor is by incorporating Kegels into another exercise. For example, doing footwork on the Reformer and incorporating the pelvic elevator exercise. My favorite exercises to do are:
- Pelvic Elevator • Figure of Eight • Increasing Hold
These exercises give enough variation for working the muscles eccentrically, isometrically, and concentrically.
One of the best pelvic floor cues I have heard is imagine a flower closing its’ petals for the concentric muscle phase, the for the eccentric phase, imagine the flower slowly opening its’ petals. It is important to be able to slowly relax the pelvic floor muscles. The slow relaxation works the eccentric muscle phase and creates more colleges within the muscle fibers creating a stronger and stretchier muscle structure. If a client is unable to slowly relax the pelvic floor muscles, then this indicates there is weakness through the pelvic floor.
I like working in a slight lateral rotation as this works the walls of the pelvis – the Obturator Interns and the Piriformis.
It is important to use the breath when working pelvic floor. During exercise the effort should always be with the exhale. Imagine the diaphragm and the pelvic floor working in concert. The breath affects the muscles of the pelvic floor and abdomen creating a balance of intra-abdominal pressure. Breath holding when exercises can put a downward pressure on pelvic floor so this should be avoided!
When working the pelvic floor we mainly focus on the Levator Ani, whose main function is to support the internal viscera and to resist intra-pelvic pressure – such as a cough or sneeze – the Levator Ani resists evacuation of urine or feces.
Modified Knee Stretches: to focus on the eccentric muscle phase
In a four point kneeling position, there is more space in the pelvic outlet, so it is easy to feel the relaxation through the pelvic floor muscles. I like to reverse the traditional breath pattern (of the knee stretches) of exhaling to draw the carriage in, to an inhale to allow an image of the sitz-bones widening – really relaxing the pelvic floor. It is essential to be able to relax the pelvic floor when giving birth, allowing an easier exit for the baby!
Here is a little workout that focuses on incorporating pelvic floor: CLICK HERE.