Hey, smarty pants. Your bladder called and it wants you to do some pelvic floor exercises to help with those pesky drips and dribbles. And don’t worry, you won’t even have to hit the gym. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill pump-some-iron workout.
What’s a pelvic floor?
First, it’s time for a quick anatomy lesson. Ready to head back to the classroom for 2 minutes? Here we go.
Your pelvis is located in the lower part of your belly and it includes a number of organs including your uterus, ovaries and — the star of our show — your bladder.
Your pelvic floor is an area of muscles that stretch out like a hammock over your pelvic bone. It supports the organs in your pelvis, especially your bladder and bowel. Like any muscles, your pelvic floor can become weakened when under stress. Childbirth, surgery, heavy lifting, being overweight, constipation and lack of regular exercise are some common causes of weak pelvic floor muscles — which can then cause bladder leaks, also known as incontinence.
What are pelvic floor exercise?
Maybe you’ve thought about exercising your biceps, quads, or abs. But have you ever thought about exercising your pelvic floor? A strong pelvic floor closes off your bladder and bowel to prevent leaks. When your pelvic floor relaxes, your bladder and bowel can be emptied. So you might be able to guess what a weak pelvic floor means. Yup, your bladder and bowel can empty when you don’t want them to. Yikes.
But don’t rush out and start exercising quite yet. While certain exercises are beneficial to strengthen the pelvic floor, it is also important to know what exercises you should avoid. Sit ups, for example, can be detrimental for anyone with pelvic floor weakness. Many core exercises like sit ups can strain the pelvic floor and lead to pelvic prolapse. And pelvic prolapse can lead to more leaks — exactly what you don’t want.
Like with any exercises, it’s important to ramp up gradually and not overdo it. We know you’re fierce, but take it fiercely slow on this one.
Why do pelvic floor exercises?
Keeping your pelvic floor strong can give you greater bladder control and reduce the chance of leaks when you cough or sneeze.
Did you recently give birth? First off, congrats. We hope you’re getting some sleep. But now do you have some bladder leakage? Nearly a third of new moms do. Childbirth stresses the pelvic muscles that have already been put under nine months of stress during pregnancy so it’s a double whammy. (And yes, lots of other stresses too. We hear you, mama). Doing pelvic floor exercises during pregnancy can actually reduce your chance of leaks after childbirth.
Pelvic floor muscles don’t necessarily get stronger on their own over time. So if you’ve got leaks from pregnancy or menopause or something else, it’s time to hit the proverbial gym.
What exercises can you do to strengthen your pelvic floor?
Alright, let’s exercise these muscles already. Below are four pelvic floor exercises to help you build strength from the comfort of your own home. No gym membership required. As you do them, remember to keep breathing and try to only tighten your pelvic floor muscles and not your bum.
Kegels are a time tested method for helping with leaks. You’ve probably heard of them before — or maybe you’re even already a Kegel pro. There are a few ways you can do them but we’ll start with the simplest. If you want to take it up a notch, check out our post that is all about Kegels.
- Sit, stand or lie down with your knees slightly apart.
- Squeeze and draw in the muscles around your bum (as if you are trying to prevent yourself from passing gas) and your vagina (as if you are trying to stop peeing, mid stream) at the same time so you are lifting them up.
- You should feel the “lift” each time your pelvic floor muscles are squeezed as hard as you can.
- Hold for 5 seconds, release.
- Rest for 4 seconds.
- Repeat 10 times.
Note: Kegels aren’t for everyone. If you experience leaks due to hypertonic muscles, where your pelvic floor is too tight, Kegels can actually increase your leaks.
- Lie down on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
- Align your feet with your hips, inhale deeply, squeeze and draw in your pelvic muscles
- Lift your hips off the ground, keeping your back straight.
- Hold your hips up for up to 10 seconds (you may want to start with less time and build up to 10 seconds as you build your strength).
- Lower your hips back down and release your pelvic floor.
- Repeat 10 times.
- Stand upright with your legs together.
- Squeeze and draw in your pelvic floor muscles (as if you are trying to stop peeing, mid stream).
- Jump moving your legs wide apart while simultaneously bringing your arms above you head.
- Quickly reverse the movement returning to your starting position while also releasing your pelvic muscles.
- Repeat 20 times.
- Stand with your back flat against a wall and your feet hip-width apart.
- Inhale, squeeze and draw in your pelvic floor (as if you are trying to stop peeing, mid stream), and lower yourself down into a squat as though sitting in a chair.
- Your knees should be at a 20 degree angle with your thighs parallel to the floor.
- Hold your position for 10 seconds.
- Raise yourself back up to a standing position and release your pelvic floor.
- Rest for 10 seconds
- Repeat 10 times.
If any of these exercises seem a little tricky, try holding them for less time or do fewer repetitions.
How often should you do pelvic floor exercises?
The great thing about pelvic floor exercises is that they can be done anywhere. Kegels can squeeze (pun intended) into your busy schedule while doing other activities like brushing your teeth, waiting for your kettle to boil, or sitting in traffic on your morning commute. Multi-tasking for the win.
Other exercises like jumping jacks and wall squats can be done anywhere too but require a little more focus. You can do them at home, at a park, or during a break at work.
For the best results try to fit in one round of each exercise every day. This is 40 repetitions and should take around 10 minutes. Like any exercise, it can take time to see results. Most women see some improvement in 6-12 weeks but you won’t see the maximum benefit for 4-5 months Most good stuff doesn’t come immediately, right? And remember, consistency is key.
Too much stress on the muscles can do more harm than good, so don’t over do it. Try to find a way to get in the habit of doing them during your regular daily routine for short amounts of time, giving the muscles time to relax and recover between each ‘work out.’
Have you tried pelvic floor exercises? Tell us about your favorites in the comments. And, if you’re ready to tell your bladder who’s boss, get pads and underwear for leaky laughs and dribble dilemmas delivered straight to your door from Lily Bird.
By Kerri Rogers. Kerri is a content specialist and copywriter. Connect with her about marketing, content strategy, and copywriting on Linkedin.