How to Strengthen your Pelvic Floor
Have you ever found yourself peeing a little when you sneeze, laugh or cough? How about when you lift heavy weights? Do you ever find yourself straining on the toilet? Or have you given birth and suffered afterward from urinary incontinence or prolapse? All of these are common, but pelvic floor training can help by improving incontinence, and prolapse and making everything from sex to exercise feel better. Ready to find out more?
What is the pelvic floor?
The pelvic floor is a broad term, that covers muscles and connective tissue at the bottom of your pelvis. This group of muscles are attached to your pubic bone at the front of your pelvis, and your tail bone at the back.
It’s sometimes thought that the pelvic floor is something that only women have to think about, but this isn’t the case. Everyone has a pelvic floor. For everyone, the pelvic floor muscles support the urethra, bladder, intestines and rectum, while in female bodies they also support the uterus, cervix and vagina.
A strong pelvic floor can help to prevent issues like urinary and faecal incontinence, as well as prolapse of the bladder, uterus and bowel. But it can also improve our sex lives, increasing arousal and orgasm. On top of this it can also help to support our core and hips - particularly important for those of us who are active.
What can contribute to a weak pelvic floor?
As mentioned previously, it’s sometimes thought that pelvic floor exercises are something that only women need to think about - and that’s because many of us do experience pelvic floor dysfunction during pregnancy and after childbirth.
However, it’s not just those who’ve given birth that can be affected by pelvic floor dysfunction. It can also be caused by a variety of other factors, such as:
- Heavy lifting
- Repetitive jumping
- Prolonged sitting
- Sexual abuse
- Habitually restricting bowel movements
- Health conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), endometriosis and interstitial cystitis
The symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction are varied, and they can differ in males and females. But some of the key symptoms to look out for include:
- Urinary leakage
- Urinary incontinence
- Constipation or difficulty with bowel movements
- Difficulty in fully emptying the bladder
- Frequently needing to pee
- Painful urination
- A feeling of pelvic pressure
- Lower back pain
- Pelvic or genital pain
- Pain when having sex
Some people may require more intensive physio or even surgery, but for most, it’s easy to strengthen the pelvic floor with a few simple exercises.
Benefits of pelvic floor exercises
It’s best to think of the pelvic floor as a muscle like any other. Your other muscles work best when they’re strong - and the pelvic floor muscles are no different. When you strengthen the pelvic floor, your bladder, bowels and uterus will be better supported.
That means your bladder and bowel function may be improved, reducing symptoms like urinary leakage, lower back pain and incontinence. If you experience any pain during sex, pelvic floor training can help. Even if you don’t have pain during sex, a strong pelvic floor can lead to more pleasurable sex with heightened sensations, as your muscles contract when you orgasm. So, a stronger pelvic floor can lead to better orgasms.
In men, a stronger pelvic floor can reduce the symptoms of erectile dysfunction, which some males may experience as part of pelvic floor dysfunction.
How to find your pelvic floor muscles
The easiest way to find your pelvic floor muscles is when you’re on the toilet. Try to stop the flow of urine mid-pee - if you successfully manage to stop it, you’ve found your pelvic floor! It’s important to only do this for a second or two, and not to do it repeatedly, as it can cause bladder issues if you do it too often.
You could also do this with an imaginary pee - try to imagine you’re stopping the flow without actually being on the toilet. You can insert a finger inside your vagina to feel your muscles squeezing and ensuring you’re working the right ones.
Pelvic floor exercises
Now you’ve identified where your pelvic floor is, it’s time to strengthen it. You may also have heard them referred to as Kegel exercises, as they were developed in the 1940s by Dr Arnold H. Kegel, as a non-surgical way for men and women who suffered from urinary incontinence. Kegels and pelvic floor exercises are the same thing - so whatever you want to call them, here’s how to do pelvic floor exercises, step by step.
Pelvic floor exercises for women
Step 1: Find a comfortable seat
Step 2: Squeeze your pelvic floor muscles and try to draw them up inside you (it should feel as though you’re lifting them up)
Step 3: Hold each squeeze for a couple of seconds, or count to 8
Step 4: Release and relax - you should have a feeling of ‘letting go’
Repeat these exercises 10 to 15 times around 3 times a day for best results.
You can also buy pelvic floor trainers that you can use instead (or as well) as doing these simple exercises. It's recommended that you consult a medical professional before you start using any of these devices, such as an OB-GYN, urogynecologist, urologist or pelvic floor physiotherapist. They will be able to assess if you have any issues such as pelvic floor relaxation or tightness, and will be able to advise you about what option is best for you.
Pelvic floor exercises when pregnant
If you’re pregnant, it’s a good idea to strengthen your pelvic floor. That’s because your muscles will naturally loosen as your hormones change, which may lead to leaking when you laugh, sneeze, cough or exercise.
If you’re planning to get pregnant, you might want to start doing exercises in advance, to get into a good routine. Strengthening your pelvic floor muscles will not only help you during your pregnancy, but it can also support you to have an easier labour, and faster recovery after birth. Check out more tips in our post, on things to know before planning a pregnancy.
It’s safe to exercise your pelvic floor while you’re pregnant, and you can use the method mentioned above. You might also want to try slower squeezes, which will support your growing baby and the organs in your pelvis. You can also try this method method below which is suitable for all women, not just expectant mothers!
Step 1: Slowly squeeze your pelvic floor, lifting your muscles up and in
Step 2: Keep lifting up through your pelvis, into your tummy
Step 3: Hold for 4 seconds, then release slowly - If it’s too hard to hold for 4 seconds initially, start off by holding it for less time and building up to a 4-second hold
Repeat regularly and gradually increase the amount of time you hold the squeeze.
Pelvic floor exercises after birth
Your pelvic floor muscles can weaken during pregnancy, due to the weight of your baby pressing down on them. If you have a vaginal delivery, then your muscles can weaken or stretch even further. It’s safe to start doing pelvic floor exercises the day or two after you give birth.
You don’t need to do exercises in a different way post-partum, but it’s a good idea to train your muscles in different positions, sitting, standing, and lying down. This applies to everyone - not just new mothers.
Male pelvic floor exercises
You don’t need to have a vagina to train your pelvic floor! Here are some pelvic floor exercises for men:
Step 1: Draw your muscles in - it can be helpful to imagine that you’re lifting the base of your scrotum up while shortening your penis
Step 2: You should feel a lifting sensation as you draw your muscles up inside you
Step 3: Hold for a count of 3
Step 4: Let go and relax - you should feel like you’re ‘letting go’
Repeat these exercises 10 to 15 times around 3 times a day for best results.
For both men and women, it’s important that you don’t hold your breath while squeezing your muscles - make sure to keep breathing. Try not to tighten your buttocks and stomach while squeezing, and keep your thighs relaxed.
How long does it take to strengthen pelvic floor?
You should notice a difference after a few weeks or months of regular pelvic floor training, but it’s important to keep doing them even after noticing a difference. You can gradually start to build up how many you do per day, starting with just a few then working your way up to 3 sets of 15 per day.
No one can tell when you’re working on your pelvic floor, unlike exercises you might do to strengthen other muscles. That means you can do them anywhere and everywhere! Why not try them when standing in line in the grocery store, sitting at your desk, or watching TV?
Get to know your body better
From periods to reproductive health, we’re dedicated to spreading knowledge here at Natural Cycles. Sign up for the Natural Cycles app to get tailored health insights into your unique cycle and get to know your body better.
Did you enjoy reading this article?