Taking care of these important core muscles takes more than a few kegel exercises
Anyone who’s been brave enough to hop onto a trampoline post-childbirth will know the importance of engaging the kegel muscles, but apart from the odd squeeze whilst we wait for the kettle to boil, who gives their pelvic floor a second thought? According to Wendy Powell, founder and CEO at Mutu System (mutusystem.co.uk), our pelvic health is crucial to our wellbeing, both physically and mentally. “A primary cause of weakness for women of all ages is childbirth,” says Wendy, “which can bring about symptoms such as urinary incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse, painful sexual experiences, back pain and diastasis recti (separation of the abdominal muscles that form a ‘six pack’).” But you don’t necessarily have to have had children for your pelvic floor to suffer – chronic coughing, ongoing constipation, certain surgeries and even highimpact exercise can all have a knock-on effect. The good news is there are ways to restore your pelvic health and it’s never too late to start. Try Wendy’s top tips to get back in control of your kegel muscles.
Gentle walking can encourage healing and help to restore any damage caused to the pelvic floor. Keep your legs and torso straight and use a full stride. It’s ideal to walk with flat shoes that don’t have a heel or overly elevated sole. As much as we love them, flip-flops also don’t do our feet any favours if we want to stay properly aligned in good posture.
To locate your pelvic floor, lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat. Breathe deeply and easily for a few breaths, then exhale as you consciously lift your pelvic floor as if trying not to pass gas, without ‘tucking your tailbone’ under. Relax your muscles as you inhale (don’t push away – just fully relax) and repeat.
Your shoulders, chest and pelvis don’t move as you contract the muscles, and don’t squeeze or clench your backside or your inner thighs.
The relax-phase of any muscle action is every bit as important as the contract-phase. A hypertonic (too tight) pelvic floor is equally as likely to be the problem as a ‘too loose’ pelvic floor. So if, when you are Kegel-ing, you’re bending your knees, tucking your backside under, or clenching your butt muscles, you’re not actually getting to the deep pelvic floor muscles at all.
To squat correctly, your shins should be vertical, with your knees over your ankles. Your weight should be channelled through your heels and the outsides of your feet. Bend your knees and push your hips back, as if you are in a chairsitting position. Once your thighs are parallel to the floor, return to an upright position. This can be done in reps of 12 to 15, up to three times a day. If you feel any bearing down or feelings of discomfort in this or any other exercise, stop and consult with a specialist physiotherapist.
It is all too common for us to tuck in our bottoms when standing, which prevents the pelvic floor from being able to stretch and contract effectively, causing it to sag. Try standing up and practising the right posture by keeping your feet shoulder-width apart, with the balls of your feet bearing the weight while ensuring you’re standing straight and tall.
Nowadays, we are more likely to lounge on squishy sofas, in cars and at desks, rather than squat or sit on the floor. If you are tightening your muscles all the time, they have nowhere left to go when needed, so let your bottom relax and curve outwards as it should do. Untuck when you sit too. If you’re sitting now, are you sitting on your tailbone or your coccyx or your sitting bones? Chances are it’s your tailbone, so try shifting your pelvis.
When you think about the way you would relieve yourself on a toilet compared to if you were toileting naturally you’ll realise we do not sit in the same way. Raise your feet so that your knees come higher than your hips. A small stool or a wooden block will do, as it’s just something to put your feet up on. When your feet are raised, and you sit upright on your sitting bones not back on your tailbone, you will not feel the urge to strain. Now your pelvic floor muscles are perfectly placed to relax, not tense.
Sit forward and upright on the edge of a seat, or kneel astride a large pillow or cushion. Close your eyes to focus and inhale, allowing your chest to expand. Keep your shoulders relaxed and be aware of fully relaxing through your bottom and pelvic floor. Then as you exhale, very gently draw up your pelvic floor. Then inhale and fully relax again, letting it all go. Don’t push away; just fully relax. Repeat five times for five deep breaths.
When we wear shoes with a heel, our bodies are pitched forward, which forces our muscles and joints to compensate. Our bottoms have to tuck themselves under and pressure is placed on our knees as the body tries to resist a forward fall. One of the most important things you can do is to stop wearing shoes with heels.
There are proven digital programmes available to help strengthen the core and heal the pelvic floor, but it’s important to follow the guidance of support programmes which have been backed by medical professionals. Always be sure to look into the professional support behind a programme before committing to the exercises, as our pelvic floor is extremely delicate and inappropriate advice could cause serious damage.
You can do these exercises sitting on the floor, kneeling, or lying on your back or side, depending on whatever feels most comfortable
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