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  • Writer's pictureMary Brooking

Your pelvic floor: look after it!

Updated: Apr 26, 2023

What is the Pelvic Floor? Your pelvic floor (PF) is a group of muscles and ligaments which sit across the bottom of your pelvis like a hammock. They support the pelvic organs, including the bladder, uterus, and rectum. Their role is to keep you dry ie stop you from leaking urine, wind and faeces when you’re running, jumping and playing, laughing, coughing or sneezing and allow you to fully empty your bladder and bowels when you go to the toilet. They also stabilise the spine and pelvis during movement and are important for overall core stability and posture.


What's the problem?

Weakness or dysfunction in these muscles can lead to a range of issues, including incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse, and lower back pain. Both men & women have pelvic floors. Females are more susceptible to pelvic floor issues than men with pregnancy& childbirth causing weakening in women and diabetes, an overactive bladder or prostrate surgery being major causes of weakness developing in men. Obesity and the straining of chronic constipation are issues for both genders. Signs that your pelvic floor may not be performing so well

These include leaking urine or not being able to hold on before you get to the toilet. Don’t ignore these! Leaking is a sign that your body is not effectively managing what you’re asking it to do. We can’t replace our pelvic floor, so we need it to look after it as it does such a lot for us. Pelvic Floor and running Running can put stress on the pelvic floor muscles, particularly during high-intensity efforts or running on uneven surfaces which can cause the pelvic floor muscles to weaken meaning urinary incontinence is a common issue among female runners (including me!)

A strong pelvic floor can help to increase the power and efficiency of your running stride. When the pelvic floor muscles are strong, they can help to transfer the force generated by your legs to your upper body, allowing you to run faster and with less effort. A strong pelvic floor can also improve your running posture and alignment, which can reduce the risk of injury and improve your overall running form. 5 ways to improve your pelvic floor strength Kegels

Kegels are a simple and effective exercise that can be done anywhere, anytime. Clench the pelvic floor muscles as if you were trying to stop the flow of urine or faeces. For best results you should include long, held squeezes as well as short, quick squeezes. Aim to perform 10 long squeezes, holding each contraction for 10 seconds, followed by 10 short, strong squeezes. like any muscle your pelvic floor might not be string enough to complete a full 20 reps. Do what you can today and work up to doing more as you go along. You can and should do pelvic floor work everyday. Hip bridges Bridges are a great exercise for strengthening the glutes and pelvic floor muscles. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Lift your hips off the ground, squeezing your glutes and pelvic floor muscles as you do so. Hold for a few seconds, then lower back down and repeat for 10-15 reps. Squats & lunges

Everyday exercise like lunging and squats can be great ways to add in pelvic floor strengthening. Think about contracting the pelvic floor before you go down into the lunge or squat, re-engaging at the bottom, and then contracting again as you drive up to standing.

Diaphragmatic breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing encourages the functional relationship between the diaphragm and pelvic floor. It’s also an excellent way to reduce stress. Begin by lying on the floor face up on a yoga or exercise mat. Do a few seconds of progressive relaxation. Focus on releasing the tension in your body. Once relaxed, put one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest. Inhale through your nose to expand your stomach/lower ribs area — your chest should stay relatively still. Then, breathe in for 2–3 seconds and exhale slowly through your nose. Repeat several times while keeping one hand on the chest and one on the stomach.

Try this also in a seated position or in child’s pose, the latter is particularly effective at co-ordinating diaphragm, abdominals and pelvic floor to help bladder control and pressure management.


Pilates

Pilates exercises improve core and pelvic floor strength especially when combined with breath work.


Running form tips

Engaging your core by pulling your belly button towards your spine and maintaining a tall posture not only helps running economy and therefore speed but means your pelvic floor is able to also engage (but don’t actively try to engage it: Kegels are great - but not while you are running!) helping to further stabilise your core and prevent leaks. How do menopause and ageing affect the pelvic floor?

Declining oestrogen levels through perimenopause mean that its anabolic or muscle building effect is reduced. Muscle mass declines during this time, affecting the whole body including the pelvic floor; reducing its strength, elasticity and therefore often its integrity. You need to make up for that loss through muscle training.

Age related muscle loss affects both men and women, and also therefore their pelvic floors. Strength training combats ageing related loss of muscle mass and retains power. If you have never done pelvic floor exercises as a younger person this is one change its essential to make and include in your daily routine as you age.



References:

Next level: Your guide to kicking ass, feeling great & crushing goals through menopause and beyond by Stacey T. Sims with Selene Yeager

Pelvic Floor in a Nutshell: Well HQ

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