Pelvic Floor: What is it? What do I need to know?

When it comes to fitness and building muscle, most of us are concerned with the superficial muscles that we can see, such as the glutes, biceps and quads. This isn't an issue as it's important to keep all of the muscles strong and working, however, how often do you think of the internal muscles? And even more so, how many of you knew that there were muscles around your bladder, womb and and bowel? 

It's okay if you didn't know this, it's also okay if you have heard about the pelvic floor muscles but you don't know much about them. It's something that most of us don't consider, however, if you're female or male, knowing a little bit about this region can be incredibly important. It may be a little embarrassing to talk about these muscles, but why? 

What is the pelvic floor? 

First things first, it's important to note that both men and women have pelvic floor muscles. For men, these are muscles that support the bladder and bowel, and in women, they support the bladder, bowel and uterus. 

The pelvic floor muscles look like a trampoline and stretch from the pubic bone to the coccyx, supporting the organs that lay above it. When the pelvic floor muscles contract, the organs around it lift and the muscle tightens. This stops you from peeing and releasing faeces. So as you can imagine, they are pretty useful muscles... 

Having a weak pelvic floor 

There are several factors that can cause weak pelvic floor muscles, one of them being pregnancy and childbirth. Other things that can cause a weak pelvic floor are: 
  • Heavy lifting. 
  • Age 
  • Straining on the toilet 
  • Obesity 
  • Chronic coughing 
As I mentioned earlier, pelvic floor muscles keep your organs supported, therefore, having weak pelvic floor muscles can lead to incontinence and also the inability to control flatulence and faeces (trumping and pooping). Along with this, pelvic floor muscles are important for sexual function in both men and women, and also support the baby during pregnancy. 

But it doesn't stop there, if you didn't already think they do enough, the pelvic floor muscles also work with the back muscles and abdominals to support the spine. Pretty damn amazing right? 

What can I do to strengthen my pelvic floor muscles? 

But how can you strengthen internal muscles? You won't be strapping weights to the area and doing curls (urgh that thought just made me squeeze my own muscles). 

The first thing I would recommend is going to a Pilates class, and speaking to the teacher regarding pelvic floor exercises. This is a big part of Pilates and many teachers will have a good background of knowledge in this sector. Or, if you're having serious problems, consult a doctor. 

One of the main techniques used to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles is a squeezing method: 
  • Begin by relaxing the stomach and thigh muscles and sit either on a seat, or in a tabletop position
  • Then squeeze the back passage and try to imagine you're stopping yourself from passing wind 
  • Squeeze the muscles in the vagina and up to the pelvis 
  • Finally squeeze the muscles in the front massage as if you are trying to stop yourself from peeing
When doing this, try holding for only a few seconds to begin with, gradually increasing the time as you get better. When performing the exercise, you are working the internal muscles, so try to relax the glutes and thighs as you do so, and there should be no squeezing past the belly button. 

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