After over 13 years of teaching Pilates to women and men of all ages, I have made it my passion to empower and encourage my clients to live healthier, more confident, pain free and physically & mentally fit lives. Whether they be elite athletes, new mums or mums to be, clients recovering from surgery or injury, my job is to allow them to exercise in a way that is beneficial, safe and long lasting.
One of the areas that I find myself growing particularly interested in, is Pre and Post Natal exercise and recovery and this includes Pelvic Floor health and function. I have often been one of the first points of contact for clients who are affected by compromised bladder control and also pelvic floor prolapse, and so I would really love to boost awareness about about pelvic floor fitness - a topic that is too often not talked about or overlooked. Even if you have never had a baby, you should be aware of the importance of a strong pelvic floor.
For this post I would like to focus primarily on women's pelvic floor health and fitness issues, simply because these issues are much more common in women and the risk factors are also greater.
SO WHO IS AT RISK?
HOW DO I ACTIVATE MY PELVIC FLOOR?
Here's how I best like to cue pelvic floor activation as it's simple and easy to understand.
"Imagine you are trying to stop weeing and farting at the same time! Tighten your pelvic floor muscles gently, drawing up and in." Hold this activation for as long as you can (ideally up to 10 seconds). It is then important to let go and relax afterwards. Be sure not to hold your breath, tense the buttocks, thighs or upper abdominals during activation - all of these should remain relaxed. Incorrect pelvic floor activation or "bearing down" can actually be counterproductive and worsen symptoms as it increases strain on the pelvic floor muscles and intra abdominal pressure.
It is important to practise your pelvic floor exercises regularly and establish a routine. You may wish to practice whilst in the shower, brushing your teeth or even cooking! And even stick a little reminder note or use your phone calendar to set reminders to do it regularly.
HOW DOES MY PELVIC FLOOR AFFECT THE WAY I EXERCISE?
The pelvic floor makes up part of your "core" and works together with the Transversus Abdominus and deep back muscles to support and stabilise the spine and maintain intra-abdominal pressure. When you exercise, this intra-abdominal pressure changes and ideally when load is placed upon your spine, the pelvic floor muscles should lift, deep abdominals draw in and breathing should remain relaxed.
Activation of the TA's or transversus abdominus (abdominal bracing) is especially important in post natal recovery, and it is also important to be first lifting the pelvic floor, then activating TA's.
Always ensure that the Pelvic floor is activating correctly as research has shown that when the pelvic floor is being pushed down or placed under too much strain during exercise, it is not able to withstand the force being placed upon it and may lead to worsening symptoms of prolapse or incontinence.
If you are experiencing pelvic floor issues, it is important that appropriate care and recovery exercises are implemented into your exercise program and that you seek help from a continence professional or women's & men's pelvic health physiotherapist.
HOW CAN I PROTECT MY PELVIc FLOOR DURING EXERCISE?
Some helpful tips...
AFTER HAVING A BABY - RETURNING TO EXERCISE
Returning to exercise too soon after pregnancy can lead to reduced pelvic floor strength, long term bladder and bowel problems and pelvic organ prolapse, so it is extremely important to exercise caution and not resume until you are recovered.
Remember that no matter how fit you are, or were before it takes a minimum of 8 weeks before your abdominal muscles are strong enough to support your back and pelvis. You may feel fine on the outside but there is simply no way that your abdominal muscles can go from being overstretched during pregnancy to shortened and strong enough to provide support for your body without time and appropriate postnatal abdominal exercises.
Please be sure to check with your doctor, midwife or physiotherapist before returning to exercise to ensure that you are cleared to return to low impact exercise under the guidance of a fitness professional that has experience in post natal exercise.
Post Natal Exercise guidelines:
0-3 weeks post natal
Walking, post natal TA activation, pelvic floor exercises
3-12 weeks post natal
(after your 6 week postnatal check with your doctor)
Low impact post natal class such as Pilates or Yoga, walking, pelvic floor exercises, light weights.
12-16 weeks post natal
Check in with your physiotherapist for a checkup and pelvic floor testing before returning to higher impact activities such as running.
16+ weeks post natal
Return to previous activity levels provided your pelvic floor muscles have returned to normal and you are not experiencing any pain, heaviness or urine loss during or after exercise. Consult your pelvic floor specialist if symptoms persist.
For more information on pelvic floor safe exercise and where to get help if needed, we recommend visiting the Pelvic floor first website. Please visit http://www.pelvicfloorfirst.org.au/
BENEFITS OF A STRONG AND HEALTHY PELVIC FLOOR
I hope that you have found this information helpful and that you can implement some of this into your daily life and exercise routine to live with more confidence and awareness. My wish for you is that your coffee, your intuition and your pelvic floor be strong!
HELPFUL INFO & LINKS:
Written by Ellesse Hawkins
DISCLAIMER: This blog post is intended as an information guide to Pelvic Floor safety in relation to exercise and is not intended as a treatment guide for any individual pelvic floor issues. I highly recommend those with pelvic floor dysfunction or uncertainty please seek help from a GP, continence professional, Women's & Men's Pelvic Health Physiotherapist or continence nurse.
WHICH ONE IS BETTER? WHAT SHOULD I START WITH? WHAT IS A REFORMER?
These are some of the common questions we get asked often, and the truth is everyone is different and could benefit from both. Depending on your level of Pilates experience and whether you are working with an injury or pregnancy as well what your strength goals may be. Let's first go into the main differences between Mat and Reformer Pilates and explain exactly what a Reformer is, and how it is used.
The Pilates REFORMER is a traditional piece of Pilates equipment which consists of a sliding carriage, adjustable springs, ropes with loops on the end and pulleys. It looks rather like a bed, yes it's quite medieval and scary when you first look at it, but don't worry! It's super fun, and one of the best and most versatile pieces of equipment you will ever use - PROMISE! The origins of the Pilates Reformer date way back to the original Pilates studios in New York in the 1920's and was designed by Joseph Pilates himself.
In many ways, Reformer Pilates is very similar to Mat Pilates, yet there are some factors which make the two quite different to one another. Reformer Pilates is usually a lot more intense than your usual Mat Pilates class and this is mainly because of the spring resistance being added to each exercise performed. Each Reformer has 5 springs, varying in strength and so when combined can add up to some considerable resistance. That said, there are some exercises, such as inside thigh skater, that when performed with very light spring are much more challenging. So the intensity of each exercise is greatly varied from person to person, making the Reformer an incredibly versatile workout or rehabilitation tool.
If you are an athlete or dancer and wanting to gain a competitive edge in your sport or develop sport specific strength and flexibility, then the Reformer would greatly benefit you. Reformer Pilates focuses greatly on core stabilisation, muscular endurance, peripheral joint stability, balance and co-ordination - all of which are vital to any athlete.
Pilates Reformer can also be of great benefit to anyone working through injury, as a rehabilitation tool. This is because it allows the client to exercise on a horizontal plane, therefore not load bearing vertically through the body. For example, for a client with a knee or ankle injury, they could be working lying down, focusing on stabilising and strengthening the muscles of the leg through a greater range of motion and with lighter resistance than their own body weight - speeding up their recovery through controlled movement. We have seen incredible results with some of our dance students in particular here at Fleur Wellbeing, who although they were unable to dance for weeks and sometimes months at a time, were able to keep building strength and control through Reformer Pilates; returning to dance even stronger than before their injury.
MAT PILATES exercises are very similar to those you will see on a Reformer, however they are performed on the Mat and sometimes utilising small props such as Pilates balls, small hand held weights, Pilates circles, Thera Bands and Foam Rollers to create versatility. So again, there are endless possibilities with Mat Pilates repertoire too - just when you think you've nailed hundreds, we get you to perform the exercise on a foam roller and BAM! abs are shaking all over again!
If you are completely new to both Mat and Reformer Pilates, we would recommend starting with some Mat Pilates classes first to become familiar with Pilates terminology and positions prior to taking it to the next level - the Reformer. We offer a great special for new clients - 10 Days of Group classes for $25. This is a great way to try out all the classes and see what you like!
Once you are feeling comfortable with Mat Pilates, try out some of Reformer classes on the Intro to Reformer special - 3 classes for $50.
We do advise that our Pre Natal clients please attend the dedicated Pre Natal Mat Pilates, Pre Natal Circuit and Pre Natal Reformer classes because of the strong emphasis on core work in our regular classes - please get in touch if you are Pregnant prior to attending your first class by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For clients working with injuries, we recommend getting in touch with us to discuss appropriate modifications that may need to be made as well as the possibility of private 1:1 training.
Please book in online via the MINDBODY booking system or download the MINDBODY app from the app store. Our Group Mat Pilates classes have a maximum of 15 people per class and our Reformer sessions are a maximum of 6 people per class so bookings are essential.
If you would like to see some videos and pics of our classes please check us out on social media where you can find us on Instagram @fleur_wellbeing and facebook.com/fleurwellbeing or click on the links below.
Written by Ellesse Hawkins
Reference: Studio Pilates.
Pilates is one of the best possible methods of exercise and relaxation for women during their pregnancy. Pilates and other exercise such a walking, swimming or Barre classes can also make your pregnancy more comfortable and help reduce the chance of injury before, during and after the delivery of your Bub. Another great benefit of exercising throughout your pregnancy is that it helps to relieve stress and manage fatigue.
In particular, Pilates core strengthening exercises focus on the working relationship of the abdominals, back, diaphragm and the pelvic floor muscles which is important for the expectant mum. In order to balance out postural changes that happen as the growing baby develops, strengthening key areas such as the upper back, arms, pelvic floor and glutes as well as stretching these specific areas will really be of benefit.
Here, I will go through some general guidelines which may help guide you through your pregnancy and exercise journey safely and with confidence. It is important to note that prior to commencing any physical activity during your pregnancy, that you first consult with your doctor, and the exercises should not cause any discomfort, nausea or dizziness.
If you were physically active prior to your pregnancy, you should be able to continue your activity with moderate intensity. Now is not the time to be pushing yourself or reaching personal bests, it is all about nourishing and taking care of your incredible body and doing what feels good for both you and your baby. I would also like to mention here that it is of vital importance that you also allow your body the time it needs to recover post birth. Speak to a pelvic floor specialist as well as your doctor prior to returning and don't rush back into exercise - just enjoy this precious time with your little one!
Don't push yourself, keep exercise intensity moderate.
Due to cardiac changes, the body is already in an exercised state and even at rest the body is working harder than normal to sustain itself. Try not to increase your heart rate too much by limiting the exercise difficulty and giving yourself longer breaks. Vigorous activity and exercise during pregnancy can not only place yourself at risk but also your baby by causing a diversion in uterine blood supply to the skeletal muscles, meaning less blood and oxygen to the baby.
Keep Cool and Hydrate
Avoid hot and humid conditions, wear loose and comfortable non restrictive clothing. It's a good idea to stand next to a fan or the air conditioner during class if possible as your baby is unable to regulate its own body temperature.
Remember to keep your fluids up and drink lots of fresh water, taking a drink bottle with you to class.
Avoid Prone and wide lunge / stance positions & twisting movements.
You want to be avoiding anything that is placing extra strain and stress on your pelvis, as the pelvic girdle and surrounding structures are already compromised during pregnancy. Keep lunges shallow, plies and squats smaller and make sure to always ensure correct glute activation and a neutral pelvis.
Activate Pelvic Floor
We want to ensure that the pelvic floor is properly activated during all exercises and work on increasing pelvic floor strength, especially in those earlier stages of pregnancy when it is easier to activate and maintain strength. As your pregnancy progresses, pelvic floor activation becomes harder to feel.
Stop Immediately If you are feeling unwell and be sure to properly warm up and cool down.
It is important that you don't place your body at increased risk of injury, that you warm up prior to class and cool down and stretch afterwards. This can also alleviate cramps and muscle soreness.
You know your body best, and if something doesn't feel right it probably isn't. Notify your instructor immediately if you are feeling unwell or dizzy. Sit down and take rest whenever and as often as you need to.
DURING FIRST TRIMESTER
Reduce the amount of "sit-up" type abdominal exercises. Performing too much exercise that increases the strength of your Rectus Abdominis or "six Pack muscles" may increase the risk of developing Rectus Diastasis (Abdominal Separation). Reduce your exercise intensity and maintain a moderate heart rate, keeping cool and just taking it easier than usual.
DURING SECOND TRIMESTER
Avoid abdominal work, except for Pelvic floor and side lying oblique work. Focus on keeping those deeper pelvic floor and core muscles strong and bring more attention to stability and alignment. We also want to limit inside thigh work, as the pregnancy progresses. For some women they may experience Pubic Symphysis pain (groin pain) as their joints become more lax and the pelvis begins to widen. Too much inner thigh work or one legged work may lead to increased discomfort and cause the pubic bone to separate even more. Avoid all exercises laying on the belly and on your back, your instructor will be able to modify these exercises for you. For many women, laying on their back will cause dizziness and discomfort due to the weight of the baby compressing the Vena Cava, one of the main blood vessels to the baby.
DURING THIRD TRIMESTER
Cease all abdominal work, including oblique work, and exercise intensity will be greatly reduced. Throughout the third trimester the mother's posture can be compromised as a result of the weight of the baby. It is therefore important to be strengthening the upper back muscles and glutes as well as stretching the quads and chest muscles to help alleviate any discomfort associated with a more lordotic and kyphotic posture (rounded shoulders and curved lower back.) Simply continue exercising for as long as you feel comfortable, there is no reason why you can't continue for the full duration of your pregnancy, as long as you are paying attention to your body and feeling good.
At Fleur Wellbeing, our special Pre Natal Pilates classes have been designed to focus on safety and strength and are recommended for women at any stage of their pregnancy, however we advise all our pre natal clients to also stop or adjust if something doesn't feel right and to listen to their own bodies.
The Pre Natal Pilates circuit class is a unique and fun workout incorporating the Reformers, Therabands, weights and balls into a circuit style class that will help to strengthen your pelvic floor and postural muscles, and relieve tension and stress.
The Pre Natal Mat Pilates class is a group type setting where everyone will be performing the class at the same time with the instructor and incorporate small props to add an extra challenge and help you to get the most out of each exercise.
If you wish to get in touch with us about joining some of our regular classes also, please get in touch with our friendly team by emailing email@example.com to discuss which classes would be best for you. We can't wait to join you on your pregnancy journey!
Written by Ellesse Hawkins
Our Blog posts are a written by our Instructors at Fleur Wellbeing Studio, to share in knowledge and inspire our community.