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.
Our Blog posts are a written by our Instructors at Fleur Wellbeing Studio, to share in knowledge and inspire our community.