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Improving Body Awareness: Understanding the pelvic floor muscles— and 3 exercises to activate this area

In our new series on improving body awareness, we’ll be looking at some hard-to-target and often neglected areas of the body. This week, Merrithew Lead Instructor Trainer Leslie Wall is talking about the pelvic floor muscles.

As Pilates instructors, our goal is to integrate the pelvic floor with other core muscles to help provide stability to the pelvis and spine. In this article, we’re talking specifically about how to connect with this area that’s hidden from view. If you have any health concerns or pelvic floor issues, talk to a specialist.

What are the pelvic floor muscles?

The pelvic floor muscles are a layer of muscles at the base of the pelvis. They play a significant role in co-contracting to aid in the support and stability of the spine and pelvis, which is important in exercise and Pilates. When talking to clients about this area, the pelvic floor muscles are often explained as being like a mini trampoline or hammock, creating a bowl shape at the base of the pelvis. These muscles connect to the pubic symphysis, coccyx and ischial tuberosities. People often refer to pelvic floor exercises as Kegel exercises.

The pelvic floor muscles have many roles and responsibilities, including:

  1. Supporting the organs, such as the bladder, bowel and uterus (in women)
  2. Reacting and being trained to support actions, such as coughing, sneezing, lifting heavy weights (downward pressure) to avoid leakage from the bladder or bowel
  3. Holding on, releasing, relaxing and stretching at the appropriate times

Why should one think about training or strengthening their pelvic floor muscles?

These muscles are challenging for individuals to understand as they’re hidden from view, and it’s equally as challenging for instructors to know if someone is connecting to them optimally.

It’s worthwhile to train and strengthen this area to prevent urinary problems and/or constipation and bowel strains; to improve support to the abdominal and spinal areas; and to prevent over-connecting and gripping which can also cause problems.

How should an instructor cue their client when working the pelvic floor?

Here are some suggestions:

  • Imagine taking a Kleenex out of a tissue box
  • Imagine that your lower torso is a building and you have an internal elevator that you want to draw up inside you
  • Imagine your pelvic floor muscles like a syringe lifting liquid up inside of you
  • Imagine drawing a marble up the rectum, a blueberry up your vagina and a flaxseed up your urethra
  • Envision your pubic bone (12 o’clock), two sits bones (3 and 9 o’clock) and coccyx (6 o’clock) as a clock. When inhaling the clock spreads and expands larger and when connecting the pelvic floor muscles, imagine the clock shrinking or getting smaller within the parameter
  • Imagine your four bony landmarks are spreading apart as you inhale and trying to draw them closer together and lift as you exhale (being mindful that the bones cannot actually move)

Pelvic floor exercises to try with your clients

Watch the video above or follow the instructions below:

  1. Seated pelvic floor exercise: Place a large Mini Stability Ball on a chair and sit on top of it. Inhale and release the pelvic floor muscles into the ball. As you exhale, try to draw the muscles closer together and lift up and away from the ball
  2. Side-lying bent leg: Side-lying with top leg bent, place a Mini Stability Ball underneath the bent leg. Inhale to release, exhale to connect to the pelvic floor muscles, pressing lightly into the Mini Stability Ball
  3. Four-point tabletop to child’s pose: Start in a four-point tabletop position with neutral pelvis and spine. Transition the weight back into a child’s pose, feeling as though the sits bones, pubic bone and coccyx are spreading apart. Transfer back to the four-point and feel the bony landmarks coming closer together

Health experts suggest you talk to your doctor before starting any new exercise program.

For more workout videos, check out Merrithew Connect.

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