14th November 2018
So you haven’t had a child? Honey, regardless – you need to be doing your pelvic floor exercises.
Those teeny tiny muscles take a hell of a beating throughout life, and keeping them strong can benefit you more than you’d ever imagine. It’s not just about being able to control your pee; strong kegel muscles can help with everything from childbirth to orgasms.
Megan Vickers, a physiotherapist who specialises in pelvic floor therapy and co-director of Four Sides London told Cosmopolitan UK:
“Every movement we make and breath we take involves the pelvic floor. So it’s no wonder that these muscles can become tense, painful, weak or dysfunctional.”
We all know that we should be aware of our pelvic floor muscles… but what if we’re – *whisper it* – not actually sure where, or what, they are? Megan says that’s more common than you’d expect, but she has an easy way of helping women understand these complex muscles.
“The pelvic floor muscles stretch like a hammock from your pubic bone at the front to your tailbone behind, and the whole breadth of your pelvis from hip to hip,” she explained. “We often describe these muscles as a hammock as they support all of your pelvic organs above, much like a hammock supporting your weight. For them to do a good job they need to be strong and secure – the fabric of the hammock needs to be tough enough for the purpose and the trees it is attached to need to be stable.“
Keen cardio lovers should be paying particular attention to their strength. “With an increasing rise in high impact and high load sports, such as crossfit, pelvic floor dysfunction is affecting more women at younger ages,” Megan said. “Whilst incontinence is common – affecting one in 3 women – there are so many other things that can go wrong when the pelvic floor is not well trained.”
That’s difficulty in childbirth, uncomfortable or painful sex and struggles with exercise, to name a few.
“Women in their 20s contact me… haven’t had children, and yet they’re having to keep spare knickers in their top drawer.”
Louise Field set up AdoreYour Pelvic Floor to tackle the issue, helping women stay fit in a way that won’t leave them worrying about wetting themselves.
“It isn’t okay to pee when you jump or exercise,” Louise told Cosmopolitan UK. “If that’s happening, then you’re going to make yourself worse and worse. I get loads of women contact me, women in their twenties who are working in London, haven’t had children, and yet they’re having to keep spare knickers and tights in their top drawer.
“It’s a huge issue for women of all ages, from those in their twenties to pregnancy and post-natal. It covers the whole spectrum of women.”
Pelvic floor exercises
And yes, doing your pelvic floor exercises regularly really can make a huge difference.
“Learning to contract and engage these muscles correctly before pregnancy or ageing is the best preventative measure from common conditions such as stress incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse,” Megan said.
“Being able to control these muscles at will improves our sensation, our body awareness and our core strength.”
That also means that a strong pelvic floor = better orgasms. “An orgasm is a series of muscle contractions,” Megan explained. “If your muscles are well trained you can generate bigger contractions, meaning bigger, stronger orgasms!
“The exercise also puts you in touch with your body and in control – this is really sexy and powerful… being able to control your body in this way, contract every muscle and relax them at will, improving your sensation.”
Okay, so you know you should be paying attention to your pelvic floor muscles… but what if you haven’t a clue where to find them? Your best bet is to get familiar. Literally. “Use a mirror and watch yourself perform exercises – you should see the perineum lift upward, towards your head,” Megan explained. “Or you can press your hands firmly on your low tummy, 2 fingers each side, roughly around your knicker line. As you do the exercises you will feel a muscle press gently up against you.”
The NHS recommends testing your pelvic floor strength by stopping your pee mid-flow; strong muscles should be able to do this no problem. Just try it the once, though, as it can be harmful to the bladder.
Once you’ve found your muscles, you need to know how to work them. Megan teaches her patients two exercises, named the ‘elevator doors’ and ‘handkerchief’:
“Take each pelvic outlet in turn: back passage, vagina, urethra. You think just about this passage, for example the back: pinch the muscles at the opening of the back passage as though you are closing the doors/stopping yourself from breaking wind. Keep the doors closed then pull the elevator up the back passage, engaging muscle layer by muscle layer until the top of your contraction. Hold for up to 10 seconds, then lower the elevator down bit by bit, opening the doors to completely relax the muscles.”
“Imagine the 4 corners of a handkerchief – pubic bone, tail bone, hip bone, hip bone – Gather these 4 points together, ruching up the handkerchief tightly, once fully ruched up, pull the handkerchief up through your body as high as you can. Hold for 10 seconds, then lower down, spreading the handkerchief out flat to completely relax the PF.
“The current NICE (National Institute for Health and Care) guidelines are 10 second holds and 10 faster contractions.”
Nowadays there’s a whole bunch of products and apps that promise stronger pelvic floor muscles – here’s what we recommend:
This clever exercise tracker and trainer uses a system of force and motion sensors to guide you through five-minute workouts. The wearable tech is easily inserted and connects to an app which gives immediate feedback on technique and strength. You’ll be given more difficult exercises as you begin to improve.
CEO Tania Boler created Elvie in 2015, after seeing how little women in the UK and US are taught about their pelvic floor. Since then, it’s become a cult product, and Boler says “Elvie helps women feel good about themselves, and that’s one small step in the right direction”.
Designed by pelvic health physiotherapists working for the NHS, this app helps with pelvic floor exercises and features a bladder diary which can be shared with professionals to give feedback.
These weighted toners come in different sizes to help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. Designed to improve strength in 12 weeks, they’re easy to use and the ideal introduction to pelvic floor exercises.
Daily reminders from TENA will give you the nudge you need to do your exercises. Perfect for beginners, this is an easy addition to your daily life.
The best thing about pelvic floor exercises? They can be done literally anywhere, and no-one will ever know. Start now, and future you will be forever grateful.
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