Retraining the Pelvic Floor: From Mat to Movement
There is no denying, I harp on quite a bit about the importance of your pelvic floor. For that I make no apology! That’s because it’s a pretty big deal for us ladies regardless of whether we have had children or not. The pelvic floor refers to the muscles, connective tissues (ligaments and fascia) and nerves that fill the space at the bottom of the bone structure of our pelvis. Think of it like a dome shaped sheet or sling separating the pelvic cavity above and the perineal region below. Its main functions are to:
- SUPPORT the pelvic organs above, helping to reduce the risk of prolapse
- help CONTROL the function of the bladder and bowel
- provide STABILITY in the spine and hips and to help maintain posture
- improve SEXUAL sensation and orgasmic potential
Pregnancy and labour often place a huge amount of pressure on these muscles. As a result they can often become stretched, weakened and damaged. This affects their ability to function effectively. We are all told post-natally not to forget to do our pelvic floor (kegel) exercises. But what does this really mean and how can we train our pelvic floor to support us in everyday life?
The starting point
Post pregnancy, the usual starting point for reconnecting with our deep core and pelvic floor is lying down on a mat. This encourages the rest of the body to switch off so we can actually feel those muscles doing what they are meant to be doing. Mat work is a really great way to start introducing some gentle movements.
That said, in the usual daily life of a mum, how much time do we really spend lying flat on our backs? Typically, we spend lots of our time squatting, bending and lunging to pick things up. We are constantly lifting and moving our babies and so on. This is why it is so important to be able to take what we have learnt on the mat into more functional movements. We need our pelvic floor to be able to support us in all of the movements we perform both daily as well as inside the gym. Quite often we become really good at activating our core and pelvic floor on the mat. But when we come to stand up we are unable to control our pelvic floor and it all goes to pot.
A really great way to progress from the mat is to add layers of tension elsewhere in the body. Using a band or Pilates ball or ring is a great way of doing this. When squatting or lunging, try the following:
- Take a band or ball in your hands and stretch your arms out straight in front of you.
- Inhale as you move downwards, letting the band or ball relax in your hands.
- Exhale as you drive out of the bottom position whilst either pulling the band apart or squeezing the ball tightly between your hands.
The reason we are trying to create tension in the arms and upper body is because the arms are actually connected to the deep core unit and pelvic floor via a system of fascia. Fascia is like a network of webbing which holds everything in place. It can also help to transfer messages throughout the body. Creating tension in the upper body and arms therefore can help to engage and activate the pelvic floor muscles more effectively. Think of it like adding stabilisers to a toddler’s bike. The more we can practice with stabilisers the easier it will become to transition to riding without.
Much like the pelvic floor, we basically need to remind these muscles how to do their job. Practice, practice and practice with the added layers of tension and then gradually take them away. This can be a really handy tool to use when retraining natural recruitment patterns.
If you would like any more advice on this topic or information regarding my post natal exercise programmes, please get in touch.