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Sharp Health News

How to strengthen your pelvic floor

March 10, 2022

Woman sitting on chair

The pelvic floor is often overlooked when people think about doing exercises to strengthen their core. However, pelvic floor muscles can commonly weaken as we age, contributing to bowel and bladder problems.

The pelvic floor is a group of muscles that are a part of the core, along with the diaphragm, deep abdominals and spinal muscles. The pelvic floor looks like a hammock — extending from the pubic bone back to the tailbone, and from side to side along the bottom of the pelvis. You can find your pelvic floor muscles by squeezing as if you were trying to stop a stream of urine.

“A strong pelvic floor helps enhance core stability, which is important for balance,” says Elissa Salona, PT, a pelvic floor physical therapy specialist at the Sewall Healthy Living Center at Sharp Coronado Hospital. “It also helps maintain healthy bowel and bladder habits, and helps prevent some causes of pelvic, abdominal and low back pain.”

Doing pelvic floor exercises
Pelvic floor exercises can strengthen the pelvic floor muscles that support the bladder, bowel and uterus. The exercises also play an important role in sexual function and help move lymphatic fluid and blood into circulation.

When doing pelvic floor exercises, it’s important to focus on posture. Starting in a seated position, place your feet flat on the ground with knees and hips bent at right angles, and equal pressure on both sitting bones. From there:

  • Elongate your spine all the way through the top of your head and broaden through your collarbone.
  • Slowly begin to take deeper breaths, breathing in through your nose and out through your nose. You will feel the expansion and contraction of your rib cage.
  • As you inhale, try squeezing as if you are holding in urine.
  • Relax after you exhale.
  • Repeat this 10 times, holding your pelvic floor contraction for a full inhale and exhale each time.

Consistency and correctness lead to early benefits
The more you exercise your pelvic muscles, the quicker they become more efficient at contracting. It is helpful to do these exercises throughout the day in smaller increments. You should aim to do at least 50 repetitions correctly and avoid rushing through each repetition to get them done quickly.

Skeletal muscles typically take about six weeks of consistent exercise to make actual strength gains. However, benefits can often be seen sooner because the muscles become more coordinated and efficient at contracting.

“Consider starting a pelvic floor exercise program under the guidance of a specially trained pelvic floor therapist,” Salona says. “Because the exercises are so subtle, it is easy to incorrectly recruit other muscles that reduce the benefit intended by the workout.”

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