Our pelvic floor is something we might not think about until we have a problem. However, a weak pelvic floor can cause problems from incontinence to painful sex.
Luckily, with the right exercises, you can help get your pelvic floor back into shape.
This article covers what the pelvic floor is, why we need to maintain it, signs of a problem with our pelvic floor, and some simple pelvic exercises to get this area back into shape.
What is the pelvic floor?
The pelvic floor refers to a group of muscles which sits at the very base of your pelvis. The main types of pelvic floor muscles include the pubococcygeus, iliococcygeus, coccygeus and puborectalis muscles, but you probably won’t need to know the names of these off by heart.1 They’re located just below your abdominal organs, including the bladder and intestines, and the uterus in women.
The function of the pelvic floor is to support these organs like a sling, keeping them in place, as well as controlling the flow of urine and faeces as they exit the body.2
7 factors which can affect our pelvic floor
1. Getting older
Over the years, the muscles of the pelvic floor naturally weaken. This happens to both men and women and is down to a range of hormonal, muscular and neurological changes associated with ageing.
During pregnancy, the entire abdominal area is put under increased pressure as the baby grows. The muscles of the pelvic floor must stretch to accommodate the growing uterus, while supporting the other abdominal organs. Also, pregnancy hormones cause muscles and ligaments to relax, which causes the pelvic floor to become slacker.4
Childbirth can have a big impact on the pelvic floor. During labour, pelvic muscles can stretch quite a lot – and as the baby passes through the birth canal, the muscles are displaced and often torn.5
Following birth, women can experience incontinence, problems going to the loo comfortably and pain during sex. These problems are usually temporary - your midwife, health visitor or doctor should guide you on this.
4. Heavy lifting
Whether your job entails you lifting heavy objects, or you’re into strength training in the gym, your pelvic floor can be affected over time by heavy lifting. This is because as you strain to lift heavy, your pelvic floor muscles must bear intra-abdominal pressure as they brace to keep your abdominal organs in place.6
Being significantly overweight increases the risk of pelvic floor disorders.5 Excess weight on your frame puts pressure on your abdominal area, risking incontinence and even pelvic organ prolapse.7
6. Prostate cancer treatment
Following some treatments for prostate cancer, some men experience temporary urinary problems such as leaking urine and passing wind without meaning to due to damage to the pelvic floor muscles.8
Yet another reason to give up. That persistent smoker’s cough can increase intra-abdominal pressure each time you cough, leading to a gradual weakening of the pelvic floor muscles over time.9
Do you need to work on your pelvic floor strength?
If you experience any of the following, you may have a weakened pelvic floor:10
- A sudden, urgent need to pass urine
- Involuntary passing of small amounts of urine when coughing, sneezing, laughing or exercising
- Pain during sex
- Passing wind accidentally
How can I strengthen my pelvic floor fast?
The good news is, it’s never too late to strengthen pelvic floor muscles and a significant improvement can be made by doing pelvic floor exercises at home.
But what are the best pelvic floor exercises? After we’ve explained exactly what they are, we’ll talk you through three of the best pelvic floor exercises that you can try at home.
What are pelvic floor exercises?
Pelvic floor exercises are designed to help strengthen the muscles around your bladder, bottom and vagina or penis. Squeezing these muscles helps to build their strength and if you do them consistently (and with the correct form) you should be able to notice results after a few months.11
3 of the best pelvic floor exercises
1. Kegel exercises
These pelvic muscle exercises are so well-known, the pelvic floor muscles are sometimes referred to as the ‘Kegel muscles’.
Kegel exercises for men and women are simple to perform. When standing, sitting or lying down, simply clench your pelvic floor muscles and hold them tightly for 5 - 10 seconds. Release for 5 seconds, then clench them again. Do this at least 10 times, 3 times per day.10
2. Pelvic floor trainer
For women, there’s a new smart Kegel trainer which can offer extra reassurance that you’re making progress with your pelvic floor strength. Whether you’re pregnant, getting back in shape after birth or concerned about those little accidents, give pelvic floor toners, such as the Intimina KegelSmart, a try.
The KegelSmart uses a simple vibration-guided programme which guides you through your daily exercises, while registering your pelvic muscle strength and monitoring improvement. With measurable results in 12 weeks, this pelvic floor exerciser lets you know when your hard work is paying off – such a great motivator!
Looking for pelvic floor-friendly core exercises? One of the best is a bridge. This exercise raises your pelvis off the ground, engaging the muscles in your buttocks and thighs as well as your pelvic floor.
Lie on your back on a carpet, rug or yoga matwith your feet flat on the floor and bring your knees up to bend at a 90-degree angle. Ensure your head, hands, feet and shoulders are in contact with the floor as you raise up your pelvis until your back is straight. Hold this pose for 5 – 10 seconds before gently lowering your pelvis back down to the floor. Perform up to 30 times per day, every day.
For these pelvic floor exercises, men and women can both expect tighter, more controlled pelvic muscles in 3 – 5 months of daily practice.10
How do you know if you are doing pelvic floor exercises correctly?
The muscles that you engage as if you were stopping the flow of urine are your pelvic floor muscles. As long as you’re feeling the clench there, and squeezing them as tight as you can, then you’re doing them right.
Women will feel the squeeze around their vagina and anus, and men around their testicles and anus. Please note – you shouldn’t routinely try to stop the flow of urine once it’s begun as this can damage your bladder.10
The final say
Working on your pelvic floor is always a good idea, but especially if it has been weakened through pregnancy, weight changes or getting older. But as we’ve explained, there are a number of different ways to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, like doing Kegels, bridges or by using a pelvic floor trainer.
For more helpful guidance on looking after your muscles, check out our guide to muscle health which has everything you need to know. Or, head to our Bone, Joint & Muscle Health hub for many more handy articles like this one.
Just remember, if you’re experiencing any pain like we’ve mentioned here, it’s super important to speak to a medical professional first as they can provide you with advice tailored exactly to you.