When most fitness professionals think about the ‘core’, the first and usually immediate thought is transverse abdominus. What is often unknown and misunderstood, is the importance and relevance of the pelvic floor. Yes – everyone has one, even men have a pelvic floor. This muscle plays a major part of effective core control and weakness in this muscle results in incontinence (bladder and/or bowel control), which is ….
Why all the fuss about Pelvic Floor?
The statistics on the number of people affected by pelvic floor weakness is concerning. Bladder or bowel weakness (incontinence) is a very common problem, affecting one in four Australians. Women experience these problems more than men, with one in three women who have ever had a baby reporting some degree of incontinence.
What is even more alarming is the number of women who are claiming that they noticed that they started to become aware of incontinence or the issue worsened due to training with a personal trainer or participating in group training activities e.g. group fitness, boot camp etc. Consider this scenario; a woman wants to improve her fitness and lose weight and she starts training with a personal trainer. She notices that her urge to go to the toilet worsens and then finds herself unaware that she has been incontinent until after the session is over. She is embarrassed, humiliated and worried that it will get worse. Do you think that she will continue training? Most likely not. In fact this will continue to be an underlying issue regarding any form of exercise until she either seeks professional help or educates herself about pelvic floor health. The situation often is that she will believe that this is what happens because of age, pregnancy or menopause and will continue to avoid exercise and other situations that will compromise her. The sad thing is that her resolve to improve her health and fitness will dissolve with the despair of her incontinence problem.
But there is light at the end of this tunnel and that is fitness professionals becoming:
- Aware of and what leads to incontinence
- Educating themselves about the function of the pelvic floor
- Delivering appropriate exercises that cater for this issue
As a fitness professional, we modify exercises for back, knee and other injuries, pregnancy and older adult related limitations as well as a range of other potential health issues. Pelvic floor fits into the same category, but it also goes much further than this. It is a muscle like any other in the body. We train our superficial, locomotary and stabilising muscles and we also train the core. But do you traine the pelvic floor?
What is the pelvic floor?
The pelvic floor is an amazing sling of muscles that support and internal organs. It is literally the floor to the core and it closes the gap in the skeleton from the pelvic bone to the coccyx, hence the foundation support of the visceral organs. The pelvic floor is also neurologically linked to the transverse abdominals, but do not be mistaken that transverse abdominal exercises will also train the pelvic floor. In fact, it functions in the opposite way. When pelvic floor is activated first, transverse abdominals come into action, hence the term Pelvic Floor First.
What types of activities cause the most concern?
Imagine if your pelvic floor was the same as an injured ankle. What would you do? You would modify to prevent the injury from getting worse, perhaps do some exercises that would help with improving proprioception and balance once the acute stage was over and then you would focus on improving the strength in the ankle in a progressive way so that it would start with local exercises that would then involve more global movements.
The pelvic floor this is similar. A pelvic floor at risk does not mean that someone will NEVER be able to do these exercises again, it just means that until the issue is resolved, with the same commitment and time and regular checkups, that modifications needs to be made.
What can exercise professionals do to help?
The Continence Foundation of Australia’s website, pelvicfloorfirst.com.au, has a comprehensive range of information about the pelvic floor, advice on how to create pelvic floor safe exercise programs and access to free resources.
In partnership with Continence Foundation, Australian Fitness Network has created an online CEC course for exercise professionals. The two part course is ideal for Certificate III or IV qualified instructors or trainers who are interested in gaining an in-depth understanding of the importance of the pelvic floor muscles. For more information go to www.fitnessnetwork.com.au
Another great resource is the Foundation’s free National Continence Helpline. The Helpline, freecall™ 1800 33 00 66, is staffed by continence nurse advisors 8am-8pm Monday to Friday who can locate continence professionals in your area and provide free resources.