A weak pelvic floor is the reason why a third of Kiwi women are incontinent, especially after given birth. Marietta Mehanni’s modified resistance workouts will help whip you into shape if you have a weakness in this area
Why all the fuss about pelvic floor?
When we think about our ‘core’, the first thought that usually springs to mind is the muscles in our torso. What is often unknown or misunderstood, is the major part the pelvic floor plays in effectively controlling the core and
In supporting several important bodily functions.
First and foremost, strengthening this muscle can help prevent incontinence (both in terms of bladder and/or bowel control). This is important, given that bladder or bowel weakness is a very common problem, affecting one in four New Zealanders. Women who have had one or more children are even more at risk, with one in three baby reporting some degree of incontinence.
What is especially alarming is that many women claim they start to be aware of being incontinent, or become increasingly incontinent, when exercising – be it with a personal trainer or by participating in group training activities such as group fitness and boot camps.
The good news is, by strengthening the pelvic floor, you can significantly reduce the incidence of incontinence. Besides, a strong pelvic floor will also provide support to the deep abdominal muscles and lower back to ease lower back pain, assist with improving posture and improve sexual sensation.
What is the pelvic floor?
The pelvic floor is a sling of muscles that support and help maintain the positioning of the bladder, uterus and bowel organs. It is literally the floor to the core and it closes the gap in the skeleton from the pelvic bone to the tailbone, hence it forms the foundation support of the internal organs. The pelvic floor is also neurologically linked to a deep abdominal muscle called the transverse abdominis (TVA), and when the pelvic floor is activated first, it kicks the TVA into action. The function of the TVA is to assist with supporting and stabilising the lower back when performing everyday tasks and during exercise.
How to work and protect your pelvis
Doing resistance workouts using barbells is a great way of developing muscle strength and endurance, and is effective in maintaining bone mass. And it’s a type of workout can be easily modified to cater for people who have pelvic floor issues or are in the risk category. Here are top three modifications to make when participating in a barbell workout…
- Squats, deeps squats and lunges. Narrow your stance when performing these exercises. In most classes the instructor will also indicate to squat to 90 degrees at the knees. Avoid going down this low by bending the knees less. Also reduce the barbell weight as this load will also place added pressure on the pelvic floor.
- Don’t hold your breath. This may happen when there is a heavy weight being lifted, or just due to concentration. Try to focus on breathing out when lifting the weight and inhaling in the lowering phase.
- Over-head shoulder presses and tricep extensions. Exercises performed above the head place much more pressure on the pelvic floor, which increases the likelihood of ‘leakage’. To prevent this, reduce the weight, or perform a forward, lateral or rear shoulder raise using dumbbells rather than a barbell. Alternatively, for triceps, do a bent over row or supported (on the step) tricep kick back.
Plonk the plank
The plank or ab hover is designed to strengthen the core and offers a great opportunity to focus on the pelvic floor first.
- Initiate the exercise by first focusing on lifting the pelvic floor whilst the thighs are still in contact with the floor. Do this for a maximum of 10 seconds and then rest.
- If you can accomplish this with confidence, then progress to lifting onto the knees. And please note: if you have pelvic floor issues or are at risk, a full plank on the toes is not recommended.
Jumping lunges and power jumps
These two dynamic exercises are increasingly making their way into classes and training sessions. However, if you have a weak pelvic floor, these are not recommended – do the traditional stationary version instead.
Your body, your workout
The idea of modifying a workout can sometimes be intimidating, as many people are concerned about standing out in the crowd. Nothing could be further from the truth. As an instructor, my clients modify their workout for all sorts of reasons (such as injuries or postural imbalances) – taking responsibility for their health is what truly makes you stand out. Remember, that this is your body and your workout, so own it and always remember –pelvic floor first.