Most women have heard of kegel exercises for strengthening the pelvic floor, but don’t really understand the function or importance the pelvic floor. The pelvic floor is a group of muscles and ligaments which acts as a sling at the base of the pelvis to help to support the organs in the lower abdominal cavity; the uterus, intestines, bladder, etc. As the baby grows, the uterus relies on the pelvic floor more and more for that support, which is why strengthening it is very important.
A strong pelvic floor will also prevent incontinence and helps the body in returning to its pre pregnancy state. However, only focusing on tightening the pelvic floor muscles isn’t enough, and doesn’t, in fact make it stronger. In order to give birth, the Pelvic Floor must completely relax to allow the baby to pass through. These two exercises from my FlexPilates Prenatal class, will help pregnant women not only feel the contraction of the pelvic floor muscles, but also the release, ensuring that it is both strong and flexible.
Kegel Contractions: These are isolated contractions of the pelvic floor muscles and can be done two different ways.
Elongated Hold: Start in a seated position either on the front of a chair with the feet flat or crossed legged on the floor. Make sure the spine and pelvis are neutral and not tilted forward or back. Inhale filing the diaphragm and belly with air and release the pelvic floor completely. Exhale and imaging drawing the pubic bone and anus together front to back as well as drawing the sits bones together side to side. Think of bringing them together at the center of the body and drawing them upwards like an elevator. Hold the elevator up as high as you can without letting it fall at all for up to 10 counts, continuing the exhale throughout. Release completely on an inhale and repeat.
-Hips can be propped up on a rolled towel or yoga block if seated on the floor with tight hips to ensure the pelvis is not tilted
-If necessary, start with 2-3 count hold and work up to 10.
-Make sure to keep the breath moving throughout and not to hold it at any point. Use the exhale to fuel the contraction of the pelvic floor.
-Make sure to keep the muscles of the legs, glutes and face relaxed throughout the hold
Quick Contract/Release: Same set up as version A, but this time contracting and releasing the pelvic floor as quickly as you can 10 times in a row. Repeat.
-Even though the pace is quicker make sure the pelvic floor completely releases between each contraction.
-Again make sure to keep the muscles of the legs, glutes and face relaxed throughout.
Squats: This exercise also helps strengthen the glutes which will facilitate better pelvic floor function and prevent Pelvic Floor Disorder.
Start standing with feet hip distance apart (or slightly wider for larger bellies). Inhale as you bend the knees and hinge the hips back and down reaching the arms forward. Squat as deep as possible with the weight in the heels, keeping the knees directly over the ankles and the pelvis neutral (not tucked under). This position is a stretch and a release for the pelvic floor and glutes, so make sure they are lengthened.
Exhale to stand back up to start position, contracting the pelvic floor muscles and making sure the glutes engage at the top to fully extend the hip and. Repeat 10-15 times holding the last one down for 10 counts to really feel the release and opening of the pelvic outlet. Repeat sequence 3 times.
-If calves are tight prop heels up on a rolled towel
-Hold on to a railing, door knob or sturdy chair/couch for balance
-The transverse abdominis (deepest layer of the abdominals) should also contract at the top of the squat pulling the belly in in all directions; front to back, side to side and top to bottom.