Hands up, when you talk about strengthening muscles what comes to mind first? Stronger biceps? A firmer bum?!How many of you, when thinking about the muscles in your body, focus on the unseen Superheroes of your body?
Pregnant or have had a baby?
Then it’s time to tune in, as I want to talk a little about one of the most important muscles for you to think about….drum roll… your Pelvic Floor!
So what is all the fuss about?
No one’s going compliment me on my toned pelvic floor so why spend time working on a muscle you can’t see?!
To understand the importance of this muscle lets learn a little about it.
What is the pelvic floor?
This superhero sling of muscles is made up of layers; each layer consisting of two different types of muscle.
The types of muscle are technically known as slow and fast twitch – let’s not get bogged down in terminology but understanding the difference between the two is helpful.
Caroline Anderson via her Pilates lifestyle page defines them as follows:
“slow twitch fibres provide support for the body over long periods of time and are slow to fatigue whilst the fast twitch fibres can be recruited reflexively or on demand for example when coughing or sneezing. These fast twitch muscle fibres can produce a quick strong contraction but they are quick to fatigue” (1)
Let’s apply this to your pregnancy and think about the benefits of being mindful of these muscles and also their importance after having a baby…..
What this definition tells us is that part of the pelvic floor is there to provide longer periods of ongoing support whereas other parts need to be able to work quickly providing support when they are called upon.
The pelvic floor muscles amongst other things provide support to your pelvic organs and in pregnancy, support the weight of your growing baby (all the time) and other pelvic floor muscles work quickly.
For example, when you cough or sneeze to stop you having, shall we say, an unfortunate toilet incident… Yes, it’s time to get personal!
Let’s talk about the “bad guys” – Peezing and Stress Incontinence!
I came across the term peezing in the urban dictionary defined as “sneezing and peeing yourself at the same time” (2) and although this could be seen to be making light of what can be a potentially embarrassing problem you may feel uncomfortable talking about, I feel the existence of this terminology helps demonstrate that its time to break down those barriers and talk!
You most likely have heard of “laughing so hard I wet myself” before and to put a technical definition to it, the NHS defines stress incontinence:
“If your pelvic floor muscles are weak you may find that you leak urine when you cough, sneeze or strain.” (3)
So when could your pelvic floor potentially be weakened?…..
When you are pregnant, due to the increasing weight of your baby pressing on your bladder or, after giving birth, when your pelvic floor has been stretched to allow your baby to be born!
Pregnant or postnatal, this issue can affect all. As well as helping manage potential stress incontinence, your pelvic floor plays a role in the birth and having a strong pelvic floor will help it to stretch and return to its normal self much quicker than it would if weaker prior to having a baby.
So isn’t it important to learn how we can help ourselves and get the pelvic floor trained up?
Time to whip that pelvic floor into shape!
The NHS also provides a great guide to pelvic floor exercises and states that:
“You can strengthen the muscles by doing pelvic floor exercises. This helps to reduce or avoid stress incontinence after pregnancy. All pregnant women should do pelvic floor exercises, even if you’re young and not suffering from stress incontinence now.” (3)
So how do we do it? It’s time to flex!
And we are not talking about taking a gym selfie…..but maybe have a mirror to hand.
Here is my super friendly and none jargon-filled way of teaching ladies to train their pelvic floor. Whilst doing this keep breathing calm and rhythmic, no breath holding!
- Close up your butt as if trying to avoid an embarrassing “wind” moment! – try and relax your buttock muscles and really focus internally.
- Then close up at the front as if you are trying to stop yourself having a wee mid flow!
- Finally “pull” both those held muscles up a teeny bit more and then release.
Remember the mirror I mentioned….it can help to look at yourself in the mirror and complete these exercises without raising your eyebrows!
In time you’ll get so good you’ll be able to do them at your desk, in the car etc and no one will be any the wiser!
That’s the key really, get these exercises built into your day to day routine and practice at least several times a day.
We talked earlier about the different types of muscle in your pelvic floor.
Rapid pulses of the exercise above will help sculpt those fast twitch or as I affectionately refer to them as my “stop me from peeing myself whilst bouncing on my child’s’ trampoline” muscles, slower holds and releases will help firm up those slow twitch or “the muscles that support your baby whilst pregnant and maintain tone all the while”.
Don’t be bouncing whilst pregnant or immediately postnatally as this impact won’t help your weakened pelvic floor at all!
So remember to get your pelvic floor trained to take on anything, combine the two types for maximum benefit!