Be honest: When was the last time you worked pelvic floor exercises into your workout routine?
If you can’t remember or have no clue what those are, keep reading.
Your pelvic floor muscles work as part of your deep-core team of muscles to support the center of your body, explains Libby Hinsley, a yoga teacher and physical therapist who founded Anatomy Bites. “While it’s important for the pelvic floor muscles to be strong, it’s equally important for them to be supple.”
Training your pelvic floor muscles, which she says you can divide into “squeezers” and “lifters,” has benefits, from improving your sex life to preventing mad dashes for the restroom.
“Pelvic floor exercises are great tools to utilize, especially as we age,” says Cody Braun, CPT, Assistant Manager of Fitness at Beachbody. “It’s important to actively focus on maintaining and strengthening our muscular system.”
Here’s a look at some different pelvic floor exercises to bring into your routine.
1. Kegel exercises
“The Kegel is a general contraction of the pelvic floor, in which both the squeezers and the lifters are activated,” explains Hinsley. “To perform a Kegel properly, contract the muscles you would use to stop the flow of urine.”
But, she adds, “it can be tricky to isolate the right muscles at first, and sometimes the inner thigh or glutes contract as well. It’s important to try to relax and work on isolating just the pelvic floor muscles.” And, in between contractions, relax the muscles completely.
When you’re new to Kegels, it’s easier to do them lying on your back, then progress to seated or standing positions. Focus on quality not quantity, too.
“There isn’t a magic number of repetitions,” she says. Like any muscle group, strengthening your pelvic floor depends on where you start.
The ideal is holding a lifted contraction against gravity for 10 seconds while you’re in an upright position, but it’s perfectly normal if you need to work up to that.
“Frequency is more important than volume,” she advises. “Practice a little bit each day. A reasonable place to start may be a few sets of 10 to 15 contractions, holding for a few seconds each.”
Once you’ve figured out Kegels, you can use them as part of “a well-rounded strength-training program to reverse some of the signs of aging,” says Braun. “These exercises are designed to gain strength and control over our pelvic floor muscles and should be performed with focus.” (We share a few to try below.)
2. “Weighted” Kegel exercises
Using pelvic floor trainers, exercisers, or vaginal weights is essentially doing a Kegel exercise with a little extra weight or resistance, explains Hinsley.
One benefit of “smart” pelvic floor exercisers is they often come with apps that can take the guesswork out of whether or not you’re doing the contraction and relaxation correctly.
You’ll want to talk to a physical therapist or doctor before trying one.
“Vaginal weights are a great way to determine if you’re able to keep the pelvic floor muscles engaged during functional activities, such as squatting,” Hinsley explains.
3. Bird dogs
“Once you know how to engage the pelvic floor muscles, ideally the body learns to use them automatically as part of the deep-core team of muscles,” says Hinsley.
“When you think about it that way, any exercise can integrate awareness of the pelvic floor,” she adds.
One that’s great to try is bird dogs, which also work the rest of your core.
- Start by getting down on your hands and knees.
- Keep your hands directly below your shoulders and your knees below your hips.
- Keeping your back flat and core braced, extend your left leg straight behind you and your right arm straight in front of you at the same time.
- Pause, focus on your pelvic floor muscle engagement, and then return to the starting position.
- Repeat with your right leg and left arm. Do equal reps on both sides.
4. Glute bridges
Glute bridges help strengthen your glutes and work your pelvic floor muscles.
- Start by lying on your back, with both arms down by your sides. Bend your knees and place your feet on the floor, keeping your heels close to your butt.
- Brace your core muscles by pulling belly button to spine, then squeeze your glutes to press your hips up. Your body will form a straight line from your knees to shoulders.
- Throughout the movements, keep your head on the floor and eyes looking to the ceiling.
- Hold here for a breath, while checking in with your pelvic floor, then lower and repeat.
“More strenuous exercises, such as adding more weight to your squats or lunges, require more core stability, and this includes more support from the pelvic floor muscles,” says Hinsley.
Over time with practice, the pelvic floor muscles will be strong and responsive enough to support any activity you do.
As with any resistance-based exercise, adds Braun, “increasing the load or intensity through performing squats or hip thrusts can further strengthen the pelvic floor muscles.”
Here’s how to do a classic bodyweight squat.
- Stand with your feet hip to shoulder-width apart, arms in front of you for balance.
- Keeping your back flat and core braced, push your hips back, bend your knees, and lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
- Pause, contract your pelvic floor, then push yourself back up to the starting position.