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Pelvic floor muscles: the invisible core

The pelvic floor muscles are part of your core. Along with the abdominals, back and diaphragm muscles, they regulate pressure in the abdominal area, which is increased when exercising with weights or body weight. If the muscles in this area are weak, repeated strain can cause damage to these muscles and put undue pressure on the spine.

What are pelvic floor muscles?

The pelvic floor muscles look like a hammock – they’re slings of muscles that run from the pubic bone to the tailbone. In women, these muscles at the base of the torso support the womb, bladder and bowel. The urinary tract, vagina and anus all pass through these pelvic floor muscles, so the condition of the muscles in the area directly affects their function.

What is pelvic floor dysfunction?

People of all ages and levels of health and fitness can experience pelvic floor dysfunction. In fact, for some athletes, having an overactive pelvic floor (extreme muscular tightness or inability to relax the area) can impact their performance and quality of life.

There’s a growing number of women reporting overactive pelvic floor concerns and perhaps this is related to the growing popularity of Pilates, yoga and barre, where pelvic floor engagement is emphasised. This can lead us to believe that constant engagement is best. As with all muscular engagement, though, there must be a full range of movement and an ability to release contractions.

What can cause weak muscles?

Pregnancy and childbirth are the most well-known causes of a weak pelvic floor. There’s also an increased likelihood for women who have had large babies, multiple births or if forceps have been used.

Straining with constipation can also cause weakness and prolapse of the pelvic floor. In this case, diet and lifestyle factors are key to improving, as exercises alone isn’t enough.

Chronic coughing associated with asthma, lung disease or ongoing illness can also weaken muscles. Obesity is another risk factor.

Heavy lifting, especially power lifting, weight training to fatigue or too much training without gradual progression can all be risk factors. Additionally, high-impact exercises like ball sports, running, dance, aerobics and classes such as Body Attack all demand leaping, jumping and propulsion. These aren’t recommended for those with weak pelvic floor muscles.

How can I improve muscle functionality?

As you breathe, the abdomen rises and falls as air enters the diaphragm. The pelvic floor muscles correspond to the breath, expanding and dropping on inhale and lifting on exhale.

It’s worth taking some time each week to engage and relax the pelvic floor muscles mindfully, especially if you believe yours are either weak or overtight. That said, always seek expert advice if you’re experiencing sexual pain, urinary incontinence or pain in this area.

Our qualified personal trainers can work with you to create a personalised workout plan for your needs.


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