Rachel Nicks, a doula, and certified personal trainer shares the importance of keeping your pelvic floor strong, regardless of whether or not you're expecting or a new mom.
Your pelvic floor probably isn't top on your list of "things to strengthen," if you didn't just have a baby, but listen up because it's important.
"A strong pelvic floor helps prevent incontinence and improves your core's stability," says Rachel Nicks, a doula, and certified personal trainer who specializes in barre, HIIT, indoor cycling, Pilates, Hatha yoga, prenatal and postpartum fitness. (Related: Does Your Vagina Need Help Exercising?)
"Many people don't know that your pelvic floor is part of your core," says Nicks. "So if you don't know how to engage your pelvic floor, you can't accurately plank, do a push-up or any other exercises that depend on core stability."
What, exactly, is your pelvic floor? Basically, it's made up of muscles, ligaments, tissues, and nerves that support your bladder, uterus, vagina, and rectum, says Nicks. You might not think about it, but it's extremely important to make sure your body is functioning properly.
Before we get into how to make your pelvic floor strong, it's important to learn how to access and isolate it. If you're not sure how to do this, Nicks says to sit on the toilet because you're bound to naturally relax in that state. From there, begin urinating and then stopping the flow. The muscles you use to make that happen are what make up your pelvic floor and should be activated while performing the exercises below. Keep in mind that this pee trick is simply a way to become more aware of those hard-to-access parts of your body, and not something you should be doing all the time, Nicks cautions. Holding in your urine can lead to a UTI and other infections. (BTW, this is what the color of your pee is trying to tell you.)
Once you've got that motion down, you can graduate to these four exercises that Nicks swears by when it comes to a strong and stable pelvic floor.
The Classic Kegel
As a refresher, Kegels are the process of clenching and relaxing the muscles that make up your pelvic floor. (Want more clarification? Here's a beginner guide to Kegels.) You can do these lying down, standing up or in table top (lying on your back with knees bent at a 90-degree angle stacked over hips), but like any other exercise, breathing is key. "You want to exhale on the exertion and inhale on the relaxation," she says. You'll quickly realize that's no easy feat so if you find yourself struggling start with 4 or 5 reps and hold them for 2 seconds, 2-3 times a day. The goal would be to get up to 10-15 reps each time.
This exercise elaborates on the classic Kegel but requires you to clench your pelvic floor muscles for up to 10 seconds before releasing. Nicks suggests giving these a try after you've mastered the classic Kegel since it is more challenging. She also suggests working your way up to it by adding 1 second to your holds each week until you're able to squeeze for 10 seconds at a time. Repeat this exercise 10-15 times per session, 2-3 times a day.
Similar to pulsing during squats or lunges, the goal here is to engage and release your pelvic floor muscles at the pace of an average blink of your eyes. Do this 10-15 times, 2-3 times a day. "If you can't manage to do it at a really quick pace, then slow down," says Nicks. "It's okay to work yourself up to it."
For the more advanced move, try this pelvic floor exercise that asks you to gradually increase the intensity of your hold and then gradually release. "I usually do this in three stories," says Nicks. "So you engage a little bit, a little bit and a little bit more till you're at your max and then let go in the same stages until you're totally relaxed." The release tends to be the hardest and is very difficult for everyone. "Not to get discouraged, but the more you learn to engage and be aware of your pelvic core, the less foreign these exercises will feel."