You’ve likely heard of Kegel exercises, but do you know why they are important or are you familiar with other valuable pelvic exercises? Learn more as you set out on the path to better pelvic fitness!
Most women have heard of the Kegel exercise but don’t realize just how beneficial this discreet movement can be. Even more women completely miss out on other wonderful exercises that can tone the pelvic floor, such as the pelvic tilt and the elevator. Before, during, and after pregnancy it’s important to understand why and how a woman should do these muscle-toning exercises.
Pelvic Fitness Benefits
Keeping the pelvic-floor muscles strong can aid in birthing and allow for a much smoother recovery, says Tracey Mallett, fitness professional and creator of the 3-in-1 Pregnancy System Exercise DVD. “Regular activation of these muscles will keep them supple and flexible, decreasing the chance of tearing,” she adds.
Weak pelvic-floor muscles—also called pubbococcygeal muscles—can be caused by straining during childbirth, the added stress and weight of pregnancy, heredity, and other factors, which can further cause women to “leak urine or sometimes stool when they cough, sneeze, laugh, jump, or exercise,” says Barbara Dehn, women’s health nurse practitioner and author of Your Personal Guide to Pregnancy. If incontinence develops, strengthening the pelvic floor can help tremendously in stopping urine leakage—not to mention returning sensation to your sex life.
When Can I Begin?
Women should begin toning the pelvic floor during pregnancy, even if they have never performed such exercises, says Dehn. Doing the exercises will help moms-to-be “identify some of the muscles they will be using to push their babies out,” she explains. Most women can resume pelvic-floor exercises right after delivery. The sooner postpartum you start, the faster the recovery process and the less likely problems such as incontinence or uterine prolapse will occur.
Exercising the Pelvic Floor
Whether you’re trying to get pregnant, currently expecting, or have a newborn at home, pelvic fitness is vital. You can tone your pelvic floor with these fitness tips:
Finding the Muscles: The key to doing pelvic-floor exercises properly is knowing how to isolate the pubbococcygeal muscles. “I ask women to try and stop their urine flow while they are seated on the toilet,” says Dehn. This allows women to identify the circular muscles that make up the pelvic floor around the vagina, urethra, and rectum and more readily isolate them during exercise.
The Kegel: Remember how it felt to stop the flow of urine? Congratulations, you just did a Kegel! Now, you can practice them anytime and anywhere—just be sure you’re doing them properly. “It’s important to mention that most people do Kegels incorrectly and use the bigger global muscles such as the glutes, hip flexors, and hamstring to do the work,” says Mallett. “A true Kegel should be no activation of any other muscles, just the feeling of pulling the pelvic floor up like an elevator.”
Start by holding the contraction for three seconds, eventually working your way up to ten seconds, says Dehn. Perform three sets of 10 repetitions to start, working your way up to five sets and then 10 sets.
The Squeeze and Hold: Once you’ve mastered Kegels, try variations of the exercise. Contract and hold the pelvic floor, but this time, try to bring the muscles up an inch further than before. Hold for a few seconds and slowly release.
The Elevator Kegel: “Imagine your pelvic floor is an elevator with three floors,” says Mallett. This elevator will stop at all three floors, pausing and holding at the first two floors for two seconds each and remaining at the third floor for 30 seconds. Then, the elevator will lower once again to the second and first floors, holding for two seconds and then completely relaxing. Don’t worry if you can’t hold the contraction at the “third floor” for 30 seconds at first—you can gradually build up to this level of difficulty.
Bedroom Practice: Intercourse is a great way to engage your pelvic-floor muscles. You can lift and contract these muscles during sex, helping you get fit and providing some extra pleasure to both you and your partner. Ask your hubby if he feels the pressure when you perform the exercise. It’s a foolproof way of developing pelvic-floor activation accuracy.
Pelvic Tilts: Pelvic tilts are fantastic for toning the pelvic floor and abdominals. “Start by lying on your back with your legs bent hip width apart,” says Mallett. Your heels should be lined up with your hips, and an exercise ball should fit comfortably between your knees. “Inhale to start and as you exhale, draw in the abs toward the spine, squeezing the ball and pulling your pelvic floor up,” says Mallett. It may seem like a lot to do at once, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll really feel a difference in your pelvic and core strength.
Once you have your abs pulled in toward your spine, you’re squeezing the ball and your pelvic floor is lifted, use your abs to move the pelvis into a tilt. Keep the abs tight and then release your muscles as you exhale and return to the starting position.
With discipline and daily practice of these exercises, you’ll have a tight and toned pelvic floor that is sure to make your life better before, during, and after pregnancy.