The strength and health of your “core” muscles – including pelvic floor muscles, abdominal muscles, back muscles and other muscles around your mid-sections – can have a strong influence on your physical health. However, some traditional “core” exercises, particularly those directed at strengthening abdominal muscles, (for example, sit-ups and abdominal crunches), aren’t helpful in terms of strengthening pelvic floor muscles. In fact, some core exercises can stretch or weaken them. That’s why – before beginning any program of therapeutic exercises, it’s essential to consult with your doctor, gynecologist, physical therapist or other care provider with insight into your condition.
Pelvic floor muscles are among your core muscles, and pelvic floor muscle training (PFMT, also known as “Kegel” exercises) have helped many people alleviate urinary incontinence symptoms. These exercises help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles – which support the bladder, bowel and, in women, the uterus.
Here are 5 core exercises specifically targeted at strengthening your pelvic floor muscles.
Gentle medicine ball exercises
In this exercise – from physiotherapist Michelle Kenway — you sit on a medicine ball, with hands placed on the side of the ball, and gently contract your lower abdominal wall by “lifting and drawing in.” Hold to a count of ten and relax. This exercise is especially recommended for women recovering from hysterectomy operations. It’s a gentle way to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles.
Release and extend
This exercise comes courtesy of the Pilates Online Academy. Lie flat on your back. The surface you lie upon should be comfortable, for example, an exercise mat. Position your hands so they lay flat on the surface, palms down. Raise your legs, one at a time, so that the inner leg is perpendicular to the floor, while inhaling. Exhale, while lowering the leg slightly and extending it fully. Return the leg to its resting position on the mat and repeat with the other leg.
Pull up and in
This exercise comes from Dr. Natalie Stratton, a specialist in women’s health issues. Lying on your back, take a breath in, and then exhale. Upon exhaling, pull the muscles close to the vaginal area “up and in.” When you do these exercises, you should not feel any contraction in your butt muscles or thigh muscles: only those muscles extending from the pubic bone to your tailbone.
Draw navel to spine and curl
Linda Morrison, an Australian wellness coach and trainer, recommends the following: Lie down on an exercise mat. Contract your stomach muscles so that you “draw the navel down to the spine.” Slowly curl your pelvic muscles so that you flatten out the lumbar curve under your back, completely flattening out the spine, and then release. Ms. Morrison recommends two sets of 10 exercises, once a day.
Other safe core exercises
As we mentioned at the outset, some traditional “core” exercises – for example sit-ups and exercises requiring you to lift both legs at the same time – aren’t recommended because they can actually increase pressure on your pelvic floor muscles. Though, many of these traditional core muscle exercises – if modified slightly – can provide benefits without stressing your pelvic floor. Physical therapist Michelle Conway shows how to tweak these traditional exercises in an online YouTube video.
Again, before you start any exercise program – to strengthen pelvic floor muscles or for other therapeutic purpose – consult with a qualified health professional who knows your body and your medical history. He or she will be in the best position to recommend an exercise program that will be right for you.
NOTE: This article was not written by a medical professional and is not intended to substitute the guidance of a physician. It includes facts and data collected from various reliable medical and health sources.