Friday 7 February 2014

What are the Pelvic Floor muscles and why are they important?

After my recent soiree's with the monk - it's time to get back to business!  So let's talk about the Pelvic Floor muscles - most people have a vague idea where they are located and what they do, but do you actually know how to isolate these muscles and their importance?

What are the Pelvic Floor muscles? 

The Pelvic Floor are a large band of muscle that run in between your legs. Think of a hammock that is attached to your pubic bone at the front,  runs inbetween your legs and attaches at the base of your spine at the back.  The pelvic floor muscles support your pelvis, intestines, bladder and bowels, and are the muscles which give you control when you urinate (in both men and women).  Along with the deep muscles of the back and the abdomen they form the 'core' which is central to Pilates practice.

Why are the Pelvic Floor muscles important?

As you get older the muscles can weaken and sag - this can cause prolapses (when organs are not sufficiently supported and  drop into the pelvic cavity), poor bladder control and urinary incontinence. Weakened Pelvic Floor muscles can also contribute to an insufficiently supported core which can lead to abdominal or back pain and structural imbalances within the body. 

As with any muscles the pelvic floor can be strengthened by carrying out the correct exercises and identifying the correct muscles to contract.  In Pilates we spend a lot of time ensuring that the pelvic floor is contracted before any movement is performed, this is to ensure that the core is correctly engaged, and that the Pelvic Floor are used as their natural role as muscular support for movement.

Finding the Pelvic Floor.

The best way to find the pelvic floor muscles is to lie on the floor with your eyes shut, so that your brain can concentrate on the isolations, do not hold your breathe.

First start off with the back passage muscles (these are the ones you use to stop yourself passing wind) - try to isolate the muscle and draw it inwards and upwards (Inhale to prepare, and then engage on the exhalation).  Ensure that no other muscles are contracting, it's common to feel the gluteals (bum muscles) contract, focus on ensuring the buttocks are not squeezing together or that the pelvis is not tilting.

Then move onto the front passage muscles - these are the ones you would use to stop yourself mid-flow when urinating.  Again try to isolate the actual muscle, ensuring that nothing else is contracting, and draw it inwards and upwards. Ensure that nothing else is contracting such as the hip flexors, or inner thighs.  See if you can hold the contraction for 5 secs on the exhalation.

(Women Only - obviously!) - The Vagina
Imagine drawing the walls inwards and upwards - the action of drawing inwards has to be performed first and then pulling upwards.  It is helpful to imagine a elevator - first the doors have to close and then you need to lift upwards to the first floor (towards the belly button) and then see if you can lift even higher to the second floor (towards the ribs) - it is important to get the inward and upward action for this muscle.

(Men Only) - men also need to isolate the mid passage muscles - to do this imagine lifting the 'family jewels'.

Now that you can contract them in isolation, you have to try and contract all 3 muscles together and hold for about 10 seconds (on the exhalation).

In Pilates we always try to get around a 30% contraction (to enable you to gauge a 30% contraction, you need to pull the muscles in 100%, then let them out 50% and then let them out another 50%) - so it is a low level contraction that can be held for long periods of time.  However, the degree of contraction depends upon amount of exertion required - but around 30% is a good gauge.

Points to Remember
  • Before you lift something heavy always engage your Pelvic Floor to support you back
  • To avoid embarrasing leakage, engage Pelvic Floor before you jump or sneeze
  • Practice Pelvic Floor contractions for 5 minutes a day
  • Always engage the Pelvic Floor if doing abdominal exercises
So now that you their importance and how to find them - get contracting!

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