The Best Pelvic Floor Exercises For Women To Strengthen And Relax

When Charlotte York Goldenblatt proudly boasted about her pelvic floor strengthening routine in an episode of And Just Like That, some viewers may have cringed…but I clapped. The pelvic floor rarely (if ever) gets major public attention, let alone a ringing endorsement from a famous character. It’s one example of how this once whispers-only topic is getting the attention it deserves. But the pelvic floor is still wildly misunderstood, and kegels are just one of the ways to train it. Meet the experts: Liz Miracle, PT, is the head of clinical quality and education at Origin pelvic floor physical therapy clinic. Leigh Taylor Weissman, CPT, is a New York City–based trainer and glute specialist with the Leigh Taylor Method.Antonietta Vicario is the chief training officer for Pvolve, which offers a dedicated PF training series.What is the pelvic floor?The pelvic floor is the base of the core. It’s a group of muscles at the bottom of the pelvis, like a hammock that supports internal organs and assists sexual function. We can’t actually see these muscles, so they don’t get the shiny marketing of the six-pack’s rectus abdominis. But “they’re responsible for helping transfer load from between your legs to your abdomen,” says Liz Miracle, PT, head of clinical quality and education at Origin pelvic floor physical therapy clinic. More From Women’s Health More and more fitness pros are covering floor function these days (hoorah!). For example, programs like Pvolve and The Sculpt Society feature comprehensive pelvic floor series, and trainers such as Leigh Taylor Weissman, CPT, a New York City–based trainer and glute specialist, design workouts based on preventing dysfunction and encouraging proper engagement for, say, a stronger, sculpted backside. This content is imported from poll. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.FYI: If your sweat sessions include impact activities like running, you need to be intentional about deep core work to function optimally, Weissman says. (One type of pelvic floor dysfunction, urinary incontinence, is more prevalent in women who do high-impact sports over their lifetime, according to a study in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology.) Read on for the circuit that dials in deep and preps you for allover gains. Cue yourself: If you’re intentional about your breathing, any exercise can activate the pelvic floor, Weissman says. Consider a deadlift: As you exhale, “imagine pulling a zipper from below the pubic bone up to the belly button,” she says. Then take a deep belly breath and allow the stomach to expand and the pelvic floor to release as you lower. Double duty! Best Pelvic Floor ExercisesThis express routine includes one exercise for each major muscle group that works in tandem with the pelvic floor—hips, abdominals, glutes, and adductors—plus cues on tightening and relaxing for all the deep-core benefits. “One of the best ways to strengthen these specific muscles is to engage all of the muscles around them,” says Antonietta Vicario, chief training officer for Pvolve. It takes practice to nail the coordination, so keep moves slow and controlled. Before you know it, they’ll be second nature!Instructions: Perform three sets of 8 to 12 reps of each move three times a week.1. Bridge With Squeeze How to:Lie faceup with legs bent and feet flat and hip-width apart, a pillow, small ball or yoga block between knees. As you exhale, think about “lifting” PF as you contract it, drawing belly to spine and squeezing glutes to lift pelvis toward ceiling. Slowly, and with control, lower hips to mat. That’s 1 rep. Why it rocks ▸ When your pelvis is up, gravity is helping you draw the PF toward your head to achieve that lifting sensation. Strengthening in this position makes it easier to connect to the PF when you’re engaging the inner thighs and glutes in other exercises, says Miracle.2. Clamshell How to:Lie on right side with knees bent 90 degrees, feet in line with hips and head resting on right arm, left hand pressed into mat near waist. (Option to elevate upper body, as shown.)Exhale, contracting core and lifting PF as you raise top knee to open legs, keeping heels together and hips stacked. Lower leg with control and relax through PF to return to start. That’s 1 rep. Complete all reps on one side before switching.Why it rocks ▸ This position targets the hip rotators and can make it more difficult to contract the PF. It’s worth the effort, though. Focusing on this exercise alone can help reduce incontinence symptoms, says Miracle.3. 90/90 Taps How to:Lie faceup with knees bent, feet flat on floor and hip-width apart. Exhale to squeeze and lift PF, drawing belly button toward spine. Engage core and keep knees bent as you raise one leg at a time until shins are parallel to floor. Slowly lower right foot to tap mat with heel.Reverse motion to return to start. Repeat with other leg. That’s 1 rep.Why it rocks ▸ This exercise allows you to focus on the leg motion while coordinating the PF and the transverse abdominis for stability.4. SquatHow to: Stand with feet hip-width apart. Exhale and engage entire core, squeezing and lifting PF muscles and drawing belly button to spine to prepare. Bend knees and lower hips as if sitting down into a chair, inhaling and relaxing PF. Engage glutes to return to standing, exhaling and bracing core and lifting PF. That’s 1 rep.Why it rocks ▸ Squats work the glutes and quads, and the glutes are one of the larger muscles that co-contract with the PF.What causes pelvic floor dysfunction?If a not-quite optimal deep core brought you here, there are a few common causes that are likely to blame, according to Miracle.Pregnancy and birth: Nine months of added downward pressure and nerve/tissue damage from delivery can strain and weaken the pelvic floor and disrupt the neuromuscular connection.Impact sports: Any activity in which your body must provide support in the pelvis in order to counteract both the force of impact and the pressure inside the abdomen is taxing. Good examples are running, jumping rope, and powerlifting.Asthma and allergies: Repeated coughing adds force on the pelvic floor that can lead to damage and loosening of the muscles. In fact, coughing can create more intra-abdominal pressure than many exercises, per a review in Sports Medicine. Fascinating!High stress and anxiety: Stress can cause muscles like the pelvic floor to physically tense up and tighten—and not in a good way.Poor posture and prolonged sitting: The hips and spine are connected to the pelvis, so problems along the chain can spur other muscles (including the PF) to overcompensate. Hours in a chair, compressing the hips and spine, and inactivity are big factors here.Benefits Of Pelvic Floor ExercisesThe perks of training the pelvic floor go beyond prevention; better core strength leads to improved fitness performance, multiple studies show. And since the diaphragm and pelvic floor work in concert, elevated floor function can increase breath volume, leading to improved endurance in sports, says Miracle.That’s why all women can reap the rewards of pelvic floor exercises. “The pelvic floor is going to be the new six-pack,” says Weissman. All righty, then! Jennifer Nied is the fitness editor at Women’s Health and has more than 10 years of experience in health and wellness journalism. She’s always out exploring—sweat-testing workouts and gear, hiking, snowboarding, running, and more—with her husband, daughter, and dog.

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