If your core is the foundation of your strength, the pelvic floor is the first brick of that foundation from which your strength comes. Your pelvic floor is comprised of the muscles that run from your pubic bone to your tailbone and from sit bone to sit bone. These muscles control everything from stabilizing your core and supporting your organs to having an orgasm and releasing your bowels. But with age, your pelvic floor can weaken, says Ife Obi, a certified Pilates instructor and founder of The Fit In, a Pilates, barre, and strength studio in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.
"Pregnancy, giving birth, lifting heavy things off the ground, menopause, and fibroids all have an impact on our pelvic floor muscles," Obi explains. By strengthening these muscles, you can help prevent dysfunction as you get older.
One simple way to engage them is to pull them up and in as if you're holding your pee and stopping gas. Mimicking holding your pee tackles the tailbone and public bone muscles, while pretending to stop gas will target the rectal muscles (which go across the sitting bones).
"Having control of your pelvic floor muscles means knowing when to tighten but also when to relax," Obi says. If your pelvic floor muscles remain tense, it can lead to discomfort, especially when having sex or going to the bathroom, Obi says.
And there's no better way to fortify and release those muscles than with Pilates. Both the exercises themselves and the general principles (like breath, concentration, and precision) will help you gain control. Designed and demonstrated by Obi, this routine will give your pelvic floor the TLC it needs, while also working your core, glutes, and hamstrings.
Lying on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the ground, inhale deeply, pressing your lower back into the floor while keeping a neutral pelvis. Exhale to brace core and engage pelvic floor muscles, and lift left foot off the ground with knee bent at 90 degrees and shin parallel to the ground. Slowly lower your foot back down to the ground. Do 10 reps on each side.
Lie on back with knees in tabletop position, stacking knees above hips. Place hands down by your sides. Flex feet and bring heels together, forming a V-shape, and open knees wide to the sides. Press your lower back to the floor. Inhale as you extend your legs straight out (maintain the V-shape with your feet as you extend your legs), so you have max core engagement when your longest lever (your legs) are extended bracing core and engaging pelvic floor muscles. Exhale as you bring your feet and knees back to the V position and relax the muscles. Do 10 reps.
Flat Back Hinge
Sit on the ground with legs extended in front of you with feet hip distance apart and hands behind your head. Keep the pelvis in a neutral position while squeezing sit bones and bracing the core. Then, inhale as you hinge your torso back and continue to hinge back until you feel the tension in the abs. But keep your back flat the entire time. Contract pelvic floor muscles and hold for 3 counts, then exhale and return to starting position. Do 10 reps.
Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the ground hip-width apart. Press your lower back to the floor. On an inhale, lift hips off the ground, squeezing glutes at the top. Pull abs in and pelvic floor up. Exhale as you lower your hips back down to the ground. Do 10 reps.
Side Lying Knee to Heel
Lie on the left side with knees bent to 90 degrees and support your head with your left arm (you can place your right hand on the ground in front of you for support or behind your head). Make sure to stack the left hip directly above the right and the left knee over the right. Keep hips square, with a neutral spine and pelvis, throughout the entire movement. Think about lifting the bottom of the waist off the ground to keep the torso or spine aligned and to stabilize the pelvis. Squeeze the outer glute of the top leg as you rotate the top knee open and bring heels together. Then, internally rotate the top thigh and bring knees together while separating feet (this is one rep). Inhale for one full rep and exhale for one full rep. Do 5-10 reps per side.
Start with hands and knees on the ground, stacking shoulders directly above wrists and hips above knees. Keep the spine and pelvis neutral and engage your pelvic floor muscles. On an inhale, extend your left arm straight in front of you and your right leg straight behind you. Then, exhale and bring both arm and leg back down to the starting position, relaxing the pelvic floor and core muscles. Repeat with the right arm and left leg. Keep alternating, completing 5-10 reps on each side.
Start with hands and knees on the ground, stacking shoulders directly above wrists and hips above knees. Tuck the pelvis in to brace your core and engage your pelvic floor muscles. Press hands down into the ground and lifts your knees off the ground a couple of inches. Hold for 5-10 seconds, then bring knees back down to the ground, breathing in and out as you continuously draw your abs in and pelvic floor up. Repeat for 5 reps.
Stand with feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart and toes turned out 45 degrees. Keeping chest lifted, core braced, pelvic floor engaged, and back flat, slowly inhale as you bend the knees and send butt back and down while lifting arms overhead. Lower down until thighs are parallel to the ground. Hold the bottom of the squat for 3 breaths, then return to standing on the next exhale. Do 5-10 reps.
This article originally appeared in the April 2022 issue of Health Magazine. Click here to subscribe today!
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