There are only two times you should bear down on your pelvic floor. One, when giving birth to a baby. Two, when you do a bathroom number two. Unfortunately, research shows women often bear down at many other times. When lifting things in daily life or a during their workouts – and even when they are trying to exercise their pelvic floor.
Much pelvic floor tuition focuses on the ‘up’ or squeeze’ phase of pelvic floor exercises and less on the ‘down’ phase. The up phase is very important as it determines the overall quality of the muscle and strength of the contractions it is capable of. This strength is needed for general back care and continence and the muscle’s ability to engage more strongly when you cough, sneeze, laugh or pick up a heavy object.
When you are performing pelvic floor exercises, the aim of the ‘up phase’ of the movement is quality of contraction not speed or total reps. It is much better to perform 10 full slow movements than 5o fast twitches. Your pelvic floor exercises should combine some short contractions and some longer holds, to train the pelvic floor in both fast reaction and longer endurance.
The much more neglected ‘down phase’ of pelvic floor training is actually equally as important as the ‘up phase’. It is not the push down that many women think – and are regrettably practicing, but more a relaxing or letting go of the muscle. No matter how strong an up phase contraction you have mastered, if you cannot fully relax the pelvic floor, the muscle is not operating effectively, your bladder cannot empty properly and continence is not safeguarded. This can cause leakage later and is one type of incontinence that has nothing to do with the strength of your pelvic floor.
A healthy pelvic floor is achieved by a 5 pronged approach:
1. Maintain a healthy body weight to reduce downward pressure
2. Learn to switch the muscles on each day through specific pelvic floor exercises
3. Keep up – and even progress, these exercises to increase the strength of your pelvic floor muscles
4. Learn how to protect the pelvic floor during daily life tasks that challenge it
5. Strengthen surrounding muscles to provide a support system for the pelvic floor
Get a specialised personal trainer or physiotherapist to teach you how to work your pelvic floor correctly. Strong muscles that don’t switch on when they are needed are no more useful that weak, ineffective muscles that do switch on.