3 Exercises To Strengthen Your Pelvic Floor and Help With Incontinence

You may not spend much time thinking about your pelvic floor, but it plays a vital role in your health. Your pelvic floor is a group of muscles at the bottom of your pelvis that supports the womb, bladder, and bowels. Building and maintaining a strong pelvic floor is crucial. Let's look at why it is so important and how you can strengthen your pelvic floor.

The Pelvic Floor and Incontinence

If your pelvic floor muscles become weak—whether it's due to childbirth, pregnancy, aging, or weight gain—it may be challenging to control your bladder and bowel activity. This is referred to as incontinence, affecting nearly 25 million Americans.

Incontinence is particularly common in cisgender women, with some research suggesting that up to half of women experience urinary incontinence at some point. Giving birth can make a person more likely to develop incontinence. Urinary incontinence affects about one-third of people who give birth, while fecal incontinence affects up to one-tenth.

Even mild incontinence can interfere with a person's quality of life. The good news is that pelvic floor exercises, which are free and relatively easy, can help improve bladder and bowel control.

You've likely already heard of Kegels, the most commonly known method for strengthening the pelvic floor. Kegels involve tightening the pelvic floor muscles and then relaxing them. Don't tighten the stomach, thigh, chest, or buttocks.

As it turns out, Kegels are just the tip of the iceberg. You can try plenty of additional exercises to help train your pelvic floor. Watch this video to see yoga and fitness expert Kristin McGee (who has given birth to twins) demonstrate three simple yet effective moves for strengthening your pelvic floor.

Before you begin her exercises, keep in mind that each one requires you to focus on engaging your pelvic floor. As McGee describes it, this should feel like you just drank five lattes, you have to go to the bathroom, and you're really holding it all in.

Pelvic Floor Exercises

Here's a quick preview of McGee's go-to exercises that strengthen the pelvic floor and lower abs all at once:

Knee Folds

The knee fold move is very subtle—it simply involves lying on your back, knees bent with your feet on the floor. Then slowly lower one knee to the floor as you slightly pivot your foot. Next, bring it back up slowly to your starting position. Instead of focusing on the movement, you should focus on engaging the pelvic floor, lower abs, and inner thighs the entire time.

Toe Taps

Staying on your back, lift your legs to form a tabletop. You should feel the contraction from the lower abs to the pelvic floor. Alternate, bringing your toes of one leg down to the mat. Think about hinging from your hip, using the lower abs and pelvic floor to get your leg back up.

Pelvic Floor Hip Bridges

Engage your abdominals and pelvic floor muscles before you start to bridge your body upward. Then bring the hipbones up. Next, hollow out even more and engage the pelvic floor. Then slowly lower your back to the mat, starting with your upper back, middle back, then lower back. Once you reach the mat, you can release your pelvic floor muscles and re-engage as you make this move again.

A Quick Review

Performing exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor can help you control your bladder and bowels, which millions of people struggle with. 

Keep in mind that over-exercising your pelvic floor muscles can do more harm than good. It can potentially make incontinence worse. And if these exercises cause discomfort in your back or stomach, then you're likely not doing them correctly.

Many people find it helpful to work with a physical therapist trained in pelvic floor exercises.

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