Activating down there- the mysterious ‘Pelvic Floor’
By Kristin Hapke
Maybe you have heard “Engage your pelvic floor” from your Pilates Instructor, or “Do your kegels” if you are a woman. But how do you do this? Where is the pelvic floor exactly? Do men have a pelvic floor? When should I use it?
The pelvic floor is the base of your pelvis and is the foundation of your core. It consists of the muscles that support the organs of the lower abdominal cavity, primarily the bladder and uterus. These muscles act as a hammock to help stabilize the pelvis and work together with deep muscles of the abdomen and back. The pelvic floor is extremely important to strengthen not only if you are pregnant or recently had a baby, but for everyone. Not only will this awareness and activation help with incontinence later in life, but can improve your sex life, your posture and strengthen your core.
Many women may engage their pelvic floor muscles by doing kegels– exercises invented by Dr. Arnold Kegel, which involve activating the sensation of stopping the flow of urine. (However, it is not advised to actually stop in the middle of urinating, because it can cause urinary tract infections) Engaging this sensation is beneficial, but it just works a portion of the muscles and doesn’t necessarily help pull the PF up. I will offer a greater understanding of the PF and exercises to do below. And yes, men do have pelvic floors! Instead of doing kegels, men should think of lifting their testicles inside of them.
The Where and How
Let’s start first with building an anatomical awareness of the pelvic floor muscles. When sitting, the bones at the bottom of your pelvis consist of your sitz bones (each on either side), the pubic bone (in front) and the coccyx- (tailbone), together these make a diamond shape. The muscles of the pelvic floor fill in the space between these bones. To activate the pelvic floor, you want to imagine these bones coming closer to one another and the muscles activating and pull up. It helps to engage the PF along with your breath, to fully access the diaphragm. So take a deep inhale and on the exhale try drawing the area up as if you were pulling up your roots internally. Think of the viscera surrounding the organs coming together and lifting up out of your pelvic basin.
Here’s a simple exercise: On a four-count exhale, pull the PF up internally. Then slowly release this on a four-count inhale. Repeat this five to ten times a day, while standing waiting in line, sitting in your car at a red light or lying in bed before sleep.
Another exercise to connect the PF to your abdominals includes the image of an elevator. Start seated and imagine the pelvic floor is the ground floor of a building, level one is right above your pubic bone, one inch above that is level two and so forth so that level five is right behind your navel. You want to slowly activate this upward motion on a five count exhale, engaging front of pelvis in towards the spine. Hold and inhale into your ribs and upper lungs. Slowly release, starting from level 5 down as if buttons are opening one at a time. End by fully releasing the pelvic floor, a widening sensation before starting the exercise again.
Pelvic floor exercises are for everyone! Take this awareness into your next Pilates session or class, your next run or simply working on your posture. Everyone needs a stable base for motion and a stronger core. So try them anytime and anywhere!