A day doesn’t pass without me mentioning the words pelvic floor, pelvic health, constipation and/or incontinence. Please, before I scare you off, let me explain: I am a women’s health physical therapist. I have been through extensive training in the field of pelvic health and have treated hundreds of women with incredibly common – yet often undiscussed – issues related to the pelvic floor.
The pelvic floor is a group of muscles located at the base of your pelvis. The pelvic floor muscles help support your pelvic organs including your bladder, uterus, and the lower intestinal tract. They also help close off your urethra and your anal canal (so you don’t leak pee, poo, or gas). I like to think of the pelvic floor as “the floor of the core,” and it is vitally important that you CONSIDER these muscles when completing your exercise program – especially if you are female – and double-especially if you have given birth!
Some points to consider when exercising:
- Step lightly. High impact activities such as running and jumping can stress the pelvic floor (not to mention the joints). If you participate in high impact activities or sports, take care to step, run, or jump as lightly as possible. See below for more info!
- Engage the core from the bottom up. I refer to this as “zipping up.” Many exercise programs instruct you to tighten or engage your core muscles. Here’s a trick: The next time you engage your core, begin at the pelvic floor rather than simply “sucking in” your abdominal muscles. Engage your pelvic floor muscles FIRST by way of a gentle kegel, and then draw your abdominal muscles “in and up.” This creates a strong, stable core to act as the framework for your moving arms and legs. It is an essential technique to master, especially for moves that challenge your balance.
- Do your kegels. Yep – kegels are important! I can help you with more information and a tutorial®.
Regarding “stepping lightly:” I was once an avid runner, but I gave it up after developing mild bladder prolapse. I rehabilitated my pelvic floor and other core muscles, and just recently felt strong enough to begin running again… This time with a twist. A barefoot twist!
Barefoot running (or running with minimalist footwear) can be lower impact and therefore easier on the muscles of the pelvic floor when done properly. There are plenty of resources for learning how to run barefoot or with minimalist footwear, but for a primer, here are some keys:
- Prepare your feet, toes, ankles, and arches for barefoot running by stretching and strengthening the muscles of the legs, calf, and foot. The willPower Method’s®, Sole Training® video is a perfect way to get started!
- As for running form: Run gently and as quietly as possible. Put plenty of (gentle) spring in your step.
- Land on your forefoot (the ball of your foot) or your mid-foot rather than your heel.
- Strides should be short and quick.
- Keep your trunk upright and your core strong and stable.
- Work up to longer distances. Progress your training gradually so as to prevent lower leg injuries or overuse syndrome.
“Stepping lightly” does not just apply to running. I teach a group fitness class for women, and I always encourage my clients to go barefoot. This helps strengthen their foot and lower leg muscles, it helps them “feel the floor” for the balance-challenging moves, and it encourages light steps (rather than pounding, with flat feet) when doing anything higher-impact.
Think about stepping lightly the next time you head out for a run, jog up or down the stairs, or participate in a fitness class. Your joints – and your pelvic floor – will thank you!