After childbirth or as you get older, you may notice that your pelvic floor muscles have weakened.
The pelvic muscles support the bladder, bowel, and uterus. When they contract, the organs are lifted and the openings to the vagina, anus, and urethra are tightened. When the muscles are relaxed, urine and feces can be released from the body.
Pelvic floor muscles also play an important role in sexual function. Strengthening these muscles can reduce pelvic pain during sex and increase the ability of achieving pleasurable sensations. During pregnancy, pelvic floor muscles support the baby and assist in the birthing process.
Pregnancy and childbirth can cause the pelvic floor muscles to weaken, and so can other factors like age, obesity, heavy lifting, and chronic coughing. Weak pelvic floor muscles can cause:
Pelvic floor muscle training is a proven conservative treatment or preventive for pelvic organ prolapse. Research reports this practice reduced the frequency and severity of symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse.
Try these five exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles and mitigate these side effects.
Pelvic muscle training, or Kegels, is the practice of contracting and relaxing your pelvic floor muscles. You may benefit from Kegels if you experience urine leakage from sneezing, laughing, jumping, or coughing, or have a strong urge to urinate just before losing a large amount of urine.
Main muscles worked: pelvic floor
Equipment needed: none
- Identify the right muscles. The easiest way to do this is to stop urination midstream. These are your pelvic floor muscles.
- To perform Kegels, contract these muscles and hold for 5 seconds. Release for 5 seconds.
- Repeat this 10 times, 3 times a day.
Squats engage the largest muscles in the body and have one of the largest payoffs in terms of strength improvement. When performing this fundamental move, ensure your form is solid before you add any resistance.
Main muscles worked: glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps
Equipment needed: barbell
- Stand in an upright position, feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and toes slightly pointed out. If using a barbell, it should be rested behind your neck on your trapezius muscles.
- Bend your knees and push your hips and butt back as if you’re going to sit in a chair. Keep your chin tucked and neck neutral.
- Drop down until your thighs are parallel to the ground, keeping your weight in your heels and knees bowed slightly outward.
- Straighten your legs and return to an upright position.
- Complete 15 reps.
The bridge is a great exercise for the glutes. If done correctly, it also activates the pelvic floor muscles in the process. Even without weight, the pause and pulse of this move will have you feeling it.
Muscles worked: glutes, hamstrings, pelvic floor
Equipment needed: none
- Lie on the floor. Your spine should be against the ground, with knees bent at a 90-degree angle, feet flat, and arms straight at your sides with palms facing down.
- Inhale and push through your heels, raising your hips off the ground by squeezing your glutes, hamstrings, and pelvic floor. Your body — resting on your upper back and shoulders — should form a straight line down from the knees.
- Pause 1–2 seconds at the top and return to the starting position.
- Complete 10–15 reps and 2–3 sets, resting 30–60 seconds between sets.
Take it to the next level
For an added challenge, complete this exercise on a stability ball. In the starting position, place your feet on the ball with your back flat on the ground and repeat the steps above.
Tabletop is a leg move that acts as the foundation of many moves in a Pilates workout. By adding the split, you’re activating your hips and pelvic floor muscles as well.
Muscles worked: abs, hips, pelvic floor
Equipment needed: mat
Start with your back on the floor and knees bent so your thighs are perpendicular to the floor and your shins are parallel to the floor.
- Your abs should be braced and your inner thighs should be activated, legs touching.
- In a controlled movement, begin to slowly split your legs so each knee falls outward, reaching a comfortable position.
- Slowly raise back to the start.
- Complete 10–15 reps and 3 sets.
Don’t have a workout mat? Find a selection of mats here.
An exercise in balance and stability, bird dog is a full-body move that makes you engage many muscles at once, including the pelvic floor.
Muscles worked: abs, back, glutes and hips
Equipment needed: none
- Start on all fours with wrists under shoulders and knees under hips. Your back should be straight and your neck should be neutral.
- Brace your core and draw your shoulder blades down your back toward your hips.
- To start the move, simultaneously straighten and raise your left leg and right arm, keeping your pelvis and shoulders in a neutral position. Don’t raise or lower your head. Hold for 2 seconds.
- Bend and lower your leg and arm down back to the starting position while maintaining stability. Then switch, raising your right leg and left arm. This is 1 rep.
- Complete 10 total reps and 3 sets.
If your pelvic floor muscles need strengthening, there are several easy moves to incorporate into your routine that can be beneficial. Remember to consciously engage the muscles during each exercise to achieve maximum results.
Nicole Davis is a Boston-based writer, ACE-certified personal trainer, and health enthusiast who works to help women live stronger, healthier, happier lives. Her philosophy is to embrace your curves and create your fit — whatever that may be! She was featured in Oxygen magazine’s “Future of Fitness” in the June 2016 issue. Follow her on Instagram.