Your Pelvic What?!? Your Incredible Pelvic Floor!
Before I get in to how AAAAA-MAZING your pelvic floor is, I first I gotta know....when did you learn about your pelvic floor or even that you had one?
I'll go first - I was 29 years, 5 months, and 28 days old and 6 months postpartum with my first baby. So while my pelvic floor supported me and my athletic career my entire life, held up my baby for 9 months, and then had a baby pass through it, I really had no clue what it all entailed until then.
And the worst part of my story is that I'm not alone. Most women have no idea what their pelvic floor is or does. And many women have gone their entire lives without realizing the critical role is plays to your overall health and well-being whether you workout or not.
Your Pelvic Floor isn't Taboo Like Society Says
This isn't right. Your pelvic floor has too many important jobs and greatly influences how you show up as a woman! A basic understanding of how the pelvic floor functions should be as common place as learning how to tie your shoes.
Yet it isn't.
Society and health care have coined the pelvic floor as this taboo body part. They dismiss dysfunctions women experience and tell women to "Do your kegals and you'll be okay" or "Welcome to Motherhood" or my favorite, "You better just get used to it."
I'm sorry Charlie, but that isn't good enough - Women deserve better.
And women deserve better because fixing, mitigating the severity, or even preventing issues such as leaking, diastasis, and prolapse are much easier and simpler than anyone realizes (a topic for another blog). Because if Mamas TRULY knew this, the billion dollar industry of Depends, absorbable underwear, and ALL the other gadgets out there that try and "fix" the issue just wouldn't exist and I don't anyone would be sad, but the greedy people taking advantage of moms.
So let me help you by giving you the overview of your pelvic floor.
What Does it Do?
Function - Imagine your pelvic floor like a hammock. It extends front to back from your public bone to you tail bone and side to side between your sit bones. Your pelvic floor has 3 main jobs - support, sphincter, and sexual pleasure. Support is keeping your pelvic organs - uterus, bladder, colon, vagina, & small intestines - from falling out. Sphincter is holding in your pee, poop, and gas. And sexual pleasure is pretty self-explanatory.
Your pelvic floor is a muscle that contracts and lengthens in order to do the 3 primary functions. You pelvic floor will contract to hold in your poop and pee. It contracts during orgasm. And it It should also contract when you sneeze or cough and during exertion or concentric portions of exercise.
On the flip side, it lengthens in order to poop, pee, and fart. It should first lengthen before contracting when sneezing or coughing. And during exercise, it needs to lengthen during the eccentric portion of movements. And it's critical that the pelvic floor relaxes during labor and pushing.
Tight is Better Right?
Tone - Contrary to what society says, the goal of your pelvic floor isn't to be "tight". In fact, having a tight or (hypertonic) pelvic floor lends to just as much leaking as a weak (hypotonic) pelvic floor. This is why telling women to "Just do your kegals" isn't good enough. Let me explain -
The goal of your pelvic floor is to be functioning and in order to do that, it must be able to lengthen and contract. If it lends any one way - *cue leaking, pain, diastasis, pain with intercourse, and prolapse. Because your pelvic floor is a muscle, you have the ability to change the tone of it in order to create one that is balanced and functioning properly. So a woman with a tight pelvic floor needs the complete opposite of kegals. She needs to down train her pelvic floor, or in order words, learn how to relax it. A women with a weak pelvic floor would benefit from kegals, but better yet, integrated into exercises.
And the most astonishing fact - A large majority of women have a tight pelvic floor! Yep! (brain exploding I know) This is because more and more of us come from athletic backgrounds where contracting is second-nature and was a huge part of the sport. This is also true, because as women, many of us are stressors which causes tension and gripping (holding on), and where there is tension and gripping, there is contracting.
How Do I Know if I'm Tight or Weak?
The only true way though to know the tone of your pelvic floor is to be seen by a Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist (which I recommend all women do) because despite some tell-tale signs of what the tone of your pelvic floor could be, many of the most-common ones fall under both types tone.
As you can see in the chart, the symptoms in BOLD represent symptoms of both a tight or weak pelvic floor. And this is why it is important to been seen by a Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist and not self-diagnosis. Because here is the wilder part, you can have have BOTH tightness and weakness happening at the same time! Let me explain -
Remember, your pelvic floor is made up of 3 layers of muscles comprising of 28 total muscles, that is a lot happening is a relatively small area. So just like in your neck, you can be tight on 1 side and normal on the other. Of if you look at your upper arm, you could have tightness in the bicep and weakness in the tricep. Same thing can happen in your pelvic floor.
And what most people don't realize is that tightness is weakness. This is true because if a muscle is constant tight, it isn't able to function as it should and will eventually become tired of trying to stay so tight. If we go back to the neck again, when you have a tight neck, you know how difficult it is to turn your head the other way. Or a different example would be to walk around with you arms lifted up all day...eventually they will become tired and fatigued - your pelvic floor experiences the same thing.
So What's the Goal?
Coordination - I already mentioned that the primary job of your pelvic floor is to support your pelvic organs, but it doesn't do that all by itself. It must work in coordination with the muscles that make up your inner core and the muscles that directly attach to your pelvis and pelvic floor. This is why I can't stress enough that your inner core has to be coordinating and communicating properly with itselt and to supporting muscles in order to create and establish function.
Here are things you can to do help promote this -
Be aware of your posture. You want ribs stacked over a level pelvis
Stop sucking in your stomach. LET. IT GO. It was designed to move in and out
Diaphragmatically breathe. This is breathing that moves your ribcage 360°, stomach, and bulges your pelvic floor gently on inhale and gently lifts pelvic floor and wraps your transverse abdominis on exhale
Lift from the bottom up during exercise. Every exhale you should be lifting your pelvic floor and wrapping your TVA to move intra-abdominal pressure up and away from your inner core
Strengthen the surrounding muscles. Paying particular attention to the glutes, hamstrings, and adductors (inner thighs)
Include mobility. Each day, try and find 5-10 minutes to move through different hip and pelvic floor opening mobilities such as cat/cow, child's pose, puppy pose, and deep squat. Breathe slow and deep with each one.
I hope you now see how truly incredibly and more complex your pelvic floor is than just being a "thing" you hear about and are supposed to kegal! And this is definitely just scratching the surface to everything the pelvic floor does and how it coordinates to other muscles.
You'll hear me say over and over again that everything is connected, and your pelvic floor is definitely at the center of everything. How it functions can and will greatly affect other areas of your body more than you'll ever realize.