It is a common cue in the fitness world that one should engage their pelvic floor and their core – together. Meaning, if you engage your core, be sure to engage your pelvic floor as well. The logic being that, engaging muscles in our body is always a good idea and since the pelvic floor and core are “weak” zones, we should co-contract them to strengthen them. In my opinion, there is a lot wrong with that logic. In my 13 week program, Restore Your Core, I never teach to actively engage the pelvic floor in an exercise. I like to train the pelvic floor to “lift” appropriately and release appropriately depending on the task and the load.
Here is why:
1. You can contract a muscle by making it shorter (think bicep curl) or you can contract it by making it longer (think slow controlled release out of bicep curl). With the latter, the muscle is getting stronger and longer. With the former it is getting shorter and stronger. When we squeeze our pelvic floor – kegel style – the muscle is getting shorter and contracting.
However, what many people do not realize is that, for many women, when pelvic floor dysfunction is present, the pelvic floor is too toned, too strong, too short. And it is not functioning in that state. What it generally needs is release and a totally different input. In order to strengthen the pelvic floor, it needs to be loaded long (like the slow, controlled release of a bicep curl). Just assuming that what it needs is to be more short + contracted is assuming that all dysfunctional muscles need to be contracted short.
All muscles in your body need to be at an appropriate length to support you. The pelvic floor system of muscles supports the entire organ system of your pelvis. That is a ton of load. When a muscle is chronically shortened, it makes it hard to actually contract when needed and makes loading it more impossible. That is what I see happening with many of my clients. Their pelvic floor muscles are tight and unable to handle load and movement and pressure changes.Once they begin to learn to train the pelvic floor to handle load, their issues shift and change.Spacer
2. We want to train the pelvic floor to respond to our actions, exercises and movements. Just tightening it in a shortening contraction is not going to get us there. So… how do we make sure our pelvic floor is functioning correctly?
- Pelvic alignment is the first step. Our pelvic floor muscles attach to our pelvis. The positioning of our pelvis affects the tone and length of the pelvic floor. If we are tucked under in the pelvis all the time, the muscles will be held in a more shortened position. Loading them will be very hard. Hence, the alignment awareness step to all of this work.
- Next, we need to make sure that there is no chronic holding, tight, tension or hyper-tonic pattern and if there is, we need to break that pattern using re-patterning exercises (kegel-like ones that are not just squeeze oriented) and often that includes internal work with a woman’s health physical therapist.
We ensure that the pelvis is in optimal alignment. We ensure that the muscles are not held in a tension pattern via re-patterning work. Then, we learn to engage the core correctly. The exercise protocol is to move from simple lightly loaded moves to more complex and challenging moves. Challenging the core to respond well each time. If we want to run a marathon, we train for it. The same thing applies here, we need to re-educate our pelvic floor muscles and that process includes progressive training.
Why Don’t We “Squeeze” the Pelvic Floor with Core workouts?
Simply put: we do not need to squeeze the pelvic floor. A responsive pelvic floor will lift up with proper core engagement when the pelvis is properly aligned and there is no chronic holding, tight, tension or hyper-tonic pattern. The passive lifting of the pelvic floor as a result of proper core recruitment is a much better way to train the pelvic floor. Not only that, but just squeezing the pelvic floor only gets to the more superficial fibers and not to the deeper layers of the muscles. Also, during the day as you move, with a functional pelvic floor – your muscles would lift to support you and the load, rather than squeeze to support you. Yes, that lift does have the same feeling as a muscle contraction but it is not the squeeze tight feeling of a traditional kegel.
In summary, to strengthen your pelvic floor, train it to be responsive rather than doing a kegel every time you engage your core. Let the good work of proper exercise form and proper core engagement do the magic instead. Arbitrarily engaging your pelvic floor is just that: arbitrary.
You are welcome to try some of the simple concepts and workouts I offer free on my video channel.