Pelvic floor exercises for female runners

pelvic floor exercises
Pelvic floor exercises for female runners

Do you ever leak during a run? Or perhaps when you cough, sneeze, laugh or jump?

It's likely due to weak pelvic floor muscles – the muscles responsible for supporting the bladder, womb and bowel.

When we run, internal pressure places additional demands on the pelvic floor, meaning it needs to work much harder than if you were standing, sitting or walking – as do other high-impact activities like jumping and weightlifting.

Both women and men can suffer from a weak pelvic floor.

'The pelvic floor muscles are located in your pelvis and stretch from back to front, from the coccyx to the pubic bone and across to the sitting bones at the side,' explains Rosie Stockley, a pre- and post-natal exercise specialist and founder of MAMAWELL, an online fitness club for women.

'They form part of your supportive core, alongside the deep abdominal and back muscles and the diaphragm, which work together to promote good posture and support the spine.'

'They support organs above such as the bowels and bladder, and a woman's uterus. In pregnancy, they also support the baby.'

What are the symptoms of a weak pelvic floor?

When the pelvic floor muscles work correctly, they can lift to ensure full control of the bladder and bowels, as well as relax to pass urine, faeces and to aid childbirth in women.

However, when they become weakened, symptoms such as leaking, pressure, pain or prolapse can occur, explains Stockley.

For women, pregnancy and childbirth can place significant strain on the pelvic floor, and so pregnant and postpartum women, or those planning to have a baby, are encouraged to do pelvic floor exercises before, during and after pregnancy to reduce or avoid stress incontinence.

Pelvic floor in pregnancy

Some women may experience symptoms such as heaviness in the pelvis, or maybe leaking during their pregnancy – others may not feel anything at all, explains Stockley. 'What we know is that the growing baby is putting pressure on the pelvis (and abdominals and lower back) where there wouldn’t normally be, so this can impact the pelvic floor muscles,' she says.

'In a vaginal birth, the pelvis widens, the muscles becoming stretched and thinner in order to allow the baby to pass through the birth canal. They will go back to their normal position, but need exercises to strengthen them again.

'With a cesarean birth, there will still have been pressure on these muscles, and if the mother goes until full term, the body will start preparing for a vaginal birth and the muscles start moving. Being strong in the pelvis after childbirth will quite literally help you get up on your feet again.

Stockley points out that that there is a link between postnatal depression and incontinence, and so making time to do pelvic floor exercises is important for both a mother's mental and physical health. 'The link between the two is no surprise, given how important it is for our bodies to work autonomously,' says Stockley, 'so it’s not something that should be ignored.'

How to strengthen your pelvic floor – exercises for female runners and pregnant and post-natal women

The simplest way to activate the pelvic floor is to squeeze the pelvic floor muscles, says Stockley. 'This should then be accompanied by a full relaxation, but not a pushing down,' she says. Below, Stockley suggests two pelvic floor exercises to guide your through this process.

'It’s so important to fully relax the muscle between reps, then take a breath to reset,' notes Stockey. 'As with any muscle, overuse can lead to fatigue and this won’t help it to strengthen effectively. It’s also really important to breathe fully to the belly when inhaling, as there’s a strong connection between the diaphragm and the pelvic floor.'

Pelvic floor exercise 1: Slow, sustained activation

Builds endurance and strength – for times when you need your pelvic floor to be turned on throughout the day. This exercise will help you to activate the slow-twitch endurance aspect of the muscle with a sustained hold, which is the muscle activation that will happen in your daily life.

  1. Get into a comfortable position, either:
    · Kneeling on all fours
    · Seated with a straight spine
    · Standing

  2. Take a few deep breathes to begin, placing your hands on your diaphragm if you wish; take a full inhale and long exhale and repeat x 2.

  3. Then, inhale deeply, and as you exhale, imagine drawing up through your anus and holding there. Don’t tighten your buttocks or tense any other part of your body. If you don't know where to squeeze, imagine you're trying to stop wind escaping or trying to stop urine coming. Ideally, you want a combination of both of these.

  4. Hold for as long as you can, for up to 10 seconds, then soften. Don't worry if your pelvic floor is softening as you try to hold. When relaxing afterwards, don't push down, just soften – imagine your pelvic floor like a duvet spreading out.

  5. Take a full inhale and long exhale – repeating the contraction again during your exhale.

  6. Repeat this pattern x 10.

NB: If you've just had a baby, you would start by doing these exercises lying down, working up to seated and then later standing. 'We want to work up to standing because it's in the standing position that our pelvic floor muscles get the most use,' says Stockley.

Pelvic floor exercise 2: Fast-twitch muscle activation

Trains muscles to turn on quickly and sharply when needed. For times when you need a quick activation of pelvic floor muscles when under higher pressure – for example, sneezing, coughing and running. 'This is a more of a quick "grab"; think: up, up, up – like a pulse,' says Stockley.

  1. Get into a comfortable position, either:
    · Kneeling on all fours
    · Seated with a straight spine
    · Standing

  2. Take a full inhale and long exhale.

  3. At the end of your exhale, pulse the pelvic floor muscles with a 'grab' activation for 10 repetitions. Relax by softening the pelvic floor.

  4. Take a full inhale and long exhale, repeating the pulse activations again at the end of your exhale.

  5. Repeat this pattern x 10.

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