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Why a Healthy Pelvic Floor is Crucial to Athletes and the Workout That Helps You Build It

The guide you need for strengthening these important (and sometimes mysterious) muscles.

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The pelvic floor seems to be equally shrouded in mystery and disinformation. One of the most widespread fallacies is the idea that “pelvic floor disorders” are only a “women problem” and don’t affect guys. In actuality, men are also at risk for having pelvic floor issues, despite the fact that women are often more likely to do so, especially if they are postpartum. Therefore, it’s critical that everyone pay attention to pelvic floor health, which involves including pelvic floor exercises in your daily routine.

Let’s start with a brief anatomy lesson to better understand why pelvic floor problems arise, how to spot them, and why good pelvic floor health is generally so crucial for bikers.

What is the sensation of a strong pelvic floor?

Let’s start by stating the obvious: all men and women have a pelvic floor, however there are some even more obvious variances between them. The pelvic floor is a collection of muscles that both men and women use to enclose the base of the pelvis. According to Kim Vopni, certified personal trainer and author of Your Pelvic Floor: A Practical Guide to Solving Your Most Intimate Problems, it is a component of “the core.” According to Vopni, the pelvic floor controls three apertures in women compared to two in men, and the pelvic outlet, where the muscles join, is wider in women.

In addition to carrying and giving birth to children, these anatomical variations place women at a higher risk of developing pelvic floor dysfunction and problems with core stability, according to Vopni.

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According to her, the pelvic floor plays a number of important responsibilities, including supporting the internal organs, preserving continence, assisting with pelvic and spinal stability, and promoting sexual responsiveness.

You may experience symptoms like pain in the low back, pubic joint, or tailbone, painful sex, urinary or a*** incontinence, or in more severe cases, organ prolapse (when one or more of the pelvic organs shift from their normal position), according to Vopni, if you lack pelvic floor stability, which can be caused by the muscles of the pelvic floor being either too weak or too tight. Furthermore, research indicates that men’s erectile dysfunction may be influenced by poor pelvic floor function.

People are frequently surprised to learn how the pelvic floor is related to low back discomfort, diaphragm function, and breathing mechanics. According to pelvic floor specialist and physical therapist Melissa Oleson, D.P.T., “a tight pelvic floor can induce low back discomfort in a variety of different ways.” “When we breathe in, the diaphragm descends, lengthening the pelvic floor; and when we breathe out, the diaphragm contracts and rises, gently engaging the abs and pelvic floor. The diaphragm exerts too much pressure when it can’t drop as much as it would want to. Your back may be affected by this because of where the pelvic floor joins to the pelvis and how the pelvis moves. Not only can a tight pelvic floor cause back pain, but it can also cause tight hips.

“You can tell if you have weak pelvic floor if you are having any symptoms like constantly feeling like you need to go to the bathroom, [or conversely] constipation; coning, doming, or bulging out of lower abs during core workouts, and not being able to feel connection between your core and pelvic floor,” says Dr. Oleson.

On the other hand, you can tell if you have a robust pelvic floor by how strongly you experience muscle recruitment and activation during motions that need core stability, which essentially encompasses all dynamic movement.

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When performing particular exercises, “[you should be able to] feel the glutes and core with your breath and are able to feel the pelvic floor lengthening and activation,” according to Oleson.

By managing the pressure in your belly, you can improve how well this system functions, according to Oleson. She lists a few things that can raise the pressure, like holding your breath, chest breathing, and constantly sucking in your abs. “Problems include leaks, aches, prolapse, ab separation (diastasis recti), and impaired performance might result from an increase in abdominal pressure. Learning to control the pressure is necessary to develop genuine pelvic floor stability, and it all begins with your breathing, stance, and movement.

Consider how the entire core acts as a single unit when we breathe to gain an understanding of how intra-abdominal pressure is produced. When we inhale, the diaphragm muscle flattens to expand our ribcage, allowing the lungs to fill with air. The diaphragm muscle has a form that resembles a domed mushroom cap. This movement causes the rib cage to enlarge and pushes the organs in our abdomen toward the pelvic floor.

In conjunction with the diaphragm flattening to make place for our organs, when our pelvic floor is in its ideal state, it lengthens and expands when our inhales. This expansion when our inhales doesn’t occur as frequently when our pelvic floor is faulty, and the pressure on the organs essentially has nowhere to go.

“Everything downstream the chain, all the way to our feet, is impacted by the mechanics of what happens at the pelvis. Therefore, if something is not functioning properly, it will have an effect somewhere else, according to Dr. Oleson. Pelvic floor dysfunction can affect your stability and balance, especially while you’re standing on one leg. In addition to using one leg at a time to pedal, biking requires excellent stability and balance for better bike control, efficient pedaling, and the ability to easily overcome hills and other obstacles.

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What does a pelvic floor exercise look like that is effective?

According to Vopni, the normal recommendation is typically to start doing kegels exercises, in which you contract, lift, and release the pelvic floor muscles, when patients experience any or all of the symptoms we’ve discussed or are told they have a weak pelvic floor. Kegels by themselves, however, frequently fall short and may even make matters worse if the pelvic floor is excessively tight.

You should avoid having “tight” pelvic muscles because: According to Vopni, “we require muscles that can produce adequate force to govern motion and the transfer of stresses via joints.” Our control may be hampered by rigidity caused by tight, hyperactive muscles. A balance between effort and ease is the objective.

Look on your core for pelvic floor strength rather than kegels. Your diaphragm (breathing muscle), pelvic floor, abs, and back muscles are all part of the pelvic stability team, according to Dr. Oelson.

It comes down to an ABC technique, according to Vopni, to relieve tension as well as learn how to link and activate your pelvic floor muscles during movement. She defines alignment as “posture work,” breathing as “the pelvic floor and diaphragm operate in harmony,” and coordination as “kegels paired with total body movement.” “It is vital to first release tension and then build strength and endurance in order to achieve optimal pelvic stability.”

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These pelvic floor stability exercises for athletes, recommended by Vopni and Oleson, are combined below for a thorough pelvic floor workout that relaxes and links your breath to your pelvic floor muscles. Keep in mind that a physical therapist with expertise in pelvic treatment can assist you if you discover that you do have problems with pelvic floor stability.

Uses for this list: Utilize these motions daily, adhering to the reps and timing suggested below. You may learn appropriate form by watching Natascha Grief, a qualified personal trainer, perform each exercise. These exercises don’t require any special equipment, however a stability ball and exercise mat are optional.

Release of the posterior pelvic floor

Sit on the floor with your legs stretched, shoulders back and down, and a neutral spine. Put a tennis ball or lacrosse ball in the center of your left glute. Breathe deeply and relax your muscles. The intention is to allow the muscles to relax. Continue on the opposite side after holding for at least 30 seconds. One to two times a day, execute this release.

Variation: Happy Baby

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Lay face-up. Gently pull knees out to the side as if trying to tuck them into armpits by bringing knees into chest, grabbing feet outside, and doing so. Connect to your pelvic floor by sensing the extension of your pelvic floor as your rib cage and diaphragm expand during inhalation, followed by a gentle pulling inward during exhalation. Spend one to two minutes in this position while taking deep breaths. If it makes you feel better, put a pillow beneath your hips.

Main Breath

Sit on a stability ball with your spine neutral, shoulders back and down, and chest up high. Put one hand on the stomach and the other on the side of the ribs. With only a tiny overflow of breath into the abdomen, inhale deeply and widen the ribcage. Feel the rib cage repositioning laterally back toward the middle line as you breath. Continue breathing slowly and deliberately while paying attention to your pelvic floor. Draw the pelvic floor up in tandem with your breath as you exhale. Expand your pelvic floor toward the stability ball as you inhale. To practice, imagine trying to use your pelvic floor to gently push your sit bones apart as you inhale. Stick with it since it could take some practice to get the hang of this, especially if your pelvic floor connection is weak. Add the practice below once you feel like you have mastered core breath.

Glute Bridge and Core Breath

Feet should be flat on the floor, roughly hip-width apart, with knees bent. Keep your low back grazing the floor and your pelvis neutral. A core breath should be added: inhale to expand and expel to engage. Lift your hips off the floor with your next exhale/engage, being careful not to lose your neutral pelvis or arch your low back. As you lower your hips back down, inhale and expand. Ten reps should be done slowly and deliberately. This version can be advanced by raising one leg off the ground.

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Dog Bird

Begin on all fours with the hands and knees beneath the shoulders. Your starting point is here. Reaching from the left fingertips through the right heel, raise and stretch the left arm and the right leg. The objective is to maintain balance while engaging the core and pelvic floor to stabilize; avoid transferring your weight to one side. After holding for 10 seconds during a core breath, return the limbs to their initial positions. On the opposite side, repeat. Perform 5 repetitions on each side.