How to Build Strong Knees
Article by Lucas Rockwood
If you want to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles to combat incontinence, prolapse, premature ejaculation, or simply to improve your posture, the daily exercises below can help.
Why is pelvic floor dysfunction so common? Our sedentary lives are perhaps the biggest problem. When you spend all day sitting, your muscles tend to atrophy, and the pelvic floor is no exception. Childbirth is another common cause of problems, often leaving women with over-stretched or strained tissues. Lastly, the progressive loss of muscle due to aging is a very real challenge to contend with.
The good news is that just as you can strengthen your biceps or quads, you can also train your pelvic floor muscles. It will take practice and concentration to isolate and coordinate this region and breathing properly can make it much more accessible. Your ultimate the goal is to incorporate pelvic floor engagement naturally in common daily activities like standing and sitting, squatting, and tying your shoes.
This is part two in our pelvic floor series. For part one and more daily exercises to try, click here.
Female pelvic floor anatomy
There is a group of muscles at the base of your pelvis called levator ani, which includes three primary muscles that make up your pelvic floor – the puborectalis, pubococcygeal, and iliococcygeal muscles. These key muscles at the base of your pelvis control your urine, bowel and ejaculation, and in women they also support the uterus. They also affect your posture.
These muscles can become weak and cause problems. The most common causes are childbirth where they can become strained or torn, age where they can become atrophied, and also through a lack of use – if you’re sitting down all day, it can lead to weakened pelvic floor muscles.
A key thing to remember is that your pelvic floor diaphragm and your breathing diaphragm have a paradoxical relationship – when you exhale you can squeeze your pelvic floor muscles much easier, when you inhale it’s much harder to squeeze those muscles. In our exercises we’ll work at the bottom of the exhale, where your breathing diaphragm is relaxed and there’s more space to squeeze.
In weightlifting, the typical breathing pattern involves an inhale as your grab the weight, and an exhale as you move it. The inhale is designed to create intrathoracic pressure—like a soda can filled with gas—and this helps stabilize your spine. In yoga, we often breathe backwards, or so it seems.
With body weight only exercises in yoga, it isn’t necessary to brace your spine with so much force as you might while deadlifting a barbell. Instead of inhaling during a squat (see below), we’ll instead exhale. This is not random—it’s by design. At the bottom of your exhale, you’ll find it much easier to isolate and engage your pelvic floor muscles. In yoga, this pelvic floor engagement is referred to as mula bandha (root lock), and it’s a key element in just about every pose.
Pelvic Floor Exercises
- Stand in front of stool/chair with your feet a little wider than hip-width apart, inhale
- Exhale and place your fingertips on the chair or steepled together at your chest
- Hold your breath, close your eyes, and lift your pelvic floor
- Engage your pelvic floor muscles as though you are stopping yourself from going to the bathroom and hold for 3-2-1
- Release, stand up, and shake it out
- Repeat for five rounds
NOTE: the chair is there for support, you can also practice this exercise without it.
Modified Bridge Pose
Instead of focusing on the backbend as you might in a traditional bridge pose, we’ll instead focus on pelvic floor engagement here. Very subtle movements are all that’s needed.
- Lie on your back, inhale through your nose
- Exhale, lift your hips just a little, and imagine you’re stopping yourself from going to the bathroom – imagine there is a string at your tailbone, lifting all the way up to your chin
- Hold here for 3-2-1
- Release back down onto your back
- Repeat for five rounds
NOTE: if it’s too much to lift your hips, you can practice this pose with your hips on the ground. Sometimes that little lift helps you to engage.
This guide is for educational purposes only. If you have a major pelvic floor dysfunction, please err on the side of caution and check with a health care provider before practicing any self-care routine.