Admittedly, the pelvic floor is not something we generally think of including in our workout, who even knows its exact location or what it feels like if you flex it, but strengthening it has widespread benefits. We speak to Sylvia Lampe, President of the Callanetics Teachers Association of South Africa about the benefits and how exactly, to exercise it.
Everything from strengthening the bladder, to preventing haemorroids, incontinence, intensifying orgasms and relieving hip pain can come from good pelvic floor function. It's particularly beneficial during ageing when the organs in the lower part of the body tend to become less effective. Many older people find it difficult to control the bladder yet all a strong bladder needs is cooperation from muscles, nerves and ligaments from the pelvic floor.
In 2002 a study by German urologist Frank Sommer compared the effects of Viagra with men who had pelvic floor training. The group of men who trained the deep muscles of the pelvic floor had better results than the Viagra group.
Benefits of pelvic floor training:
It is anti-ageing and keeps the lower body organs young.
Prevents, improves and corrects hernias, haemorrhoids, incontinence, prolapse of lower body organs and other problems in this area.
Protects men from prostate enlargement and erectile dysfunction stemming from physical causes.
Intensifies orgasms in men and women
Improves posture, relieves hip and lower back pain.
Relieves the joints of the lower back, hips and legs during walking and running
Lessens cellulite, shapes the legs, lifts the buttocks and diminishes 'saddle bags'.
Anatomy of the pelvis:
The pelvic floor is almost like a hammock that supports the bladder uterus and rectum. It's about the size and thickness of the palm of your hand and consists of seven muscles. These muscles attach to the hip bones, the pubic bone and the bottom of the spine at the coccyx. Imagine it as a plate of criss-crossing muscles that form the floor of the torso. There are 3 layers ' each has a specific function.
The first or outer layer
This layer winds itself like a net around the sphincter muscles. In females it's the ureter, vagina and anus. In males, the root of the penis, ureter and anus. In both male and female the muscles cross over in the perineum. Most women have a relatively well trained outer layer. You are using your sphincter muscles when you hold urine back midstream. This muscle layer doesn't need specific training, on the contrary: focusing only on this layer can lead to haemorrhoids. Females can experience painful intercourse if the muscles of the vagina are trained much more than the rest of the pelvic floor.
Sit on a soft surface - an exercise ball or cushioned chair. Place one hand under the perineum and cough strongly. Where you feel the cough most strongly is the centre of the pelvic floor ' the perineum.
The second or middle layer
This layer stretches like a trampoline between the joints of the upper thighs and the pubic bone in a criss-cross of fibres. In strengthening this level, the legs are toned, the inner thigh muscles lift, and the upper thigh muscles become 'suspended'. Top athletes use this level automatically.
Pull the sitting bones towards the perineum and pull the perineum up a little, expand the feeling in a star shape. Put your finger tips very lightly against your hip joints, and you should feel a slight pulling.
The third or inner layer of the pelvic floor
This is the largest level of the pelvic floor. It goes from the coccyx to the femurs and opens up like a fan with six parts. When activating this level, you can visibly see the movement. The hamstring muscles are tightened and even stubborn cellulite improves with patience and regular training.
First sit with your fingertips under your sitting bones and contract your pelvic floor to the deepest level, until you can feel the sitting bones moving towards each other ' do this several times Then stand in front of a long mirror and tighten the pelvic floor to the deepest level again until the sitting bones move closer together. Your hips will narrow noticeably. This innermost level, the actual pelvic floor, pulls the hip joints and sitting bones together and tightens the base of the buttock muscles, lifting the buttocks. This exercise can cause an intensive tingling around the testicles in men. Some men feel the testicles pull tightly against the body without sexual arousal.
The pelvic floor and a healthy back
Pelvic floor muscles contribute towards the stability and flexibility of the pelvic bones and when strengthened, often cause back pain to disappear. This is because the pelvis becomes wider, like a funnel, and allows more room for the sacrum, lumbar vertebrae and coccyx. This action is comforting for people with arthritis.
Make sure you are working the pelvic floor muscles and not simply clenching the butt. Stand in front of a mirror, feet hip distance apart, bend your knees slightly and lean your upper body forward until your torso is parallel to the floor. Do not tilt the pelvis forward. There should be a table top line between your coccyx and the crown of your head. Dig into your buttocks until you can clearly feel the sitting bones. Use your muscles to pull the sitting bones strongly towards each other. Pull the sitting bones together and release them a few times, until you feel a distinct movement. What you feel between these two bones is the collective pelvic floor.
Do this contracting exercise standing up, sitting or lying, as often as possible throughout the day. Do it while waiting in a queue, talking on the phone, brushing teeth, or driving. Once you feel the pelvic floor strengthening, add some variations.
' Tighten the pelvic floor as deep as possible and pulse the sitting bones towards each other ' up to a hundred times.
' From a completely relaxed pelvic floor, tighten in three stages ' you should feel three distinct movements. Then release the pelvic floor in three stages, until it is completely relaxed again ' do this at least three times.
' Tighten one side of the pelvic floor, then the other side, i.e pull the left sitting bone towards the perineum, release it again, then do the same with the right sitting bone ' as often as you want, up to a hundred times.
TIP: it is important to have a 'floor like' feeling and not a 'tube like' feeling. If you get a 'tube like' feeling, you are only working the outer layer of the pelvic floor with the muscles surrounding the vagina. In that case, relax completely, then start again, concentrating so you feel the sitting bones.
After about five to seven weeks of conscious daily training the pelvic floor takes over its natural function automatically. The results are well worth the effort. Learn more about the pelvic floor and exercise through the Callanetics Teachers Association of South Africa. Email: [email protected] Web: www.ctasa.org.za
Sylvia Lampe has been working in the health and fitness industry since 1981 and teaching Callanetics since 1991. She offers Callanetics teachers training courses and workshops at her studio in Randburg, Johannesburg. Sylvia is also a registered therapeutic reflexologist.
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