For many of us the pelvic floor is like the Oscars after party – we’ve heard about it but we don’t really know where it is or how to access it. Both men and women have a pelvic floor which can either be weak or tight due to obesity, heavy physical exercise, scar tissue buildup, anxiety or compensating for other muscles such as the hamstrings and glutes. For men prostate issues can cause weakness and for women pregnancy and childbirth. Incontinence; prolapse; low back, pelvic and glute pain; bloating and urinary tract infections are all common symptoms of a dysfunctional pelvic floor.
The Pelvic floor is a collection of muscles that combine to form the coccygeus, pubococcygeus and iliococcygeus and sit close together forming a bowl around the urethra, vagina and anus. In pilates when we talk about the pelvic floor we are referring to the muscles that form a triangle between the sit bones and pubic bone at the base of the pelvis. They keep your vital organs inside, help maintain intra-abdominal pressure, control the bladder and bowel, assist during forced breathing, coughing and sneezing and supports the torso during heavy lifting. Just like other muscles in the body they should be able to contract, relax and be strong to resist the pull of gravity and the downward pressure from the visceral organs.
Ensuring the pelvic floor works efficiently is important because despite what the Poise ads tell us bladder leakage is not normal. And when it comes to pilates, these muscles play an important role in pelvic stabilisation. In the studio we are engaging the pelvic floor when we are recruiting our abdominal muscles to help support pelvic and spinal alignment. When the pelvic floor is engaged feel the triangle at the base of the pelvis draw upward like an elevator ascending. It helps to stabilise the pelvis and lower back and avoid discomfort especially during more advanced repertoire.
Here are some examples of exercises regularly done in the studio when the pelvic floor is engaged:
Magic Circle Chest Curls
Foam Roller Dead Bugs
A specialist doctor, physio or osteo will be able to help diagnose issues with the pelvic floor and pilates is an excellent additional way to strengthen and bring awareness to the muscles. And although we may never get that invite to the Oscars after party at least we’ll be educated on our pelvic floors and avoid any embarrassing or uncomfortable moments.