Strengthening the Core: Pelvic Floor
The pelvic floor is totally underestimated.
In this kick-off post for the Autoimmune Strong blog, I wanted to talk more about the core. Get it? An apple core? Ok, but seriously, I wanted to give you more information about one of my most essential foundations, Abdominal Bracing. And you don’t even need to be a member to learn how to do this Abdominal Bracing Technique- just download my free video by scrolling to the bottom of the homepage (click here) and you can follow along while I teach this important technique.
I talk in the video a little bit about why the Abdominal Bracing technique is important, but I want to expand upon that topic here. You see, most of us have poor posture from spending our days sitting in our chairs (I know I did!). For the general population of people, poor posture can cause a number of problems, such as back pain, shoulder pain, hip pain, sciatica, bursitis, etc. However, this is magnified for people with chronic pain issues caused by Autoimmune Disease, Fibromyalgia, Lyme, and other such conditions. This Autoimmune Strong population often has a higher sensation of pain due to our malfunctioning organs, nervous system and immune system. So, for us, poor posture can cause a cascade of extremely painful physical problems.
How do we fix poor posture? Well, we start with strengthening the core. But not in the old school, traditional way. Most people think that the way to strengthen the core is through sit-ups or crunches. Well, I am here to dispel that myth right now. Sit-ups and crunches only exacerbate the problem. You see, sit-ups and crunches work the rectus abdominis, which is the muscle down the front of the core that connects the lower rib cage to the hips. I consider this muscle to be a “glamour” muscle- as it really contributes most to the appearance of a 6 pack, not to the actual strength and support needed by the core. And more over, we are not 1 dimensional beings. Our front muscles are not the only muscles that need to be worked in our core. Our sides and our back matter too- otherwise we will just end up with a super imbalanced core instead of a strong healthy well rounded core. Plus, when beginning an exercise regime, sit-ups and crunches can be too aggressive for people with immune and nerve problems- they can be overtaxing and put us at risk for flare-up.
So, for us to have complete core strength in a way that won’t overwork our system, all the core muscles need to work in harmony in a gentle but firm way. This includes:
- the rectus abdominis: located down the front of your core, connecting your lower ribs to the hip bone
- the transverse abdominis: the deepest core muscle, wraps around the entire core, front to back, like a corset, and holds all of your organs in place
- the internal and external obliques: responsible for all your side movements, important for twisting and turning safely
- the multifidus and the erector spinae: both are spinal support muscles and are critical for the strengthening our core muscles in our backs
- the pelvic floor: located at the base of the core, holding all our organs snugly inside our core
This is why the abdominal bracing technique is essential- it activates all of these core muscles at one time, strengthening the deepest core muscles all the way around the entire body, in a gentle way that won’t overwork the body. So, I encourage you to really consider practicing this exercise- it can really impact your posture, which can impact your experience of pain.
For those of you who are working on the practice of abdominal bracing already, I want throw in a new exercise to help you along. This is an exercise to isolate the pelvic floor- the “squeeze” part of the abdominal bracing “tuck, suck & squeeze”. This “squeeze” is essential for the abdominal brace to be most effective, and for many of us, it is the hardest part. (Watch the video if you don’t know what I mean by “squeeze”!)
What is the pelvic floor? It’s a muscle located at the base of your core, in between your legs. In women, it connects from the pelvic bone in the front to the coccyx bone at the base of your spine. It’s shaped like a hammock and its job is to hold your pelvic organs in place- the uterus, vagina, bladder and bowels.
We hear about the pelvic floor for women all the time, especially before and after childbirth. But I want to shout from the rooftops- men have pelvic floors too! And they are just as important. In men, the pelvic floor supports the bladder and bowels and forms the bottom of the core, holding all of the organs up and supported.
The exercise I am about to present is a pelvic floor exercise for both men and women. It’s called the Kegel. That’s right, folks! Men can do Kegels too.
So, here is how you do it. It’s really quite simple, you can do it anywhere, and it’s very effective.
Step 1: “Squeeze” your pelvic floor muscle, like you are holding in your pee.
Step 2: Release.
Step 3. Rest.
Step 4. Repeat. As often as you can.
See? Very simple. You can do this while sitting in your office chair, or driving your car. The best part is- nobody will know that you are exercising your pelvic floor! It’s like your own little secret.
As this gets easier, you can experiment with making the Kegels harder. It is most easily accomplished while sitting down, so you can start there. Then you can progress to do it while standing up. This puts more pressure on the muscle, requiring it to work a little harder to contract. You can also hold for longer periods of time (I recommend starting with a 5 second hold, and when that gets easy, move to a 10 second hold, and onwards). You can also experiment with holding your Kegels while in motion. Try it while walking, doing the dishes, cooking dinner, walking through the market- really you can do it anywhere! It is harder to maintain the “squeeze” while in motion, but getting good at that is our ultimate goal.
So, start doing your Kegels. Have fun. Your core will thank you.
And please- let me know how it goes!