TW: gendered language in most of the links 🙁
The Continence Foundation of Australia (CFA) has a great explanation of the pelvic floor, complete with visuals. I highly suggest familiarizing yourself with these muscles. At the very least, visualizing them helped me to understand more about the muscles I was using and which ones I wanted to target with various exercises.
Contract, Hold, Relax, Push-Out, Relax
This is one of the most basic pelvic floor exercises (Kegels with a twist!).
Most Kegel-type exercises only focus on the contract, hold, release aspect. However, this ignores a lot of what our muscles need to do. For example, I’ve been doing Kegels at least once a week (usually more) for close to two decades. My pelvic floor was still shit because it would get too tight and too tense. You can overwork these muscles – and I was doing just that.
What you want to do with this – after learning more about the pelvic floor and how it works for your genitalia – is tighten your pelvic floor. Do not go 0-100, though. Start low and slow – tighten gradually and go maybe to 50% of what you think you’re capable of. Hold that for ten seconds and release, focusing on getting back to your resting level of tension. Then, push out with those same muscles. Again, go low and slow.
You can do these on your own, against a wall, or using a leg press. The leg press method might be best for those with mobility issues in their lower body. However, if using this method like I do, there are a number of things you have to keep in mind.
Keep the weight low and your repetitions steady. What you should aim for is a low weight you can press 8-10 reps easily 1-2 times. Using a high weight or trying to do too many repetitions can lead to problems for your pelvic floor, knees, hips, and back.
Regardless of method, you want to contract your pelvic floor during this exercise, but not at 100%. Always aim for a lower intensity with your contractions. You should never extend your knees to the point where they go past your feet.
The bridge exercise is one of those mainstays in the exercise world. It’s used in yoga, pilates, and more. It’s a versatile one because it helps us to strengthen our core as well as our back and hips. Wikihow has a great run-down of how to do this.
One of the biggest benefits to this is that you can target different muscles depending on what your goal is. Want to focus on your abdomen? Tighten that as you lift your body. Glutes? Tighten those! The possibilities aren’t endless, but there are a plethora.
I’ve been doing bridges on and off since I was 12. It was one of the very first yoga-type exercises I learned (thanks, Seventeen!) and it’s very helpful. During the time I was in pelvic floor therapy and other physical therapy, this was one of the go-to exercises for both my pelvic floor and my back.
When focusing on your pelvic floor, you want to contract with your stomach as you lift your torso off the floor. Don’t go to 100% here – just focus on tightening a bit to where you’re not uncomfortable.
Your core helps support your entire body. Strengthening this area can help to alleviate pressure and stress on both your pelvic floor and back. You can have a strong core without having six-pack abs, so don’t feel that you need to subscribe to unrealistic body image ideals.
CFA once again has a great resource for this (PDF). The important thing is to aim for exercises that will strengthen your core without overtaxing your pelvic floor muscles. Things like crunches and sit-ups? Those are things to avoid because what do we do? Clench more muscles than we need to. This can cause or increase problems with our pelvic floor.
Instead, stick to exercises such as wall push-ups, doing the bridge with an exercise ball, modified planks, etc.
The pelvic floor is a complicated thing. It’s a set of three muscle layers that move in ways no other muscles in your body do. These muscles help you in the bathroom, the bedroom, and all throughout the day.
Ignoring them is like always skipping leg day at the gym. You just shouldn’t do it, regardless of your gender or genitals. Being mindful of how you hold tension is very important to ensure your body isn’t harming itself with that tension.
You can snag some lacrosse balls or spiky balls to use on tense muscles in your hip and butt like the piriformis. There are a few other good things you can snag to help with tension in these muscles – I’ve got my favs over on Amazon.
When in doubt, I’d suggest talking with a pelvic floor therapist for more pointed tips. You can also download CFA’s Pelvic Floor First app for more ideas. I highly suggest browsing their site, too, as it has some great information.