When to Contract Your Pelvic Floor During Exercise

It can be very confusing to know when to contract your pelvic floor during exercise.

Should you activate your pelvic floor when you’re walking or hiking?When to contract your pelvic floor

What about during your exercise class or in the gym?

Women often make the mistake of contracting (bracing) their pelvic floor muscles constantly during exercise making their pelvic floor problems worse.

Read on now to learn:

  1. How your pelvic floor muscles should work during exercise
  2. Why you must avoid constant pelvic floor contraction
  3. Exercises to avoid pelvic floor bracing
  4. Exercises to contract your pelvic floor 

1. How Your Pelvic Floor Muscles Should Work During Exercise

During exercise your pelvic floor muscles help:

  • Control your bladder and bowel
  • Support your pelvic organs to help prevent prolapse
  • Stabilise your pelvis and spine.

When your pelvic floor muscles contract strongly they shorten, thicken and lift higher in your pelvis. After they’ve contracted they should relax, rest and recover before contracting strongly again.

If your pelvic floor muscles are thick, strong and working well, they will support your insides and control your bladder without the need to actively brace. The best way to get your pelvic floor muscles strong, thick  and working well for exercise is by doing regular Kegels or pelvic floor exercises.

If your pelvic floor muscles are thin, weak and sagging your pelvic organs won’t be well supported and your risk of prolapse worsening and bladder control problems with some exercises may be increased. In this case you’ll need to choose pelvic floor friendly exercises.

2. Why you Must Avoid Constant Pelvic Floor Contraction

Some women mistakenly believe they need to contract their pelvic floor muscles constantly during exercise. 

Why is constant bracing a problem?

  • Pelvic floor muscles tire easily and then stop working effectively resulting in less support and control (rather than more)
  • Pelvic floor muscles need to relax and recover to work well
  • Constant pelvic muscle bracing causes pelvic floor spasm and weakness
  • Lack of pelvic floor relaxation can cause chronic pelvic pain.

These factors can combine to make pelvic floor problems worse including prolapse, incontinence, constipation and/or pain with intercourse.

Rather than bracing your pelvic floor muscles constantly, they should be strong and working well without being actively contracted during sustained general exercises.

3. Exercises to Avoid Pelvic Floor Bracing

You don’t need to actively contract your pelvic floor muscles during sustained general exercise. 

Some examples of when to avoid active pelvic floor bracing include:

Walking exercise

  • Running
  • Hiking
  • Walking
  • Dancing
  • Skipping
  • Aerobics
  • Elliptical machine
  • Rowing
  • Horse riding
  • Skiing

 

Bracing your pelvic floor for extended duration during these types of exercises can cause worsening pelvic floor problems.

Your regular Kegels (pelvic floor exercises) train your pelvic floor muscles so that they work for you during sustained general exercises such as those listed above.

4. Exercises to Contract Your Pelvic Floor

There are some specific exercises when you may need to actively contract your pelvic floor muscles.

Examples of when to actively contract your pelvic floor muscles include: Jumping exercise

  • Lifting pushing or pulling a heavy weight*
  • With a jump or hop*
  • With an intense core abdominal exercise e.g. Plank*
  • During Kegels or pelvic floor exercises e.g. Mula Bandah (pelvic floor contraction) in Yoga practice

 

Having once contracted your pelvic floor muscles, relax them completely back to resting and take a break before repeating your next effort.

*Note – It’s very difficult for some women to sustain prolonged strong pelvic floor contractions during continuous and repeated heavy lifting, jumping, hopping or planking exercises. This is one reason why it’s very important to take regular rest breaks and allow your pelvic floor muscles to recover. Avoid these types of exercises if your pelvic floor is not working well.

Key Points

  • Avoid contracting your pelvic floor muscles during sustained general exercise
  • Contract your pelvic floor muscles during isolated exercises that load the pelvic floor and then relax these muscles allowing them sufficient time to recover before your next effort
  • Bracing your pelvic floor muscles constantly during general exercise can exacerbate pelvic floor problems such as prolapse or incontinence and cause additional problems including pelvic pain and/or constipation
  • The key to having good pelvic floor support during exercise is through regular Kegels or pelvic floor exercises
  • It’s often very difficult to maintain a pelvic floor muscle contraction while moving during exercise or to even know whether your pelvic floor muscles are contracted or relaxed
  • Consulting with a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist can help you know how to contract and relax your pelvic floor correctly.

Further Reading

» Watch Out for these 7 Prolapse Symptoms During Exercise

» Pelvic Floor Relaxation Exercises to Relieve Pelvic Pain

Inside Out Pelvic Floor Safe Exercise Saver Pack

Inside Out Book and Inside Out Strength DVD are both available in this cost effective saver pack.Inside Out Book & DVD

Inside Out Book and DVD pack helps you:

  • Safely strengthen your pelvic floor
  • Strengthen and tone your whole body
  • Understand unsafe exercises to avoid
  • Choose pelvic floor safe exercises
  • Increase your lean muscle
  • Improve long-term weight management
  • Exercise with confidence.

 

Learn More

ABOUT THE AUTHOR, Michelle Kenway

Michelle Kenway is an Australian Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist. Michelle lectures to health professionals and promotes community health through her writing, radio segments, online exercise videos and community presentations. She holds dual post graduate physiotherapy qualifications in women’s health and exercise.

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Dear Michelle,
    I am a UK pilates teacher (MSK physiotherapy background) & have been referred a client with Grade 2 prolapse (bladder) who has been told buy the women health physiotherapist to avoid s bending forwards from standing (e.g. to touch toes / tie shoe laces etc). I have read through both your books & I’m still not sure why this is (? increase intra abdominal pressure). Can you please help me to understand? Obviously, I want to avoid contraindicated exercises & don’t want to worsen things. Would a forward flexion be more acceptable from a sitting position on a Swiss ball? Much appreciated. Michelle

    • Michelle Kenway Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist says

      Hi Michelle
      Yes I think you’re correct in that bending forward to the ground increases intrabdominal pressure however I wouldn’t think this would be an issue for most women with mild to moderate prolapse especially since this action of tying up shoelaces would be repeated occasionally. I would think that bending forward to touch the ground repeated frequently throughout the day could perhaps exacerbate prolapse symptoms in some women. What type of forward flexion exercise on the fitball would you be considering? If it’s simply a forward flexion from the hips to stretch the lower back and spine I wouldn’t see this as a major issue for most women. A good test is to ask the woman to perform the exercise and see if she’s symptomatic with the exercise. Does this help you a little?

  2. Is aqua fit exercise helpful or harmful for someone with bowel prolapse?

    • Michelle Kenway Physiotherapist says

      Ivy it depends on a number of things including how severe the prolapse is and the types of exercises as well as the depth of the water. Avoid running in the pool, keep to walking in the water. Generally aqua exercises are low impact which is appropriate for women with mild to moderate prolapse problems.

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