How to Strengthen the Pelvic Floor in Pilates

The muscles of the pelvic floor are those just below the base of your spine. They help to stabilize the pelvis. These include the muscles that surround the pubic bone, the tailbone (called the coccyx), and the lower hip bones (called the ischium). When these muscles are engaged, they support the pelvis and provide the base of support for the spine and lower back. Learning to engage the pelvic floor muscles, and therefore strengthen them, is one of the first exercises you’ll learn in a Pilates class.

Benefits of Strengthening the Pelvic Floor

The pelvic floor muscles are considered “stabilizing muscles,” small groups of muscles that protect your organs and joints. Strengthening these muscles will improve your core strength and overall coordination and fitness because they keep you strong when you’re upright. Strong pelvic floor muscles also help to activate the deep abdominal muscles, which develops core strength and flattens your belly. They also stabilize and support the spine and lower back. In addition, strengthening the pelvic floor protects the bladder and bowel in both men and women; and protects the uterus in women. When the pelvic floor muscles are weak, they stop working in conjunction with the abdominal and back muscles, which can lead to misalignment, structural imbalances, and back pain.

How to Engage the Pelvic Floor Muscles

The pelvic floor resides inside the bowl of the pelvis. The pelvic floor muscles are those that contract when you stop the flow of urine. In women, they are also the muscles that release during labor and the delivery of a baby. To contract the pelvic floor muscles, follow these simple instructions:

  1. Sit in a chair or on the floor with your weight evenly distributed across both sit bones.
  2. On an exhalation, pull the pelvic floor muscles in as if you were trying to stop urinating. You can also think of the movement as pulling your sit bones together and upward. Imagine that you’re pulling the muscles up through the center of your body all the way through the crown of your head.
  3. Try to hold each contraction for 10 seconds.
  4. Relax your muscles as you inhale.
  5. Exhale and contract the muscles again. Hold for up to 10 seconds, then release.
  6. Repeat this sequence up to 10 times every day.

You won’t see anything happen externally when you engage the pelvic floor muscles, but you will feel it internally. When those muscles are contracted, your spine and lower back are supported and are therefore protected when you do abdominal exercises. When you scoop your abs [link], make sure your pelvic floor muscles are engaged.

Hot Tip: Know When to Practice

Although the usual tip for engaging the pelvic floor muscles is to “stop the flow of urine,” don’t actually practice the technique when you’re urinating! Doing so can lead to infection, which will not be comfortable when you’re practicing the rest of your Pilates moves.

Modifications & Tips

Learning to find and engage your pelvic floor muscles is key to performing Pilates correctly. Keep the following information in mind when using this approach to contract your muscles:

  • Do not squeeze your glutes.
  • Do not use your leg or abdominal muscles.
  • Keep breathing throughout the move; do not hold your breath.
  • Imagine that the energy from your pelvic muscles is lifting up through the center of your body.
  • Keep your shoulders and neck relaxed.
  • Keep your body in neutral spine position. Do not tuck your pelvis or round your upper spine forward.

Stabilize Your Floor

Learning to find, engage, and stabilize your pelvic floor muscles can be somewhat tricky at first. But once you get the hang of it, you can practice it at any time throughout the day. Whenever you’re doing abdominal work in Pilates, be sure to keep your pelvic floor secure and stable. You’ll protect your spine and build core strength in no time!

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