How to Contract Your Pelvic Floor Muscles Correctly
Do you think you know how to do a pelvic floor muscle contraction correctly?
Most people don’t! Yet they are all the rage. They are the most popular piece of advice given to women for any condition in the pelvic region. Yet many women don’t know how to engage the muscles correctly.
Let me explain the correct way to contract the muscles.
To figure out what needs to be contracted let’s figure out the boney landmarks that house the pelvic floor muscles. Sit on a hard chair and roll your pelvis forward so you become aware of your pubic bone in front coming into contact with the chair. Then roll your pelvis backward so your tailbone feels the contact of the chair. Then move your weight over to one side so you feel your sit bone in contact with the chair and then repeat to the other side. You have just contacted all four boney landmarks to where your pelvic floor muscles attach. To contract your pelvic floor muscles think about pulling your pelvic floor muscles up and inside your pelvis while bringing all four of those boney landmarks together. Imagine a purse-string being pulled tight to gather all the material to close the purse.
If you are doing a kegel correctly you should not have any muscles on the outside of your body visibly contracting. Nobody should know you are doing a kegel. If your pelvic floor muscles are weak or you don’t know how to activate them correctly, your butt, leg, and abdominal muscles kick in to try and help out.
In order to make sure you are doing the exercise correctly there are two positions, you can get into that guarantee you are contracting only your pelvic floor muscles. One position is sitting in a chair with your knees spread wide open and leaning forward with your trunk. Your arms can rest on your legs. As you contract your pelvic floor muscles your legs should remain still. If they are moving then your gluteal muscles are contracting.
An even better position is the child’s pose. In this position you are kneeling on the floor, sitting back so that your butt is resting on your heels and your body is draped over your thighs with your arms either out in front of you or by your sides. There is no way you can contract anything but the pelvic floor muscles in this position. If you don’t feel anything happening between your sit bones then your pelvic floor muscles are either too weak or just not contracting.
Another way to figure out if you are contracting your pelvic floor muscles correctly is to try and stop the flow of urine. If you can stop the flow or are able to deflect it a bit then those are the pelvic floor muscles you are using to make that happen. As you try this pay attention to what is happening in those muscles to get a feel for that contraction.
Warning! It is important that you do not test your muscles by stopping the flow of urine all the time. Testing your contraction ability about once a month is preferred. If you stop the flow of urine too often your bladder gets confused and doesn’t know if it should start or stop the flow. The nervous system that controls the bladder is very sensitive and you don’t want to be messing it up by testing your muscles too frequently. Remember once you get the hang of it testing about once a month should be tops!
When clients come in to see me in the clinic one common issue I see is they aren’t contracting their entire pelvic floor muscle complex. Some are just trying to contract around the front part, but the bigger muscles are from front to back, and getting these back muscles involved is better. One easy way to include them is to think about stopping gas from coming out. Squeezing around the anal sphincter and including this area in your lift is a better kegel than just focusing on the front.
A strong pelvic floor muscle should be able to hold a contraction for 10 seconds. See how long you can hold your contraction before the muscles fade away from weakness. You can work on trying to hold the contraction for 10 seconds by just re-engaging the muscle for the duration of those 10 seconds and then relaxing. Do 3 sets of these 10-second holds and then you should be done for the hour. Doing that every hour will hopefully improve your strength. If it doesn’t get stronger or you have difficulty even engaging the muscles, please check out my other posts on the open birthing pattern in the pelvis after birth.
While contraction is most people’s main focus with the pelvic floor muscle it’s just as important to make sure your muscles can relax after the contraction. The muscles should work like an on/off switch. They should turn on with a contraction and let go and turn off just as easily. Some people have problems with letting go and you can’t really feel the muscles turn off.
One way to help with this is to gently see if you can bulge your pelvic floor muscles down to the basement. I like the analogy of our pelvic floor muscles being an elevator. The normal resting tone is on the ground floor. With contraction you can lift up to the 5th floor, and with relaxation you come back down to the ground floor. You should be able to gently bulge your pelvic floor muscles down into the basement and then they come back to the ground floor. Please be careful with this bulging exercise as you don’t want to have prolonged downward straining on these muscles as over time it could lead to prolapsing of your pelvic organs. The main focus is on the contraction and lifting but for birth the ability to bulge the muscles is quite important.
It’s important for you to know where your pelvic floor muscles are hanging out. Are they on the ground floor or they stuck on the second or third floor? One side may be on one level and the other side on a different floor. This is where either self-massage to even out the muscle tone is helpful or seeing a Birth Healing Practitioner who can check to see that your pelvic floor muscles are working correctly. I or Jeni can help you out at the Institute for Birth Healing if you are in Colorado or any of the practitioners who have learned my Schulte Intravaginal protocol can help get your pelvic floor working better.
The pelvic floor muscles are an important part of your core strength and they are responsible for many different functions, including sexual, supportive and sphincteric. Making sure they are functioning well should be at the top every person’s to-do list, especially if you’ve had a baby.