When you’re struggling with pelvic floor dysfunction, you have a couple of paths you could take. A lot of people just try to ignore it and go about their daily lives, but leakage and pelvic pain may eventually interfere with the activities you love or need to do. One option to combat this issue is pelvic floor physical therapy, which is an excellent conservative treatment option that can help you build strength or learn techniques for relaxation. Physical therapy often goes hand in hand with a prescribed exercise program; a potential piece of your program may include Pilates. Even if you have never tried Pilates before, the core principles of Pilates line up perfectly with building the strength of your pelvic floor, and it may be worth a try. Our Pilates program at EW Motion Therapy is thriving, with classes for all levels taught by trained professionals, many of whom are doctors of physical therapy. Even if you decide not to try a Pilates class with us, you can still read on to learn how Pilates can ensure pelvic floor health.
Understanding Pilates and its core principles
Pilates is more than just a workout routine; it's a method of physical fitness developed in the early 20th century by Joseph Pilates. It emphasizes the balanced development of the body through core strength, flexibility, and awareness. Pilates involves a series of controlled movements that engage both your body and mind. The exercises are typically performed on a mat or specialized equipment like the Reformer, which provides resistance to the muscles being worked.
At its core, Pilates focuses on what Joseph Pilates called the "powerhouse" — the area encompassing the lower back, abdomen, hips, and buttocks (the core). This is where Pilates intersects with pelvic floor health. The movements in Pilates are designed to strengthen the powerhouse by engaging the deep core muscles, which include the pelvic floor muscles.
The pelvic floor: a critical component of your core
The pelvic floor is a group of muscles situated at the base of your pelvis and is part of your core muscles. These muscles support the pelvic organs, assist in bladder and bowel control, and contribute to sexual function. The pelvic floor can be strengthened and toned like any muscle group through specific exercises.
Why strengthening/relaxing the pelvic floor matters
Depending on your needs, your pelvic floor might be too weak and need strengthening, or it could be too tight and need to relax. In either scenario, the muscles are essential for several reasons. They help maintain proper bladder and bowel function, support the pelvic organs, and can improve sexual satisfaction when able to relax appropriately. For women, particularly after childbirth and as we age, pelvic floor strength is crucial in addressing prolapse and incontinence. For men, it plays a role in urinary control and erectile function. Keeping these muscles robust becomes even more critical to maintain overall health and well-being as we age.
Pilates and pelvic floor synergy: a perfect match
Pilates exercises are inherently designed to promote the strength and stability of the pelvic floor. When you perform Pilates, you're working on your core and engaging the pelvic floor muscles so they integrate seamlessly with the rest of your core. You also focus on breathing in coordination with these movements to balance the whole system.
Pilates’s focus on controlling and coordinating breath with movement is the key to its effectiveness for the pelvic floor. The exercises encourage relaxing and contracting the pelvic floor so that the entire muscle group can operate effectively. Pilates also teaches you to maintain pelvic floor engagement while moving your limbs and trunk, which translates to better support and stability in daily activities.
Implementing Pilates into your routine for pelvic floor health
Incorporating Pilates into your exercise regimen can be a game-changer for your pelvic floor health. Here are some Pilates exercises specifically beneficial for the pelvic floor:
Pelvic floor activation exercises
- Pelvic floor breath connection exercise: Begin by lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Inhale to prepare, and as you exhale, gently draw in your lower abdomen and lift your pelvic floor muscles. Hold for a few seconds, and then release. Be sure to position your ribcage so it can communicate with your pelvis.
- Bridge: This exercise targets the glutes and hamstrings and engages the pelvic floor as you lift your hips off the ground.
Advanced Pilates movements for the pelvic floor
- The Hundred: This classic Pilates exercise involves a rhythmic pumping of the arms while holding your head and shoulders off the mat. It requires deep core engagement, including the pelvic floor.
- Leg circles: Lying on your back with one leg extended towards the ceiling, circle the leg while keeping the torso stable. This movement challenges the pelvic floor to maintain stability during leg movements.
Balancing Pilates with other pelvic floor strategies
While Pilates is a powerful tool for strengthening and lengthening the pelvic floor, depending on your needs, it's also essential to approach pelvic health holistically. Diet, hydration, and healthy bathroom habits play a role in maintaining pelvic floor integrity. Avoiding excessive strain during bowel movements, reducing bladder irritants like caffeine, and staying hydrated can all contribute to pelvic floor health.
If you're dealing with pelvic floor dysfunction, such as incontinence or prolapse, it's essential to consult with a healthcare provider or a specialized physical therapist. They can assess your condition and recommend a tailored exercise program, including Pilates, to meet your needs.
Pilates offers a unique and practical approach to engaging the core and pelvic floor muscles. Incorporating Pilates into your exercise routine can build a more robust core, foundational to overall physical health, and yield profound benefits for your pelvic floor and beyond. Remember, Pilates is not just about the workouts; it's a mind-body technique that helps you tune into your body's needs, leading to a stronger, more balanced you.
Try a Pilates class and discover how it can transform your approach to health and wellness. Our Pilates 101 class at EW Motion Therapy is the perfect opportunity for a beginner to experience the basics of Pilates. It’s easy to book a class on our Pilates page, but if you first want to learn more about whether Pilates suits your needs, click the button below to download our answers to 20 frequently asked questions.