If ever there were a part of the body that is underrated for the power and stability they bring to every aspect of life, it would be the hammock of musculature in the pelvis known as the pelvic floor. This group of muscles, ligaments and tendons is the literal foundation for the body core. Although the physiology is almost identical between genders, for women these structures hold up the reproductive organs, as well as the bladder. They are the internal structures that work with the deep abdominal and back muscles to create a sense of core strength.
Lacking core strength is almost as rampant in our country as our quickly increasing tendency towards obesity. Chronic low back pain is perhaps the most common symptom of little core strength. The PC muscle (or the pubococcygeus) surrounds the openings of the urethra, vagina and anus. Weakness around theses openings creates varying degrees of incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse, which sometimes requires surgical repairs. Another consequence of a weak pelvic floor is increase in sexual discomfort.
I am a textbook case of both the decline and capacity to rebuild the pelvic floor. After the birth of my fourth child my pelvic floor was so weak that all I had to do was turn too quickly and I would be down on the floor with another back injury. I literally had nothing inside holding me upright. Even mild sexual activity threatened the tenuous stability of my back and hips. I ended up as one of the statistics for prolapse repair and spent many hours working hard to identify and locate the pelvic floor muscles that needed rebuilding. Although I did kegel exercises every time I thought about it, I often was not hitting the correct muscles and ended up straining other muscles to compensate.
The difficulty for many women in strengthening an internal muscle is that it can be challenging to locate and if you consistently do the exercises wrong, you can exacerbate the problem. If you have little or no tone in the pelvic floor it is easy to confuse an overall tightening of the vaginal muscles with the correct version, which is like a pelvic floor lift. One way to test if you are using the right muscles is to see if you can stop the flow of urine. This action should also feel like a pulling-up of the pelvic floor muscles.
There are also some great tools on the market, which help to locate the muscles and build strength through both holding and lifting objects that you insert. The Natural Contours Energie Barbell has been a favorite device to provide both weight resistance and exercise trainer to strengthen the PC muscle. I have also been a long time advocate for the feminine exercise balls, which have been modeled after the ancient use of oriental Ben Wa balls. I love our new Je Joue collection because it provides both a range of shapes and weights, which you wear for extended periods in your day and act as an internal reminder cue to pull up your PC muscles.
In fact some advanced Pilates instructors use them to help their students feel the different muscle groups as they exercise. For many women the increasing weights allows them to build up their muscles slowly and steadily.
I bow to Joseph Pilates whose understanding of core strengthening has saved soldiers, dancers and millions of women’s lives over the last seventy-five years. Since beginning this exercise method, I have become as physically strong as I have ever been and the power of maintaining a solid visceral core has translated into an emotional and mental confidence and ease throughout the rest of my life. If you make only one resolution for your body in this life time- start with your core; you will be amazed.