Perfecting your pelvic floor exercise technique
By now, you are very likely to understand the importance of your pelvic floor. Regardless of whether you’re pregnant or not, keeping your pelvic floor strong is great for your overall health.
In case you need a reminder, your pelvic floor is the group of muscles that function as a hammock, giving your bladder, bowel, and uterus the support they need. A pelvic floor exercise, or Kegel, is when you contract this muscle (the same contraction you do to stop yourself urinating).
Here are a few of the benefits of doing regular pelvic floor exercises:
- improved bladder and bowel control, meaning less chance of developing incontinence during and after pregnancy
- reduces the chance of a pelvic organ prolapse
- increased sensitivity during sexual intercourse
- helps the muscles recover quickly after childbirth
Now you’re progressing well into your pregnancy, it may be worth seeing if you’re doing enough in regards to your pelvic floor health. If you haven’t been keeping the exercises up, don’t worry. Starting them in the second trimester is much better than not doing them at all. Here are some tips to make sure you’re getting as much out of the exercises as you can.
Remember, if you’re at all confused about the best way to do the exercise or if you’re struggling more than you should, get in touch with your doctor or midwife. They can give you guidance on what is best for your body and help detect any underlying condition that may be causing you difficulty.
Are you squeezing the right muscles?
A common problem is that sometimes it can be hard to isolate the muscle. Some women have problems squeezing their pelvic floor by itself, tightening their buttocks, pulling in their tummy, and squeezing their legs together as well. If you’ve become aware you’re doing this, then you need to correct it. Remember: to locate the right muscles, imagine you’re trying to stop yourself urinating midstream and from passing wind. You may need to practise so you can do the exercise squeezing only these muscles. Note that although nothing above your belly button should be moving, it’s normal for your lower abdomen to tighten slightly.
Know when it’s time to do more
Beginners should try doing five to eight squeezes three or four times throughout the day. However, if you’ve already been doing these exercises regularly and have not experienced any problems, then now is the time to pick up the number of repetitions. Try adding a few more squeezes to your sets each week, but make sure you give your body enough rest between sets.
Varying the types of squeezes
According to the British Association of Urological Surgeons (BAUS), there are two types of pelvic floor exercises you should develop: long squeezes and short squeezes. Quick squeezes improve your pelvic floor’s strength, offering the best defence against incontinence, while long squeezes improve stamina.
With a quick squeeze, you should only hold the contraction for one second. Then relax and rest for one or two seconds before repeating. Try to complete ten repetitions in quick succession, with each repetition performed at the same strength as the first.
For a long squeeze, try holding the contraction for about four seconds before slowly releasing. Then rest for four seconds before repeating. If you’ve already been doing this regularly, four seconds may seem too easy. In that case, try holding for as long as you can. Try building up to ten repetitions of squeezes lasting ten seconds each with a four second rest after each one.
Once you feel comfortable with both types, you can add variety to your sets. BAUS suggests you do one set of slow contractions followed by one set of fast contractions.
Is your breathing under control?
One difficultly that you may run into is not being able to breath normally as you clench your muscles. The NHS recommend that you do not hold your breath as you tighten the muscles, but if you’re not used to doing them regularly, you may find that you’re naturally inclined to do this.
You may also find that you automatically release the muscles as soon as you exhale, forcefully letting your breath out in a short burst rather than at a slower, natural pace. Holding your breath is generally advised against because it’s important for your pregnant body to receive enough oxygen when attempting any form of exercise, even one that is thought to be very low risk. This can be especially problematic if you’re attempting to do a longer squeeze. You also want to be able to hold a squeeze while exhaling, as this will train the muscle to withstand a cough or sneeze, meaning you won’t pee when you let out a sudden, forceful breath.
There are steps you can take towards correcting poor breathing technique. Concentrate on your breathing every time you do the exercise. Establish a relaxed rhythm, and then try to squeeze your pelvic floor while you exhale. Hold the squeeze for eight to ten seconds and keep the rhythm going. This may feel hard to do at first and could take some skilled coordination to pull off. But with practise, you should eventually manage to squeeze your pelvic floor while continuing your regular breathing pattern without having to think about it.
Kegels are for life, not just for pregnancy
Pelvic floor exercises are recommended for all women to keep their pelvic floors strong. So use these tips to become proficient as soon as possible. Remember, because they’re hassle-free to do, you can try them anywhere. So fit in a set whenever you can during your day – while stuck in traffic, while sat in the office, or while waiting for the kettle to boil. Easy!