Understanding and Strengthening the Pelvic Floor

strengthen core pelvic floor

With all the focus on core strength and “engaging your abs” one crucial element often goes unnoticed—the pelvic floor. The pelvic floor is an essential component of our core muscles, providing stability, strength, and control during physical activities. In this article, we'll delve into what the pelvic floor is, its significance in CrossFit training

What is the Pelvic Floor?

The pelvic floor is a group of muscles that support the organs in your pelvis, including the bladder and reproductive organs. These muscles help to control bowel and bladder movements, aid in sexual health and function, and stabilize the spine and pelvis during many physical activities. In CrossFit, a strong pelvic floor is essential for maintaining stability during heavy lifts and explosive movements.

Signs You Need to Strengthen Your Pelvic Floor:

Knowing when to address your pelvic floor health is important especially when we regularly engage in high intensity and impact sports (like running and jumping), as we age or after child birth. Suffering from any of the follow symptoms may indicate the need to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles:

  • Urinary leakage (while working out or during regular daily activities)
  • Incontinence during physical exertion.
  • Heaviness or feeling “pressure” in the pelvic area during workouts.
  • Pain in the lower back or pelvic region during or after intense exercises.

Even if you don't experience any of these symptoms, strengthening the pelvic floor is important for anyone who wants to deeper and stronger abdominal contractions. In a sport like CrossFit, where the majority of exercises are “core-to-extremity”, strong abdominal contractions are a huge advantage for loading weight and moving efficiently.

3 Exercises to Strengthen the Core and Pelvic Floor

Here are three effective exercises to help strengthen the pelvic floor and improve its function for better performance in CrossFit:

1. Kegel Exercises:

Before doing exercises to strengthen these muscles, it's important to learn how to activate them properly. Use Kegels to practice contracting the pelvic floor can reduce the symptoms mentioned above. The best part is that you can practice Kegels any time or anywhere (almost!). This exercise can be performed while sitting, standing, or laying down.

  1. Contract the muscles you would use to stop the flow of urine and gas. Focus on the contraction in only these muscles, trying to keep your glutes, abs and legs relaxed.
  2. Hold the contraction for 3-5 seconds, then relax for the same amount of time.
  3. Repeat 10-15 times, aiming for 3 sets spread throughout the day. Gradually increase the time of contractions, eventually working up to sets of 10-seconds.

2. Bridge

Glute bridges contribute to improve strength in the glutes, hip extensors, and low back. This exercise is effective for improving overall midline stability which can ease low back pain related to having a weak pelvic floor.

  1. Lie on the floor or a mat face up with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, set shoulder-width apart.
  2. Contract your glutes and pelvic floor muscles as you lift your hips off the ground.
  3. Hold for 5-10 seconds, then lower your hips back down and relax.
  4. Complete 3 sets of 10 reps, gradually increase the time of contractions, eventually working up to sets of 15-seconds.

3. Diaphragmatic Breathing

Since the diaphragm and the pelvic floor move together as you breathe, a good way to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, improve your posture and core stability is to practice breathing.

As you inhale, your diaphragm moves downwards and your pelvic floor muscles lengthen and relax. As you exhale, the muscles contract and your diaphragm moves upwards. Performing breathing exercises helps your pelvic floor muscles to relax when you need them to (like when using to the bathroom) and contract when necessary (like when you cough, sneeze, or exert yourself).

  1. Lay down on your back, with your feet flat and your heels near your hands (sitting is is also an option).
  2. With your hands on your ribcage, take a deep breath through your nose, expanding your lower ribs laterally. You should also feel your abs (transverse abdominis and rectus abdominis) expand. Hold for 5 – 10 seconds.
  3. Exhale slowly through your mouth, trying to keep your ribs in an open position.
  4. Aim for 2 sets of 10 throughout the day.
breathing pelvic floor
breath pelvic floor exercise
pelvic floor breathing exercise

Conclusion

Hopefully you have a better understanding of how the pelvic floor can reduce the risk of injury and optimize performance for CrossFit athletes. By improving your pelvic floor function, you'll also enhance core stability, power transfer, and overall well-being. There are many ways to strengthen the pelvic floor, but the major key is to keep it simple, and be consistent with your exercises.