The pelvic floor muscles are perhaps the most neglected group of muscles in your body, but they are critical core muscles that have very important functions, especially during pregnancy. Properly functioning pelvic floor muscles can be the key to avoiding pregnancy pains and injuries, improving pushing, and minimizing tearing and other trauma during delivery. However, traditional guidance of ” just do Kegels” with a focus on squeezing your “pee-stopping” muscles is not the most effective way to train these muscles during pregnancy (or any time for that matter). Read on to learn more about these important deep core muscles, and how to train them most effectively during pregnancy.
Understanding the “Floor of Your Core”
Below are the muscles we refer to as the Core Canister. These are the deep core muscles (which form the shape of a canister) that are most important to focus on during pregnancy. Your pelvic floor muscles form the bottom of the Core Canister, or the “floor of the core.”
Many people think of their pelvic floor muscles as just those “pee-stopping” muscles, but actually, that is just the front of your pelvic floor. As you can see in the image below, the pelvic floor muscles span the entire base of your core. There are 14 muscles in total, and they have connection points in the front, back, and sides of your pelvis.
Together, the pelvic floor muscles are responsible for:
- Supporting your pelvic organs: uterus, bladder, rectum
- Helping to stabilize your spine and pelvic-hip region
- Controlling continence (making sure you pee when you want to, and don’t pee when you don’t want to)
- Aiding in sexual response and satisfaction
- Assisting in guiding the baby out during delivery
Goals of Prenatal Pelvic Floor Training
During pregnancy, we want the pelvic floor muscles to develop:
- Strength: The PF muscles must be strong enough to withstand all the added stresses placed on them from weight gain, to alignment shifts, to decreased pelvic stability from the hormonal changes of pregnancy.
- Length: It is essential that these muscles know how to lengthen to help guide the baby out during childbirth. This is key to mitigating tearing during delivery.
How to Train Your Pelvic Floor During Pregnancy
We accomplish the objectives of developing strength and length with exercises we call PFAs (Pelvic Floor Activations). Watch the video to learn how to perform these exercises. It takes you through a 4-step process to help you first find your pelvic floor muscles, then learn how to perform the two PFA variations: PFAs-Slow and PFAs-Fast.
Let’s review the 4-steps from the video
- Step 1: Find your pelvic floor muscles: front, back, and sides
- Step 2: Practice moving them together (lifting up, then fully releasing)
- Step 3: Align this movement with your 360˚ Breathing. This is a PFA-Slow
- Step 4: Continue this same motion, but at a slightly faster tempo, not aligned with your breath (just breathe comfortably). This is a PFA-Fast
Practice both PFAs-Slow and PFAs-Fast because they target different muscle fibers. There is no set number of reps you have to do each day. The most important thing is to practice them enough so you feel you have good control through that full range of motion. As one example, you could say 1 set = 3-5 PFAs-Slow + 8-10 PFAs Fast. Perform 2-3 sets per day.
Why don’t we use the term “Kegel”?
Kegels are a tricky term because of the connotation they have today. They have become synonymous with “squeezing the muscles used to stop the flow of urine.” By now, perhaps you can see there are two issues with this description:
- Your “pee-stopping” muscles are only the front of your pelvic floor
- A focus on the contraction only is problematic. This can not only create greater issues for delivery, but it can also lead to other pelvic floor complications. Like any other muscle in your body, your pelvic floor muscles must be worked through a full range of motion.
Want Additional Resources?
For additional resources to help you exercise safely and effectively during pregnancy, explore our training programs and services. You’ll find a variety of offerings tailored to different needs — from education, to self-guided programs, to the ability to work with an expert coach.
Or, if you’re a health & fitness pro interested in coaching pre & postnatal clients, check out our ProNatal Education & Certification.