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 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
The Role of the Pelvic Floor Muscles During Pregnancy
Having strong, properly functioning pelvic floor muscles is very important during pregnancy. For one reason, your pelvic floor muscles must be able to withstand the added weight of your growing belly and uterus. They must also be able to counteract the effects of relaxin — a pregnancy hormone that softens your joints and ligaments and often causes increased mobility and decreased stability, especially in your pelvic hip region.
Your pelvic floor muscles also help guide your baby out during childbirth. Therefore, they must be able to fully relax and lengthen to allow your baby to pass through. Women who have the ability to not only contract, but fully relax, their pelvic floor muscles are much more likely to have the control necessary to prevent significant tearing during delivery.
How to Properly Train the Pelvic Floor Muscles
Given the above, during pregnancy the goal is to help your PF establish strength and length. In other words, we want to have strong pelvic floor muscles that are able to withstand the added stress and decreased stability in the pelvic region, but those muscles also have to know how to relax and lengthen during delivery.
To accomplish this, we teach pelvic floor exercises called PFAs (Pelvic Floor Activations). There are two variations of this — PFAs Slow and PFAs Fast. Watch the video below for a step-by-step guide that shows you how to first find your pelvic floor muscles and then teaches you how to perform the PFAs.
Let’s review the key takeaways from the video:
- Find your pelvic floor muscles: front, back, and sides
- Practice moving them together (lifting up, then fully releasing)
- Align this movement with your 360˚ Breathing. This is a PFA-Slow
- 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. 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 to Learn More?
For a safe and effective prenatal training program — that will help you develop the core strength needed to withstand the stresses of pregnancy and childbirth, and set you up for a faster postpartum recovery — explore our self-guided training programs.