Let’s cut to the chase: If you’re a woman, a weakened pelvic floor is just part of the deal as you age. There’s virtually nothing you can do to avoid it, and it has myriad causes: everything from giving birth to a lifetime of coughing.
You don’t have to accept it, though. Having leaner, meaner pelvic muscles can improve your sex life and make you less likely to pee a little when your partner tells a joke or your grandson shows you his slick, toddler dance moves. Here are three ways to start strengthening your pelvic floor muscles today.
Kegel exercise are basically the gold standard when it comes to regaining pelvic muscle strength. If you gave birth — and had a decent nurse or birthing coach — you were probably advised to start doing these while you were pregnant, as well as to keep them up after you delivered your little bundle of joy... and for the rest of your life.
If Kegel exercise managed to fall off your to-do list, here's quick refresher on how to do them. It's all a matter of contracting and releasing your pelvic muscles. Not sure what those muscles are? No problem (and you’re not alone). Here’s how to pinpoint the muscle group you're targeting: The next time you urinate, stop midstream. Those muscles you used to stop are the same muscles you need to strengthen.
Once you know what you need to flex, you can do your Kegels virtually anywhere. Tighten your pelvic muscles for five seconds (as if you were stopping an imaginary stream). Release and repeat. Shoot for three sets of 10 reps each day. If you have a step tracker or smart watch that prompts you to get up and move periodically, you might get into the habit of doing a set of Kegels before you take a walk around the office or living room. And if you just can’t seem to get them right, don’t hesitate to ask your doctor for advice.
Kegels may be effective, but they aren’t for everyone. They also aren’t the only way to strengthen your pelvic floor. Sidestepping exercises can also work the same muscles. Here’s how to do them:
Stand up straight, feet situated shoulders’ width apart.
Squat with your thighs parallel to the floor, or as close to that as you can get. (It gets easier with practice.)
Step to the right, then return your foot to the middle.
Step to the left, then return your foot to the middle.
Repeat for 20 total side steps (or 10 on each foot).
Side steps are a great exercise to squeeze in when you’re already up and taking a break from your desk. Personally, I like to do a set first thing in the morning to help get the blood flowing. Since I started incorporated pelvic muscles exercises into my daily routine, I've noticed that it's helping other parts of my body, too. My back aches a little bit less, for example, and so does my temperamental left hip.
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If you need another reason to start that yoga practice you've been putting off, here it is. Experts agree that regular yoga sessions are a good way to bolster your pelvic muscles (among many other muscles). Bear in mind that certain poses are more, shall we say, "pelvic-intensive" than others, such as the knees-to-chest and child's poses.
If you fear an accident when you sneeze or laugh at a good joke, you’re not alone. From Beyoncé to Meryl Streep, virtually every adult woman starts to at some point. It’s just another glamorous aspect of womanhood. If you’d like to do it less, however, it’s never too late — or too early, for that matter — to start paying attention to your pelvic floor muscles.