Will Pilates help to strengthen my pelvic floor?
Will Pilates help to strengthen my pelvic floor?
Joseph Pilates first introduced his approach to exercise in the early 1900s. His routines were designed to improve the strength, co-ordination and control of the body through the creation of a strong ‘core’. The most important part of your ‘core’ is your pelvic floor and this is why Pilates is good for your pelvic health. Recent research has suggested that performing Pilates regularly may be as effective as doing pelvic floor exercises and it is certainly something that I recommend to my patients.
What does Pilates do?
Pilates has 6 main features and all of these should form part of any good pelvic floor muscle regime.
The first part is connecting with your body. This involves focussing on the exercise or movement that you are doing and tuning in to your body. Many women with pelvic problems struggle to feel what is happening in their pelvic floor muscles. On the whole, it isn’t a part of the body that most women spend a great deal of time thinking about! As a result, when things go wrong, many women are not able to connect or tune in to these muscles in order to make them work. Pilates can help women to tap into this hidden and often forgotten part of their body.
The second part of a Pilates routine is to gain control of your muscles. Once you are aware of the pelvic floor then you can begin to make it work for you.
The core (sometimes called the ‘power-house’) muscles of the body form the foundation on which all other Pilates movements and exercises are based. The most important muscles within the core are the pelvic floor muscles. The core also includes the deep, lower tummy muscles (not your abs), the diaphragm (or breathing muscle) and the small muscles of the back, pelvis and hip. A study in 2003 showed that Pilates helps people to find their deep tummy muscles more easily than other types of tummy exercise. The pelvic floor muscles work very closely with the deep lower tummy muscles and sometimes, women can only tighten their pelvic floor with the help of these muscles.
The next step is to work on co-ordination. Many women find that they can tighten their pelvic floor whilst lying down or sitting but as soon as they begin to move around or go about their normal activities, it lets them down. Pilates helps you to maintain a good strong pelvic floor and core muscle contraction whilst then adding on other movements and activities.
Pilates also teaches you about economy and precision of movement which means that you only use the minimum amount of muscle energy required for whatever you are doing. This means that you are less likely to over use your tummy muscles which means less squeezing on your bladder!
Last but most certainly not least, Pilates works on your breathing. Using your diaphragm (the breathing muscle) effectively is the key to being able to tighten and also relax your pelvic floor muscles properly.
Many women are motivated to try to do their pelvic floor exercises each day but often forget. Doing these exercises as part of a Pilates regime can help you to stick at them for longer. Add to that the social benefits of attending a Pilates class and the fact it is also fun and enjoyable and you can see why Pilates is good for your pelvic health.
Where do I start?
If you are interested in trying Pilates there are a number of options. You can either attend a group session or class or there are a number of Pilates instructors who offer one-to-one sessions. There are also many Pilates exercise videos. Many women’s health physiotherapists also teach Pilates so you may find some hospital run classes too. Pilates is not a protected title so anyone can say they teach it. However, there are training bodies such as the Pilates Foundation or Body Control Pilates who require their accredited members to have reached a certain level of training and adhere to a code of conduct. Alternatively you could look for someone who holds a’ Level 3’ qualification in Pilates mat work. Many health clubs and gyms also require that their Pilates instructors are on the Register of Exercise Professionals which is a UK regulatory body.
Pilates is an ideal way to exercise your pelvic floor and your body before and after the birth but if you are pregnant then you should make sure that your Pilates instructor is qualified to teach pregnant women. The Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Women’s Health recommend a Pilates in Pregnancy DVD by Lindsay Jackson if you wish to exercise at home. It is available for £13.99 from Amazon.
However you choose to do your Pilates, it is important to go at your own comfortable pace and to always ensure you are activating your pelvic floor. A good instructor should vary the regime according to the level and needs of the women in her class. Advancing the exercises without having an adequate pelvic floor muscle contraction may actually make your prolapse or incontinence worse. If you struggle to feel anything happening in your pelvic floor at all, or cannot hold the contraction for more than a second or two, then you should see a Women’s Health Physiotherapist first to see if you need some assistance with your pelvic floor prior to beginning your Pilates regime.
For more information about how you can benefit from using Pilates why not like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter. One of our Neen Ladies, Kelly Chester often posts helpful hints and tips on our facebook page and you will also find more useful information at kellychester.com or on Kelly’s facebook page NoNonsenseFitness