As a pregnant lady, I’ve been bombarded with the instruction to do my Kegel exercises. Now, protection of my pelvic floor is something that interests me greatly, since pregnancy has been blamed for weakening its muscles- causing things like urinary incontinence (a.k.a. leaking pee) and pelvic organ prolapse (a.k.a drooping of the bladder, uterus, vagina, etc). But, it turns out, Kegel exercises aren’t always the answer.
First off, what is the pelvic floor?
The pelvic floor consists of three layers of muscles which support the pelvic floor organs, assist in urinary and fecal continence, aid in sexual performance (orgasm), stabilize connecting joints, and act as a venous and lymphatic pump for the pelvis.
Kegel exercises have been touted as THE go-to exercise for prevention of pelvic floor issues (PFD). Enter Katy Bowman, biomechanical scientist, alignment expert, and Kegel crusher.
A Kegel attempts to strengthen the pelvic floor (PF), but it really only continues to pull the sacrum inward promoting even more weakness, and more PF gripping. The muscles that balance out the anterior pull on the sacrum are the glutes. A lack of glutes (having no butt) is what makes this group so much more susceptible to pelvic floor disorder (PFD). Zero lumbar curvature (missing the little curve at the small of the back) is the most telling sign that the pelvic floor is beginning to weaken. An easier way to say this is: Weak glutes + too many Kegels = PFD.
Interesting, right? Read the full 2010 Katy Bowman interview with blogger Mama Sweat here. Here’s a video of Katy explaining it all if you like to get scientific about things.
So, if Kegel exercises aren’t so great, what exercise SHOULD we be doing to keep our pelvic floors healthy?
A good old-fashioned deep squat!!!
Here are the basics, but please read the full blog post by Katy here:
- Shin position
Because the squat we are after is really a gluteal-using one, whole-body joint positioning is essential. To get a squat to move from the front of the body (think all quads) to the back (think all glutes) is by using SHIN position. The more vertical the shin (that’s the knee joint stacked over the ankle joint) and the more untucked the pelvis, the more glutes you’ll use. The more the knees are in front of the ankle and the more tucked the pelvis, the less glutes you’ll use.
How far you go down will be based on how well you can keep the shin and the pelvis where you want them. Most people who have not squatted to use the bathroom throughout a lifetime will find the range of motion of their ‘glute squat’ to be fairly small. Which is fine. It will improve over time, especially if you’re working on changing the habits of where you hold your pelvis throughout the day.
The amount of time you spend in a squat also depends. The glute action is primarily used on the way up – however lingering in a squat, especially if you can kind of relax, helps the muscles and involved joints change their tension patterns.
There are also some really important prep exercises that Katy recommends in her post, like hamstring and calf stretches.
Squatting is the natural position our bodies were built to move into during labor and the birthing of our babies. Studies have shown that squatting increases the available area in the birth canal by 20 to 30%. Besides fully opening the birth canal, the posture naturally compresses the abdominal cavity to push the baby along, without great exertion or holding of breath. (Unfortunately, most practitioners delivering babies today will insist a woman maintain a recumbent or semi-sitting posture during her labor and delivery, closing the birth canal by 20 to 30%. Pregnant ladies, talk to your provider about the squatting position during labor AND delivery!) So start squatting now to prepare your body for those oh-so-important squats later. Happy squatting!!!