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Engaging your Pelvic Floor Muscles

Published on: 01/03/18

Pelvic Floor Muscles

Engage your Pelvic Floor muscles…you hear your Pilates instructor say, but what does this mean and why is it so important?

The Pelvic Floor muscles (PFM) are a layer of muscles that span the base of the pelvis supporting the pelvic organs; bladder, bowel and uterus.

This muscle can consciously be controlled and therefore trained like any other muscle in the body. It is important to be able to isolate the PFM as it is closely linked to the deep abdominals, spinal muscles and the diaphragm. When you engage the pelvic floor muscles they will lift within the pelvic girdle, the transverse abdominals (deep abdominal muscle), spinal muscles and diaphragm become tense providing support for your back when lifting heavy objects, exercising and even coughing. Being able to relax the pelvic floor muscles is equally essential in order to release and empty your bladder and bowels.

Healthy pelvic floor muscles help to prevent bladder and bowel leaks by tightening around the passages keeping them shut. A strong PFM can avoid pelvic organ prolapse which may occur on strenuous activities; during labour or lifting heavy weights. For those who suffer with back pain, the pelvic floor muscles work with the core muscles to support the spine. Strong PFM can also help to enhance sexual sensations.

There are many factors that can weaken the pelvic floor muscles:

Pregnancy & child birth

The weight of baby and fluids during pregnancy can load on the PFM, weakening the structure. During labour and birth muscle damage can occur damaging part of the pelvic floor.

Straining on the toilet

If you are constipated and regularly strain to empty the bowels you are more likely to weaken the surrounding pelvic floor muscles.

Chronic coughing

Constant coughing will cause stress and pressure. You may notice a small leak when coughing which is a sign of weak PFM.

Heavy lifting

Work or gym activities that involve heavy lifting will strain the PFM if you are not consciously activating them before lifting.

High impact exercise

Excessive abdominal workouts or over challenging exercises can put strain on the PFM. Over active pelvic floors can become tight and cannot relax resulting in issues with releasing the urine and bowel passages. Overactive PFM can also cause excessive tightness in the trunk and waist muscles.


Age can be a factor in weakening pelvic floor muscles. Women post menopause will have less oestrogen can weaken the under carriage muscle. Older men will equally benefit from pelvic floor strengthen to aid with stress incontinence and bowel control.


Pelvic pain can be experience for those who are overweight, the extra loading of the organs may damage the PFM.

Medical reasons

Hysterectomy, pelvic surgeries, prolapse and infections.

To identify your PFM try to stop your wee midflow, these are the muscles that’ll help control this action (it is not recommended to regularly stop your urine midflow).

So, why does your Pilates instructor ask you to engage your pelvic floor muscles? By encouraging this muscle to engage before executing an exercise you will help to engage your core muscle which will provide you with support and control. Pilates will assist with stabilising the pelvis whilst maintaining support for the organs within the pelvic girdle.

Pilates is a great form of exercise to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. A simple exercise you can do anytime, anywhere is to engage your PFM on isolation. Inhale to engage the muscle, it may feel like the muscle has lifted slightly, and hold for 10-15 secs. Avoid squeezing your buttocks and thighs and make sure you don’t hold your breathe.

If you have any concerns about your pelvic floor muscles contact your GP.

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