Spotlight on Pfilates - nope, not a typo
Pfilates (no, that is not a typo) is a great program to help train your pelvic floor. When you add in core breathing, you have a fantastic way to improve and maintain a stronger pelvic floor for life.
We want our pelvic floor to be functional during times of rest and during movement; the beauty of the Pfilates program is that it does just that, it blends kegels with movement to give women more bang for their pelvic floor fitness buck!
Pfilates is Pelvic Floor Pilates and was developed by Urogynecologist Dr. Bruce Crawford (that's him in the photo along with yours truly doing one of the movements called The Hover). He was tired of telling women to go home and do you their kegels only to see them in his operating room not long after. Kegels, when performed correctly, are effective but are often done seated or standing which doesn’t help much when the problems we encounter such as leaking usually happen during movement. Dr Crawford knew there had to be a better way. He examined over 120 fitness, yoga and pilates movements using wireless EMG that looked at the activation of the glutes, the inner thighs, the deep abdominals and the pelvic floor during each exercise. He was looking to see which movements incorporated the pelvic floor the most as part of a group of co-contracting muscles. He then looked to see at which point in the movement the pelvic floor was most engaged (he calls this peak engagement). He asked his subjects to add a voluntary contraction of the pelvic floor (a kegel) to that point of peak engagement and what he was hoping he would see is was what he found - by adding a voluntary contraction of the pelvic floor when it was already partially engaged in an exercise, the activation of the pelvic floor became even greater!
The Pfilates program is made up of the top 10 movements which recruit the pelvic floor the most. These movements are done in a series of repetitions to help build coordination, a static hold at the point of peak engagement to build endurance and to train the slow twitch muscle fibres and then quick pulses (contracting and relaxing the pelvic floor quickly) to build strength and to train the fast twitch muscle fibres. Sounds a bit more effective than just sitting at a red light and doing what you think are kegels doesn’t it?
The Pfilates program is easy to follow, effective and most movements are ones you are either currently doing in your workouts or have done in the past. This makes incorporating them into your fitness routine simple! Let’s breakdown one of my favourite pfilates moves – The Bridge.
The point at which the pelvic floor is most engaged in this exercise is at the top of the bridge. This is where you will do the static hold and the quick contract/release pulses. Start by lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the floor. Place a small ball between your thighs to help activate the inner thigh muscles which co-contract with the pelvic floor (note I said co-contract – they should work together with your floor, not do the work your floor should be doing). Your pelvis should be neutral with a small space between your low back and the floor. You are going to add in the core breath to this move - Inhale to expand to prepare, and then exhale to engage your pelvic floor and then press your hips up while gently squeezing the ball between your thighs. Inhale as you lower back down. Repeat 5 times and then on the 6th repetition hold at the top of the bridge keeping the pelvic floor engaged and a gentle squeeze on the ball for 5 seconds. Continue to breathe. Inhale and lower your hips down slightly (your pelvic floor should relax as you do this) and then quickly contract your floor again as you exhale and press your hips back up. Do 5 quick contract/relax repetitions and then lower down all the way. Done! It will take some time for this to feel coordinated and smooth but stick with it. It is an amazing butt exercise, a wonderful pelvic floor exercise and it also brings in the inner thighs – how’s that for a multitasking exercise!
To make this program most effective, first visit a pelvic floor physiotherapist and learn to contract your pelvic floor properly. Spend a few days practicing and perfecting the core breath with this newfound awareness of what a pelvic floor contraction and relaxation (aka a kegel) feels like. Then when adding this to the Pfilates program you have a recipe for pelvic floor fitness success!