Your pelvic floor muscles span the bottom of your pelvis and support your bowel and bladder, and your uterus if you’re a woman. As well as providing support, strong pelvic floor muscles are important for control of urination and bowel movements, normal sexual function, and stability of the abdomen and spine.
Like other muscles, your pelvic floor can become weak. Factors that can contribute to this include age, childbirth, constipation, obesity, chronic cough, heavy lifting, and abdominal or pelvic surgery.
See a physiotherapist or continence nurse before doing pelvic floor exercises if you:
- have had recent pelvic or abdominal surgery
- have problems with urine or faeces leaking when coughing, sneezing, laughing or exercising
- often need to go to the toilet urgently
- have difficulty controlling bowel movements and wind
- feel like you haven’t fully emptied your bowel after bowel movements
- have dragging, heaviness or a bulge in the vagina
- experience a lack of sensation during sex.
How to find your pelvic floor muscles
To identify your pelvic floor muscles, try stopping your urine stream for a couple of seconds while emptying your bladder. You use your pelvic floor muscles to do this. Another way is to feel the muscles you use when you imagine stopping the flow of urine and holding in wind. This can be done standing, sitting or lying down.
How to exercise your pelvic floor muscles
Pelvic floor exercises should be done several times a day. You can be standing, sitting or lying down. You can even do them while watching TV or waiting at traffic lights. The technique is the same for men and women.
- Start by relaxing all of your pelvic floor and tummy (abdominal) muscles.
- Gently lift your pelvic floor muscles up and hold while you continue to breathe normally. Try to hold the contraction for up to 10 seconds.
- Repeat the exercise up to 10 times, with a rest of 10–20 seconds between contractions. Relax your pelvic floor muscles completely during the rest periods.
Tips for good technique
Poor technique can make pelvic floor exercises ineffective or even risk injury. Remember these points:
- Do not hold your breath.
- Do not tighten your tummy above the belly button. Focus on
- pulling up and holding onto urine and wind.
- Do not try too hard. You may end up contracting nearby muscles rather than the pelvic floor muscles themselves. Try changing positions if you can’t feel the pelvic floor muscles lifting and squeezing.
Reviewed by: Prof Sandi Hayes, Senior Research Fellow, ihop Research Group, School of Public Health, Queensland University of Technology, QLD; Polly Baldwin, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA, SA; Chris Pidd, Consumer; Steve Pratt, Nutrition and Physical Activity Manager, Cancer Council WA, WA; Kellie Toohey, Accredited Exercise Physiologist, University of Canberra, ACT.