Old school pelvic floor and core training methodologies are so ingrained in our culture, that it will take a long time to move past some of the damaging concepts we have been taught. The great news is that the contemporary approach is common sense, and a much more pleasant approach that will help you to trust your own bodies feedback.
What is the Pelvic Floor
1. It’s a suspension like bridge or trampoline that supports our organs and the entire torso. It needs to be both taut, and supple, in order to adsorb and mitigate the forces of daily life.
2. It functions as part of a tensegrity system, meaning it seeks to share and spread force to the surrounding tissue and rest of the body. The pelvic floor needs to be trained to honour this. All systems are connected, and when there is a snag in the system, the tension relationships of every single cell in the body are affected.
3. It is made of muscles, fascia and joints and has connections in multiple angles, and layers all around the pelvis. There is no one exercise or solution; instead the pelvis needs variety to be able to maintain it’s elastic potential.
The Evolution of Pelvic Floor
The old muscle based approaches to core training and addressing the pelvic floor (or the whole body for that matter) have limited application when it comes to injury or dysfunction, as they fail to show the tension relationships of the whole body. Training methods that focus on contracting a specific muscle do not apply to the majority of people who are after function, as opposed to local muscle development. To only ever train a muscle in isolation, is to set our bodies up for failure. The body never works in isolation. EVER.
Conscious activation stresses the body and especially the brain
How often are we told to ‘brace’ our core when training? Try it now, stand up and squat. Brace your core. If you truly are bracing your core for that whole time, your squat would look rigid and anxious. But when you relax and let your highly intelligent body react, it handles the move no problem WITHOUT conscious activation.
It’s all about Rhythm Baby
Day to day movement is subconscious. Please go for a walk and feel your butt cheeks! You should feel the tissues turning on and off. For us to move with rhythm, efficiency and timing, muscles need to turn on and off in a chain reaction flow of energy. Now try walking with your butt cheeks turned on and contracting. Firstly did you feel rhythm? Did you feel pain? The core was not designed to be rigid, it’s designed to turn on and off, on and off…
Planking makes your core dumb
Our muscles need to turn on and off, not be held for sustained contraction. When a muscle is contracting constantly, it becomes ischemic meaning blood and oxygen can’t get in, and waste products can’t get out. Trapped waste means painful, inefficient muscles. When there is a lack of blood flow, the nerves signals to the contracted area become de-sensitised and we end up DE-training our core. If we train the area to work in isolation, it then struggles in integrated full body movements, and the area becomes less rich with sensory feedback.
Ever seen those crazy 6327486327856 minute held plank competitions? According to research the core actually disengages after 10 seconds, so long held planks aren't so grand after all for improving core strength. If you really enjoy planking, aim to enrich the neurological feedback loop by only planking between 3-10 seconds, or aim to make your plank movement more variable in nature.
Crunches and floor based Core training
While sometimes there is a need for certain cases to be regressed back to the floor, we should aim to quickly get OFF the floor if we wish to have a healthy, functioning core and happy pelvis. When we lay on the floor crunching, not only are we adding too much stress to the neck and lower spine, but we are relying on the floor to stabilse us. Life throws awkward angles and poses at us, varying forces and a constantly changing landscape. Rarely do these challenges occur when we lay on our backs! The healthiest pelvis is one that avoids training in repetition. Variety is the spice of life, and the success of a functional pelvic floor.
Besides if your core and pelvic floor are compromised from a kyphotic (rounded shoulders) posture, then increasing that posture with crunches is not a good idea. Almost always, the core is best off with movements that challenge it to lengthen, and rotate, as opposed to crunching and shortening.
Let it Go - Stop Sucking In
Who has ever sucked in their tummy as they walked in from the beach to their towel? Stand up and draw your belly in. where does that mass go? It certainly doesn't disappear! It goes up, or it goes down! If the mass goes up, it can create diaphragm and breathing problems and if this mass is pushed down, then it bears straight down adding pressure to the pelvic floor and adding to pelvic floor dysfunction. Sucking in and holding your breath creates extra tension in the system which inevitably will have to come out somewhere! Better that it leaks out the mouth with breath, rather than leaking out down below!
It's not weak - it's tight! Stop Gripping
The old approach to injury treatment in the body was that something must be weak or broken. This is sadly still the approach to pelvic floor dysfunction. Many assume that if a pelvic floor leaks, then it’s simply failing due to a weakness. Check in with your pelvic floor right now and see of you can tell if it’s contracting subconsciously. Can you relax it? When you have been contracting a muscle for a long time, you lose sensitivity to it, as your nervous system begins to ignore the stimulus as normal. Most pelvic floor dysfunctions stem from a chronically tightened/ shortened or hypertonic pelvic floor.
A tight pelvic floor is the equivalent to an elastic band that's being stretched to maximal tension. It's being pulled so tight, that it's dehydrated, and has no elasticity left. So when our body has to suddenly sneeze, laugh, jump or squat, the pelvic floor has nothing less to give, no elasticity to shock absorb, and problems occur.
Ideally the pelvic floor should serve to operate like a trampoline - taut, but also supple. In order to achieve a taut pelvic floor, it needs to be held firmly on all sides, particularly by strong working butt muscles. Strong, mobile glutes help to suspend the pelvic floor. Tight (as in dehydrated and lacking full range) glutes make the pelvic floor more like a trampoline that has lost it’s elastic. It's not just a matter of strengthening the glute muscles, it's more about un-gluing stuck deep tissue, and finding ways to load it through a full range of motion.
For the majority of people Kegels are usually best to avoid as they focus on adding more tension to the pelvic floor by pulling the sacrum inward, and downward, encouraging even more pelvic gripping. Too many kegels plus tight glutes, lead to pelvic floor problems.
Why might this area be holding tension?
Psychologically we may be carrying stress and it tends to hold itself in our deeper core tissues. Stress tends to hold itself as physical tension, and common areas of storage are in this softer underbelly or inner hip. Stuck emotions tend to pull us into fetal position, or make us look like gravity is winning the postural battle when we stand up. This is only amplified with a sedentary lifestyle of too much sitting which will create dehydrated and glued up tissue throughout the thighs, hamstrings and pelvis. If we are not getting enough motion to this tissue to disperse stuck E-motion, then we get stuck stress and tension patterns.
Pelvic floor issues, any issues, are the result of how you have moved over your life and day-to-day lifestyle factors. Tension here can happen as a result of organ stress like bladder infection, poor digestion, a lack of tissue hydration, stress, too much sitting, repetitive movement, chest breathing, wearing too tight clothes etc. Think about the effects of clamping down on this region in your body to your digestion, elimination processes etc. Nothing works well when this area is stuck and tight.
Stretching a tight muscle won’t help, neither will adding tension to it. RELEASING it and finding out why it got so dam tight in the first place will help!
A more complete solution to movement
The answer to a more complete understanding of movement and enhancing our pelvic floor integrity is in addressing the ubiquitous nature of our fascia. Fascia makes up 70%+ of our body and connected everything together. It is 9-10x more propreoceptively rich than muscle is, and is vital for communicating with our nervous system. If we have 9-10 x more feedback in our fascia, then it is a much more viable solution for helping our pelvic floor to work better.
Check out the picture above – This is a fascial line of tissue (not muscle) that spans the length of our body. It’s probably the most important line of tissue to address when it comes to pelvic floor integrity. The deep fascial tissue central to the body runs from the big toe, via the inseam of the leg, though the pelvic floor, through the viscera and front of the spine, all the way up to our tongue. Yes your big toe, is connected to your tongue and your pelvic floor!
Looking at the lines of tissue and how interwoven it is though the pelvis. You can see how tightness and shortening of this line pulls us into poor posture, legs tightly held together and a digestive and sexual organ system that are being constricted. Studies show emotionally this posture promotes fear, sadness, anxiety, and more stress hormones.
If we allow this fascial line to be glued up and thus disconnected to the rest of the body, then we dramatically decrease our pelvic floor (core) strength, not to mention decreasing our overall wellness. We find that glued up tissue in this fascial section with most clients often causes pain, digestive disorders, dehydration, headaches and a barrier to weight loss.
Which exercises you need to do for a happy pelvis? ‘Do all of them’ - Author of Move your DNA, Katy Bowman
Solutions for Better Pelvic Health:
Relax. Constantly check in to release stuck tension in your body.
Avoid sucking in your belly.
Breath! Loud exhales through exercise exertion help to disperse tension and engage the deep intra abdominal pressure system without conscious activation. If you hold your breath, you bear down on the pelvic floor.
Full body integrated movement: Full body motion and loaded whole body movements involve the whole core always. There is no direct ‘burn’ in the muscles because you are allowing the whole system to mitigate the force. If you have good healthy and elastic fascia without too many glued up spots, your whole body can load up, and then unload. But if you are tight or stuck somewhere in the system, or have trained your body to work in isolated segments only (crunches, bicep curls etc) then there is an energy deficiency in the SYSTEM which eventually sets you up for one area to work harder than the rest and compensation and dysfunction to occur.
Play – a great opportunity for subconscious movement which is great for the whole body and mind.
Warding – A movement where you apply external pressure to the body in a pre-positioned state for no more than a 10 second hold.
Vibration Training - relaxes, hydrates, enriches and strengthens the pelvic floor under high loads up to 8 x body weight in a stationary position.
Hydration, nutrition – If the fascia isn’t healthy at it’s foundations, it doesn’t matter how you try and load or release it
Wishing you a happy, healthy, relaxed pelvic floor!