How to Strengthen Your Pelvic Floor Muscles: A New Approach
Strengthening the pelvic floor can seem… mysterious. So, let’s use an analogy.
Imagine for a moment that you have significant knee pain. Maybe you twisted it stepping off a sidewalk wrong, or maybe you’ve changed up your workout routine, or maybe you just don’t even know why.
You make an appointment with a physical therapist. Now imagine if the therapist said, “We need to strengthen this knee. Let’s think about the knee, only the knee, and not anything else. It’s the knee.”
You’d be hard pressed to find such a therapist because such an oversimplified approach doesn’t yield wellness, short or long term. Your body is intelligent, a sophisticated and complex machine. Nothing works in isolation and everything has “upstream” and “downstream” effects, meaning any dysfunction or injury will have had other parts play into its function, and then the dysfunction or injury will also affect other parts of your body.
When one system is affected, all the systems that connect to it can play a role in its recovery. If you are looking to strengthen your pelvic floor quickly and effectively, you have to take into account the systems with which it interacts.
Why, then, do we consistently hear, “do Kegels” or “learn how to strengthen your pelvic floor” as the only responses to pelvic floor dysfunction? If a singular focus on strengthening the pelvic floor isn’t the most effective approach for better pelvic function, what is?
At HappySneeze, our work is centered on extensive research and experience. All research points to a holistic approach to strengthening pelvic floor muscles. This “whole system” approach, the best pelvic floor solution, is rooted in two key practices:
Sensory Integration: Use Your Senses
Sensory integration is widely practiced in all rehabilitation modalities. For example, to “turn on” the muscles supporting the shoulder after a rotator cuff injury, therapists will tap, massage, and touch the muscles that should be activated. Another example: proprioception, or sensing where your body is in space, comes into play as a person tests their range of motion for a knee or a hip.
With the pelvic floor, sensory integration is just as important yet not practiced widely. The pelvic floor is out of sight and mostly out of reach: for many, this renders it out of mind.
Our research and practice at the HappySneeze has shown us that sensory integration is key to building pelvic floor wellness. Through sight, touch, proprioception, and even listening to breath, women can build new habits and better connection to the pelvic floor.
Sensory integration is the best way to marry your brain and your body, helping train your muscles to do what they are built―but perhaps not habituated―to do.
Self Education: Trust Yourself
If you are reading this, you are probably the owner and operator of a pelvic floor. Nobody―no device, app, or doctor―can know your body better than you. However, there is often a disconnect when it comes to the pelvic floor. This disconnect is due initially to a lack of education and/or underutilized awareness, but is often compounded by an injury, pregnancy or birth that interrupts the brain-pelvic floor connection.
For example: You may assume you have a weak pelvic floor and want to strengthen it fast. But you may discover the problem is actually that it’s forgotten how to relax and let go.
You may feel like you have more questions than answers right now. (How long will it take to strengthen my pelvic floor muscles? Can I do it quickly? How do I even know if my pelvic floor muscles are strong? How can I strengthen my pelvic floor muscles without Kegels? Do I have to do Kegels at all?) That’s great. Questions lead to exploration and ultimately the self-knowledge that will guide you to optimal pelvic floor function.
The HappySneeze method is built around the (not-so-) secret ingredients of knowing yourself and educating yourself. We bring the latest evidence-based strategies into your daily life, guiding pelvic floor operators to sense how their muscles are feeling and working in real-life situations. Sitting at your desk. Chasing after a kid on a scooter. Laughing until you have tears in your eyes.
With accurate knowledge about how your body works, you will be ready to make decisions about your posture and movements, protecting and learning how to strengthen your pelvic floor. This learned awareness will keep you tuned into the pelvic floor as part of a larger stability and continence system, improving your ability to eliminate leaks day after day.
It is never too late to help your body work more effectively!
Even if you are 20 years postpartum, or have been sneeze-peeing for a decade, you can still benefit from gathering information, connecting your pelvic floor and your brain, and understanding how different aspects of your life do or do not support your pelvic floor health.