In the fitness world, there's a lot of attention on pelvic floor and abdominal strengthening during pregnancy and postpartum, but what about pelvic floor relaxation?
In order for your muscles to be strong and functional, they HAVE to be flexible. That's why you hear stories about people's backs hurting if their hamstrings are tight, having hip pain if their hip flexors are tight. You need flexibility in your muscles in order for them to do what they need to do.
That's why tight muscles can pose just as much of a problem for your bladder and bowel control as well as your sexual function. That why stretching is as important as strengthening when it comes to things like urinary leakage, diastasis recti and pelvic pain. That's why Kegels, or pelvic floor contractions, are not enough.
Here's an analogy to help explain:
Imagine you want to work on your grip strength, but you're doing it by holding your fist tightly shut. Imagine you hold that fist shut for hours. Now, after hours of that, you try to open that fist and use it to pick up something heavy. It's going to hurt. You probably won't be able to lift the heavy object and you may even drop it unexpectedly. You're not going to feel strong, you're just going to feel pain.
Don't believe me? Try it. Clench your fist for a minute and see how it feels.
Now, imagine that instead of clenching your fist shut for hours at a time, you add stretching into your program. You squeeze your fist closed really tightly- the strengthening portion of the program. Then you open up your hand really wide and let your fingers and palm stretch & relax. When you go to pick up that same heavy object, your hand will open easily to fit around it, and you will have the strength to hold on. It probably won't hurt. You probably won't drop it.
Try this version, too. For a minute, cycle between closing your fist tightly and opening it up wide. How does that feel?
If you're focusing on strengthening your pelvic floor (i.e. doing Kegels) and never stretching those muscles, your muscles are going to get tighter and they'll have a harder time doing their job. Just like your clenched fist.
What you really need your muscles to do is contract, relax fully, and contract again.
That's what you need for good bladder and bowel control. That's what you need for proper sexual function. Mobility and strength in your pelvic floor is important for all forms of fitness, including running, CrossFit, spin, yoga, barre and Pilates.
Tight pelvic floor muscles can not only lead to leakage and constipation, but pain with intercourse, pain in your hips, back, tailbone and more. If you experience any of those pains or symptoms, you may need to add pelvic floor relaxation into your routine.
If you're not sure whether your pelvic floor muscles are tight or weak, see a pelvic floor physical therapist who can help you determine what it is that your body needs. Schedule a call with me today if you have questions or concerns about your pelvic health or fitness routine.