Get to know your Pelvic Floor

The Pelvic Floor is a vital muscle in your body. It underpins your bowel, bladder and the uterus, and supports your back and spine. Refer to the picture which shows the muscles that stretch like a hammock from the front to the back of your pelvis. When these muscles are strong and healthy they give us complete control and support over our bodily functions and help contribute to satisfying sex. The muscles consist of 2 types fast and slow twitch and require you to strengthen them fast and slowly to support your core!

Pelvic Floor

In the absence of exercise, simply getting older brings muscle deterioration. But childbirth, pushing on the loo, hysterectomy, menopause, lack of oestrogen and muscle tone, obesity, bad breathing habits, excessive coughing, poor posture, weak gluts, stress, and high impact exercise like running, jumping and weight lifting can also contribute to a weak and ineffective Pelvic Floor (Stats show high reports of female fitpros with weakness).

Leaking urine is embarrassing, inconvenient and happens to one in three women due to a weak Pelvic Floor. Showing signs when you cough, sneeze, laugh, run or exercise, not reaching the loo in time, or struggling to control yourself and at worst a prolapse (suffered by millions of women) which can contribute to bad posture, back and neck pain and can take away our freedom and confidence to enjoy an active life.

Pelvic floor strength test and Isolating and functional exercises?
PF restoration and maintenance exercises are incorporated in many Pilates classes. They effectively start with isolating the muscles then incorporate your core – diaphragm, deep abdominals and deep back muscles. If dysfunctional you need to start with the basic exercises to learn to isolate the muscles but if you have no problems just keep mobile and do the following 3 functional exercises. The functional and movement based exercises can be 70% more effective than just kegel /pelvic floor exercises (research by Dr. Bruce Crawford Pfilates (Urogynecologist).as they incorporate the muscles which work to provide stability to the pelvis, pelvic floor and maintain your posture and alignment : gluteus minimus, the hip adductors, and deep hip rotators. During my Pilates classes we advise you to breath out on the exertion and when you start to engage the PF muscles. Ideally you’ll do these exercises for the rest of your life anytime, anywhere.

POSITION -Neutral posture (check in the mirror) either seated (don’t cross legs as you can use your gluts/ buttock muscles) or lie down on your back, bend your knees and keep your feet flat (If pregnant lie on your side), then …

To test the strength:
1. Stop your wee mid flow on the loo (only do this once or you’ll risk getting a bladder infection).
2. Tighten the muscles around your vagina and back passage and lift inwards and upwards. Count how long you can hold for, then completely relax the muscles. Aim to hold for 10 secs. The Chartered Society of Physiotherapists recommends you practice this contraction just before you get out of a chair, cough, and sneeze or laugh to increase support and to retrain a weak pelvic floor.

Exercises to isolate the pelvic floor:
3. Fast Pelvic Floor contractions: Lift quickly -like an on / off switch hold for one second. Repeat 10 reps
4. Slow Pelvic floor controlled contractions: Imagine your PF muscles are an elevator at the ground floor of a building. As you contract and breathe out, imagine the elevator rising, slowly, to the second and third floor. Release slowly as the imaginary elevator lowers to each floor and returns to the starting position. Breathe in and relax completely.)Repeat 10 reps and hold for 8-10 seconds. This increases endurance for impact activities (eg trampoline, running and weight lifting).

POSITION– Lie on your back with your hips and knees bent, find a neutral curve in your lower back, engage your pelvic floor and lower abdominals on each exercise.

1. Pelvic tilt: Gently rock your pelvis forward and back (anterior then posterior pelvic tilt). As you rock back breathe out and pull in your PF and abdominal muscles, feel your low back pressing and hold 30-60 seconds. This mobilises and lubricates the joints of the spine and hips, improves and increases
blood flow, combines deep breathing and pf activation.
2. Inner thigh squeeze: place a pillow or ball between the knees and squeeze repeat 10. To progress lift and straighten legs towards ceiling, open, exhale then close and squeeze repeat 10. Aim to strengthen your deep abdominals, hip flexors, and inner thigh muscles.
3. Curl up: Engage pelvic floor, breathe out pull in your belly button and lift head * 5. Aim to improve core strength. (if Diastasis rectus hug arms across chest and gently pull hands towards each other.
4. Stretch inner thighs: Hug knees in to relax the back and rock then open the knees wide, hold 30 secs.

POSITION- Standing
1. Squats 1: legs wide push bottom back as if going to sit back on a chair. Repeat 10-50. Aim to stretch and strengthen core, bottom and legs and lower back.
2. Squats 2: Slowly lower yourself down into a deep squat bottom near your heels (you may need to hold onto the back of a chair for support). Place a pillow behind your knees (to take some pressure off the knee joints) or remove for a deeper hip and thigh stretch and stand with your heels on a firm cushion. Do not let your back round or your tailbone tuck under. Lengthen your spine and lift your heart, maintaining a neutral spine position. Hold 30 secs repeat 3. (Feet flat is harder).
3. Squats repeat above with PF squeezes (PF muscles are slightly lengthened so a good position to really sense the contraction and relaxation against gravity. Repeat 5-10, fully relax between repetitions.

This term at Farnham Pilates one of our focusses is Pelvic Floor. Take a look at our classes page for more details.

Focus on Farnham Pilates Teacher – Sara Rounce

Farnham Pilates teacher

Sara Rounce

This weeks blog is a focus on one of our lovely teachers at Farnham Pilates, Sara Rounce. Sara teaches in the studio on Thursdays. She trained with The Pilates Institute in London back in 2003 and has enjoyed a varied career teaching classes at all levels and abilities as well as pregnancy, postnatal and seniors. Since having 3 children, Sara has become increasingly interested in pregnancy and postnatal exercise and is a specialist in this area.

Here’s what we asked Sara about her background in Pilates.

What is your favourite exercise and why?

I have two!

First is The Dart as it really focuses on extension of the spine whilst stabilising the shoulders. It is a strong exercise for the upper back and excellent for correcting poor posture. There are a lot of elements to get right which makes it a challenge to teach but it is so beneficial and I love the way client’s backs change when they make the correct movement in this exercise. You can see the ‘wings’ (scapulae) sink into the back and it is beautiful to see.

Secondly, The Plank! It is one of those exercises that, from a teaching perspective, most clients groan when I say that is what we are going to do next! However it is also one of the exercises that clients see the most or the quickest progress with and I find it a great benchmark. It is fantastic for building overall body strength, stamina and focusses on the core and the shoulders. It is great because you can easily modify to cover every ability level so everyone can join in and not feel left behind.

How do you like to structure a class?

My classes are usually an hour long and start with a standing warm up to focus the mind onto the body and to work on elements such as balance, coordination, centring and breathing. Then there is about 50 minutes of matwork exercises which involve lying on the back, side, front and seated movements. Then the last 5 minutes involves stretching and allowing the body to warm down.

What was your training and how long have you been teaching?

I have been teaching for 12 years. I was trained by Michael King, Cherry Baker and Malcolm Muirhead and my inspirations are based on my initial training at the Pilates Institute in London as well as my time with my own inspirational Pilates teacher, Kira Bowie who owns Aberdeen Pilates Studio where I taught for 3 years and more recently Carolyne Anthony (Center of Women’s Fitness).

What is your main area of interest in Pilates?
I am passionate about post-natal recovery in women and in March 2015 I attended Carolyne Anthony’s course “Healing Exercises for Diastasis Recti, C-Section and Pubis Symphasis Derangement” which I now apply in my teaching. Having had 3 c-sections and suffered from diastasis recti myself, I realise how important these healing exercises are for new mums. I felt so passionately about helping women to recover after having a baby that I have developed the Postnatal App available on iTunes to help women around the world.

I hope you have enjoyed finding out a bit more about one of our teachers. You can read a bit more about Sara here and if you are interested in coming along to her class on a Thursday then do get in touch below.

Contact us

Back care for Mums

Back care for busy mums

back care for mums

 

With Back Care Awareness Week this week, the main focus was to get Britain thinking about their posture, moving more and standing while working, I thought we should also focus on busy mums working from home.

So are you a busy mum, rushing about and you only realise at the end of the day that your back aches and shoulders are tense. Maybe you have aches and pains when you get up or after leaning over the iPad or iPhone for that quick organise of play dates/lifts, maybe you carry children, or are you are worried about your pelvic floor? This is all linked to posture and with the wrong spine position, lack of movement or the wrong moment it can affect your back and pelvic floor.

I am very aware of my tense shoulders and sore neck, upper and lower back after it has just “gone” once a year so I HAVE to do Pilates. My back mobility and strength and pelvic floor are top of my list and I’ve helped so many clients with a simple stretch or strengthen that can change their lives.

I have to keep assessing mine and my clients posture as things change and you should too, so when you are slouching on the sofa or leaning to see the iPhone screen as you quickly type think about how you are sitting. If you don’t sometimes ache you are lucky, but like most I’m afraid we start to ache in the shoulders, lower, upper back or in the hips, because of bad habits and maybe even a trapped nerve causing shooting pain down the leg or pins and needles in leg or arm at night? There could be other reasons for this, but don’t just accept it and live with it you can do something!

You may even go to the gym, Bootcamp, run or walk with friends, but aches still come and go and then when your back goes it’s agony. Especially when you have been sitting in the same position for a long time.

It’s not all doom and gloom as you can change your posture, strengthen your core and back or create that strong base. Our muscles have memories but we can recreate the memories to make the muscles support automatically.

Things I advise to help you

Checking your posture and spinal alignment in the mirror or send me a side and front picture. Look at your bad habits ie tense over the iPad, or stirring cooking – I remind myself to stop and pull my shoulders down.

Regular exercise and the right exercise ie Pilates, It gets your brain to switch on core pelvic floor first then move.

Repetition not just 1 day or 1 course of 5 weeks. The exercises Pilates uses are for LIFE!

Get your breathing right as breathing deeply can feel like a massage in the upper back as it can release your thorax/diaphragm.

Do more “core strength” for tummy and back. Yes Pilates can work your core and tummy muscles to help stabilise your back but if you only do sit ups or suddenly lift a heavy object if you haven’t engaged your core or pulled your shoulders down then this will do no good for you.

Balance the exercise or activity you do in the week (ie not only running or bending over a computer or kneeling playing with a small child) so not always working same muscles. So If you do exercise like Bootcamp or the gym, check your posture and ask the instructor to check for you and bad habits. Common sense can show you where you need to change and just some simple tweaks to how you sit, stand or carry can help you.

Prioritise your healthy mobile spine by moving as much as you can, roll, hip circle, curl your bottom under, stretch to the ceiling, side bend, lengthen yourself out. Pilates is an all over body exercise programme balancing out and toning the muscles, also stretching and mobilising the muscles that are over tight and pulling the body out of “neutral alignment”.

Check an exercise and make sure you are doing it correctly. You may be doing exercises like the plank but letting your back sink because your tummy isn’t strong enough and putting strain on your lower back and shoulders and making the back worse. The picture below is good form.

back care for mums

Good form for Plank

Ok, what does this mean and how do you fit it into your busy life?

How to check your posture – Are the shoulders and chin coming forward. Or maybe you have a very curved lower back that can put tension on certain parts of the back or you push the hips forward and lock the knees all you need is a posture analysis and being aware of this can help you think about correcting it.

So Try this standing posture exercise – pull your shoulders back, rib cage in and bottom tucked under. Imagine a piece of string has stretched you up towards the ceiling this is neutral alignment! Try and copy this pose when you can.

But what does this mean?Find out the right corrective exercise for your individual biomechanics. This diagram is of an overly curved spine caused by various issues including too much sitting, tight hip flexors, or after having children.

 

In a posture analysis a good teacher can check if one leg is longer than the other or one hip is tight, causing pain and affecting how you walk. A simple check of the hips or the right stretch of the hip flexor at the front of the thigh and stretch for your bottom might correct this problem.

5 top tips

1. Get your posture assessed to make sure the moves are right for your body

2. Corrective exercises – Do daily simple strengthening moves like shoulder bridge, superman and the plank

3. Do daily stretches for hip flexors, hamstrings and chest.

4. Stop slouching

5. Be aware of your posture and self correct bad habits

Try this move at home – good for support or strengthen the back

Superman

back care for mums

So the conclusion is to stretch, stretch, stretch and keep moving, I also believe massage, salt baths to relax muscles, using foam rollers to stretch and massage too.

What can you do now

Send me a photo to look at your posture and suggest tips.

Come for a free trail next Thursday.

Back care workshop starting after half term in November, Monday 1.30pm and Thursday’s 10.30.

Or Come for a one to one bespoke exercises.

Let me help you relieve your back pain.

For more info on any of the above please drop me a line – hannah@farnhampilates.com

Hannah

Get to know your pelvic floor muscles

Pelvic floor muscles exercise

The Pelvic Floor is a vital muscle in your body: it underpins your bowel, bladder and the uterus, and supports your back and spine. Refer to the picture which shows the muscles that stretch like a hammock from the front to the back of your pelvis. When these muscles are strong and healthy they give us complete control and support over our bodily functions and help contribute to satisfying sex. The muscles consist of two types: fast and slow twitch. You need to strengthen both fast and slow to support your core.

In the absence of exercise, simply getting older brings muscle deterioration. But childbirth, pushing on the loo, hysterectomy, menopause, lack of oestrogen and muscle tone, obesity, bad breathing habits, excessive coughing, poor posture, weak gluts, stress, and high impact exercise like running, jumping and weight lifting can also contribute to a weak and ineffective Pelvic Floor (stats show high reports of female fitpros with weakness).

Leaking urine is embarrassing, inconvenient and happens to one in three women due to a weak Pelvic Floor. First signs show when you cough, sneeze, laugh, run or exercise, or not reaching the loo in time. At its worst, it leads to a prolapse (suffered by millions of women). Weak Pelvic Floor can also contribute to bad posture, back and neck pain, and can take away our freedom and confidence to enjoy an active life.

Pelvic floor strength test / Isolating / Functional exercises

Pelvic Floor restoration and maintenance exercises are incorporated in many Pilates classes. You start by isolating the Pelvic Floor muscles and then incorporating your core – diaphragm, deep abdominals and deep back muscles. If these are dysfunctional you need to start with the basic exercises to learn to isolate the muscles. If you have no problems, just keep mobile and do the following three functional exercises. The functional and movement based exercises can be 70% more effective than just kegel /pelvic floor exercises (research by Dr. Bruce Crawford Pfilates Urogynecologist) because they incorporate the muscles that work to provide stability to the pelvis and PF, and maintain your posture and alignment: gluteus minimus, the hip adductors, and deep hip rotators. During our Pilates classes we advise you to breathe out on the exertion and when you start to engage the PF muscles. Ideally you’ll do these easy yet effective exercises for the rest of your life.

 

Get to know your pelvic floor (PF) muscles (checks and exercises)

POSITION – Neutral posture (check in the mirror) either seated (don’t cross legs as you can use your gluts/ buttock muscles) or lie down on your back, bend your knees and keep your feet flat then (if pregnant, lie on your side).

To test the strength:

  1. Stop your wee mid flow on the loo (only do this once or you’ll risk getting a bladder infection).
  2. Tighten the muscles around your vagina and back passage and lift inwards and upwards. Count how long you can hold for, then completely relax the muscles. Aim to hold for 10 secs. The Chartered Society of Physiotherapists recommends you practice this contraction just before you get out of a chair, cough, and sneeze or laugh to increase support and to retrain a weak pelvic floor.

Exercises to isolate the pelvic floor:

Fast Pelvic Floor contractions: Lift quickly like an on/off switch – hold for one second. Repeat 10 times.  

  1. Slow Pelvic floor controlled contractions: Imagine your PF muscles are an elevator at the ground floor of a building. As you contract and breathe out, imagine the elevator rising, slowly, to the second and third floors. Release slowly as the imaginary elevator lowers to each floor and returns to the starting position. Breathe in and relax completely. Repeat 10 times holding for 8-10 seconds. This increases endurance for impact activities (eg trampoline, running and weight lifting).

POSITION – Lie on your back with your hips and knees bent, find a neutral curve in your lower back, engage your Pelvic Floor and lower abdominals on each exercise.

  1. Pelvic tilt: gently rock your pelvis forward and back (anterior then posterior pelvic tilt). As you rock back breathe out and pull in your PF and abdominal muscles, feel your low back pressing and hold 30-60 seconds. This mobilises and lubricates the joints of the spine and hips, improves and increases
    blood flow, combines deep breathing and PF activation.
  2. Inner thigh squeeze: place a pillow or ball between the knees and squeeze, repeat x 10. To progress, lift and straighten legs towards ceiling, open, exhale then close and squeeze repeat x 10. Aim to strengthen your deep abdominals, hip flexors, and inner thigh muscles.
  3. Curl up: engage pelvic floor, breathe out, pull in your belly button and lift head x 5. Aim to improve core strength. (If Diastasis rectus, hug arms across chest and gently pull hands towards each other.)
  4. Stretch inner thighs: hug knees in to relax the back and rock then open the knees wide, hold 30 secs.

POSITION – Standing

  1. Squats 1: legs wide, push bottom back as if going to sit back on a chair. Repeat x 10-50. Aim to stretch and strengthen core, bottom and legs and lower back.
  2. Squats 2: slowly lower yourself down into a deep squat, bottom near your heels (you may need to hold onto the back of a chair for support). Place a pillow behind your knees (to take some pressure off the knee joints) or remove for a deeper hip and thigh stretch and stand with your heels on a firm cushion. Do not let your back round or your tailbone tuck under. Lengthen your spine and lift your head, maintaining a neutral spine position. Hold 30 secs repeat x 3. (Feet flat is harder).
  3. Squats: repeat above with PF squeezes (PF muscles are slightly lengthened so a good position to really sense the contraction and relaxation against gravity. Repeat x 5-10, fully relax between repetitions.

Hannah Epps is a Pilates teacher based in Surrey and running courses online. She has specialised in post-natal and pelvic floor dysfunction for over 10 years. This article is a combination of her research, courses, workshops and experience. For more information on classes click here and for more info on the Yummy Tummy programme click here

 

 

Hannah’s top reasons to do Pilates

Pilates has really worked for me which is why I became a teacher. The first time I needed to do Pilates was after a car accident, and then throughout both of my pregnancies. Today, if I ever feel out of alignment or in pain, Pilates is the only answer – I can do it in five minutes and I know I’ll feel better. I believe it’s about a balanced, happy body and mind.

Joseph Pilates designed this revolutionary system of exercise in the 1950s and he is still very much respected and referred to today.
“Pilates is the complete coordination of body, mind and spirit” Joseph Pilates

Hannahs Top Reasons to do Pilates

1. The most important thing Pilates does is support your core, strengthen abdominals, back and pelvic floor. This is important for spinal stability. We don’t guarantee a flat tummy but you’ll certainly get a smaller waist- however we will focus on that next week and how you can improve your tummy with “Hannah’s 7 steps to a summer yummy tummy and her favourite abdominal exercises

2. Your balance will improve – try and balance on one leg – if you wobble you need to do Pilates!

3. Your body will have a better posture and proper alignment which improves your self esteem. Look in the mirror – You will look and walk better as more straight and confident with 2 inches taller!

4. Pilates keeps you fit and toned as you age. As our body and hormones change through the seasons of our life. So its right for all stages i.e. post-natal recovery; amazing 40s; sensational 50s; and sexy 60s plus# whether an athlete or recovering from an injury, the level can be adapted for you!

5. Pilates breathing will help you focus and relax the mind – it will improve your circulation, stimulate the spine and muscles. You will sleep better and learn to relax when stressed, as we run such busy lives. As you focus on the movement, the body and mind will work together more giving mind body awareness.

6. You may well look slimmer as the muscles lengthen and tone and it encourages better body circulation to aid weight loss.

top reasons to do pilates

Pilates can enhance your life in so many ways

7. You will improve your pelvic floor (which in turn leads to a better sex life!!). We rely on these muscles more than you think – they are our foundation like a tree’s roots. Your Pelvic floor is so important not just during and after pregnancy for women ALL their life. We need it strong to support our organs and prevent incontinence – if you have a slight leak when you cough of laugh you need to address this now – it means something is wrong . Your pelvic floor may be weak or Pilates will help you relax other muscles so it can get stronger.

8. You will improve the tone of your muscles (less wobbly bits!) as Pilates wont over develop some areas more than others and each movement lengthens the muscles, Pilates focuses on long lean muscles using eccentric contractions – lengthening not on the contraction like a bicep curl but the return phase i.e. lowering your leg.

9. Your joints will be more mobile and therefore help you feel better and prevent injury – not so stiff keeping fluid moving to prevent stiff joints and less pain which is relevant for all ages!

10. You will feel more flexible as Pilates stretches works on the stretch and increasing of the muscles and range of motion within joints. Clients say they feel so much better and their body feels lengthened and lighter after stretching the muscles and with more relaxed muscles tension in your neck, shoulders and lower back can relax and you’ll have less tightness and pain.

11. It is amazing pain relief as the exercises will isolate or focus on one or a few muscles at a time i.e. your bottom or one leg this will stop your dominate side taking over -as it may when you walk/ run or work. Your body will learn to isolate a muscle and therefore your body and muscles will be more balanced so no pain down one side if you over use it. Or as we get older people tend to lean, so working the weak side will stop this. So it is relevant for rehab after injury, also athletes and all ages – we adapt the exercise for different levels and give modifications so classes tailored to all.

12. Pilates will increase your energy and help you sleep well –and keep you pain free to do more of the things you enjoy like gardening, golf, running, skiing, cycling.

You will get addicted to Pilates plus any exercise you enjoy with make you happy, you will look forward to your session or class and you will stick to it. Pilates classes are fun and relaxing and you may make some friends that motivate you to want to do more!

Testimonial from a client “We started Hannah’s Pilates classes when we were training for the London to Paris Bike Ride to celebrate our 40th birthday and the classes saved us! They made an amazing difference to my body while training and helped relieve stiff limbs and a bad back as Hannah stretched us out and corrected our bike posture. The exercises and stretches were essential for our tired muscles during the challenge at the end of each day, and I’m sure a strong core contributed to us completing the ride with no injuries. We have continued the classes and I have found it is a huge difference to how my body feels and releases any tension after daily work and home stresses. Thanks Sophie Hardy Farnham.

For more info on our Yummy Tummy Programme click here