Pelvic floor exercises are the adult equivalent of tidying your bedroom room - a chore you're well aware your have to address at some point, but something you often don't make time for until things get uncomfortable.
Sian Marshall, the founder and owner of U Pilates, has been teaching Pilates for over 15 years, first in the US and now in the UK. She has long been passionate about using Pilates to strengthen the pelvic floor. Marshall is adamant that strengthening the pelvic floor should be easy and needn't always involve scary looking weights.
Marshall has comprised a set of four fuss-free exercises that you can do anywhere, whether you're sat at your desk in the office or in front of the TV watching Netflix at home. She encourages Pilates devotees to include a pelvic floor focus in their regular workouts too. 'Doing your pelvic floor exercises whilst doing Pilates is an absolute game changer,' says Marshall, 'even if you've been doing Pilates for many years and you haven't focused on your pelvic floor, if you start doing so now, you'll feel your pelvic floor and abdominal muscle strength reach a whole other level.'
Watch: 4 Easy Pilates Exercises That Will Strengthen Your Pelvic Floor
How To Strengthen Your Pelvic Floor
'The first way involves a squeeze of the pelvic floor alone,' says Marshall, 'sitting anywhere, whether on the floor or on a chair at your desk, take a big inhale and let everything release in your pelvic floor. Next think about where your tampon would be if you were wearing one, and think about the muscles that would be surrounding it. Take another inhale and let those muscles relax. As you breathe out I want you to think about squeezing your tampon hard. As you breathe in, release those muscles again, and repeat. Inhale and let those muscles relax, exhale and squeeze those muscles in.' Keep doing this for at least two minutes.
'We're going to add in a lift,' says Marshall, 'think about those muscles that would surround your tampon again, breathe in and let them relax. As you breathe out, start by squeezing those muscles again, and this time think about trying to lift those muscles up internally. Next, breathe in, release the squeeze and let those muscles lower down.' Repeat, squeezing, lifting and letting go for at least two minutes.
'Now it's time for some fast-paced squeezes,' says Marshall, 'your pelvic floor is made up of layers of muscle, and the majority of them are slow twitch fibres. Some of the muscles, though, are fast twitch fibres, and you can strengthen these muscles with fast squeezes. Think about the muscles that would surround a tampon again, and breathe calmly. Breathe in and then squeeze and release, squeeze and release, squeeze and release, almost with each second. Big inhales and big exhales. Squeeze your bum too, that helps.' Repeat for one to two minutes before relaxing.
'A lot of people struggle with this last pelvic floor exercise,' says Marshall, 'so you might want to wait until you've done a few weeks of the first three before attempting it. It's an exercise that takes your pelvic floor strength to a whole other level. Imagine your pelvic floor as an elevator that travels between four floors. First, breathe in and let the floor release. On your first exhale squeeze those muscles again, and try and lift your internal elevator to the first floor. See if you can hold it there as you breathe in. As you breathe out again, lift that squeeze up to the second floor. Hold it there and breathe in. On your next big exhale, squeeze even harder and lift your internal elevator to the third floor. Hold it there and breathe in. On your last exhale, squeeze those muscles as hard as you can and see if you can lift your internal elevator to the penthouse, to the fourth floor, before inhaling and relaxing everything again.'
How often should you do pelvic floor exercises? And for how long?
'Five minutes a day of isolated pelvic floor exercises will make a huge difference,' says Marshall, 'you can make boring times more productive by doing them while you're standing in a shopping queue, sitting on the train or filling the car with petrol. Some days you may be able to fit in ten minutes worth of pelvic floor exercises, others you might forget, but as a general rule aim for around five minutes a day. Don't worry if you miss a day either, like any other form of exercise, it's good to have rest days.'
What sorts of things can weaken your pelvic floor?
'Many believe that you only have to worry about strengthening your pelvic floor after childbirth,' says Marshall, 'but as we age the natural slowing of collagen production can lead to a weakened pelvic floor too. Lifting heavy weights, running and extreme exercise can also wreak havoc on the strength and resilience of our pelvic floor muscles. Multiple births and having heavier babies can play a part too.'
What are the benefits of exercising your pelvic floor?
'There are so many benefits to strengthening your pelvic floor,' assures Marshall, 'think flatter and stronger low tummy muscles, better orgasms, reduced lower back pain, no leakage - including when you sneeze, run or jump - significantly reduced risk of prolapse and improved confidence and mental health.'