Your pelvic floor is tight

One in four women suffers from a pelvic disorder and accompanying symptoms like severe menstrual cramps, bladder pain, leaking, and pain during sex. But research shows these disorders might be more common in the fit crowd.

While pregnancy can weaken your pelvic floor, the muscles in the area are often too strong in active women. This might be because improper breathing techniques and pushing hard during a workout can tighten the muscles, notes Neelu Shruti, founder of Love Child, a prenatal yoga studio in New York City. Plus, activities like running and cycling involve bouncing, which puts extra load on the area and can either tighten or weaken the floor, explains Pamela Peeke, MD, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland in Baltimore and a member of the Equinox Health Advisory Board.

It goes from bad to worse: Women often suffer the aforementioned symptoms in silence. “There’s a lot of shame around this topic,” Peeke says. “Many don’t even tell their doctors or gynecologists.” If you’re having symptoms, see your gynecologist. They can refer you to a pelvic floor physical therapist, who can diagnose you and personalize your fitness prescription.

In the meantime, you can support a healthy pelvic floor with proper gym mechanics, says Isa Herrera, CSCS, a New York City-based physical therapist and founder of PelvicPainRelief.com and Renew Physical Therapy, where treatments focus on the pelvic floor. Instead of bending forward and rounding your back to lift weights off the ground, squat down and do a kegel and ab contraction as you pick the weights up, then exhale as you rise.

The five practices below create flexibility and promote balance in the pelvic floor by working the surrounding muscles. Add them to your routine as often as every day to loosen up too-tight muscles.

Reverse kegels

Inhale for 5 seconds deep into your pelvic floor muscles and imagine that they are opening like a flower. “Never push these muscles to force the relaxation,” says Herrera. “Pushing creates more tightness, spasms, and trigger points potentially leading to more pain and or more leaking.” Complete 3 to 5 sets of 10 reps. You can also perform reverse kegels while doing the following exercises.

Figure-four pose

Start standing and hold a bar or other sturdy rod for support. Cross right ankle over left knee and sit into a squat. Stretch outside of right hip and glute. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute, release, and repeat on opposite side. Repeat up to 3 times.

Pigeon pose

Start on hands and knees and bring your right knee forward, placing it on the ground just behind your right wrist, and slide your left leg back, straightening the knee and pointing your toes. Gently lower your hips to the ground, placing a bolster or folded blanket underneath your right glute if needed to raise your hips, and lift your upper body, keeping hands on the ground on either side of you for support. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute, release, and repeat on the opposite side. Perform up to 3 sets.

Foam rolling

Herrera recommends you tend to the hips and inner thighs for 30 seconds to 1 minute each per day. Focus on deep breathing and keeping the pelvic floor muscles relaxed throughout.

Transverse Belly Holds

Bring your belly button gently toward your spine when you exhale to work the transverse abdominal muscles. To do it, engage them in a zipper-like action that starts at the pubic bone and goes all the way up to the heart, then hold for 5 seconds. Repeat 10 times for 1 to 3 sets.

Photo: Bersa/Art Partner Licensing

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