Abs and Pelvic Floor: Let Them GO so You Can Build Them Up!
Have you ever tried to “suck in your stomach” to get a flatter look. Or perhaps tried it because it was how you were told you should stand? What usually happens? I can tell you what happens to me… after a couple minutes I’m thinking about the next thing and back to how I was.
Have you ever tried to do lots of Kegels to build up the strength in your pelvic floor (your answer might be no… not everyone has been told to do Kegels and that’s okay!)? Sometimes the recommendation is to do 500 Kegels a day, or to hold a Kegel for a long time while you do an activity. The idea is that this will help prevent leaking, make your pelvic floor muscles stronger and stabilize your pelvis to reduce pain.
BUT, LET ME TELL YOU THE PROBLEM WITH THESE RECOMMENDATIONS.
When we’re told to squeeze, tighten up, suck in, etc. we’re not using the muscles the way they are designed to work. Effectively, we are actually making our muscles WEAKER when we try to do these impossible tasks like hold our stomach in for the entire evening or squeeze our pelvic muscles the whole time we run.
I’LL BACK UP AND EXPLAIN HOW THESE MUSCLES ARE SUPPOSED TO WORK.
THEN, I’LL TAKE YOU STEP BY STEP ON HOW TO BUILD THEM UP AND COORDINATE TO WORK BEST FOR YOU.
Our muscles are designed to contract and relax. Picture your bicep. When it contracts, the elbow bends and when it releases the elbow straightens. Can you also picture, how during the contraction the muscle gets shorter and then during the release it gets longer? The abs and the pelvic floor muscles work that way too! When they release they get longer. In the pelvic floor, this means the muscles lengthen and spread down towards your feet and your sit bones widen. In the abdominals, this means the belly expands and fills like a balloon lengthening the muscles around the trunk.
This is a MUCH MORE SUBTLE movement than what you get at the bicep. But it’s still the same concept. The muscles contract and relax.
FOR A MUSCLE TO BE STRONG, IT HAS TO BE ABLE TO CONTRACT AND RELAX FULLY!
A muscle has to be able to go through its full range (from tight to released) in order to be strong. So think back to trying to “suck it in” or “squeeze” til there’s no tomorrow. We’re only working on a small portion of what those muscles can do!
WANT TO GET YOUR ABS AND PELVIC FLOOR STRONGER?
FIRST, LEARN TO RELEASE THEM.
– Take a deep breath in. Try to fill your abdomen like you’re filling a balloon. As you’re inhaling, see if you can feel the pelvic floor lower towards your feet and your sit bones broaden/ move away from each other. On the next inhale, focus on the abs and see if you can feel the belly releasing and the ribs expanding out in all directions. Reminder, this is subtle, you may not feel it at first! Once you start to get the hang of it you can practice release the abs and pelvic floor at the same time as you inhale. Click here if you need more guidance!
– If you’re having trouble feeling the release by using the breath, try “shaking it out” and getting the muscles to disengage that way. Swing your hips and visualize letting go (it helps to sing the Frozen theme song).
– You can also try stretches that help lengthen the muscles and therefore help get them into a more released position. Note, don’t force anything, because that just leads to the muscles wanting to tighten up more! Some positions that work well for the abs are leaning to the side to stretch the side of your trunk or doing a gentle rotation with the trunk. For the pelvic floor, a wide-legged child's pose works nicely as well as sitting and stretching the legs out to the side.
ONCE YOUR PELVIC FLOOR AND ABDOMINAL MUSCLES CAN RELEASE, THEN THE STRENGTHENING BEGINS.
Once the muscles know their full range of motion they can function to their full potential. Strengthening can start gradually. Start with gently engaging the muscles while you exhale. Then you can build on that and see if you can engage the muscles more with exercises. You are now training your body to let the muscle release when they aren’t needed and engage when they are. Gradually build up the challenge of the exercises and eventually you’ll be automatically using your core during exercise and daily movement!
Hope this helps! This can take a lot more work than what you may find in a single blog, so schedule a free visit here for more guidance. Remember, everyone is different, so this is not a substitute for medical advice. Only do what feels right for your body and get in touch with questions!
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