“C’mon ladies, push, push a little harder, dig deeper! You are strong!” Exclaims your fitness trainer. Your high energy HIIT class this week is particularly intense. You see flashes of sweat and grunts from the others attending the class. You have to keep up…. right? You have to push it to the next level like the girl next to you……right? Your abs are on fire, you can barely breathe, but you need to “werk it” to the end. You’ve managed push through the 50 minutes and think to yourself, “I smashed it!”
But have you really? The problem is- without realising it- you may be “smashing” your pelvic floor muscles. Muscles you don’t usually place a second thought upon. Your pelvic floor—with every intense core workout or HIIT work out may slowly take a beating!
MYTH: PFD is only reserved for pregnant women, women with children. post-surgery such as c-sections + older women!
FACT: Around 10% of women aged 20-39, around 27% of women aged 40-59, 37% of women aged 60-79 have Pelvic Floor Dysfunction (PFD).*
HIGH IMPACT HINDRANCE
Athletic women are also part of the millions of women at high risk of suffering from urinary incontinence or PFD. Women involved in high intensity training, gymnastics or any exercise or sport that requires hitting the floor “hard” can result in your pelvic floor being “HIIT hard”. The constant high impact can eventually weaken the pelvic floor muscles and connective tissue that support the bladder.
The pelvic floor supports the bladder, bowel, and uterus. When the pelvic floor becomes weak urinary incontinence, UI can be the result, which is common but quite an under reported problem in women all over the world.
WHAT LIES BENEATH
You may say, I train hard, everything MUST be strong! I look strong, I feel strong! This is not always the case. Intense abdominal exercises and vigorous training puts additional pressure on the pelvic floor. Training incorrectly and causing too much intra-abdominal pressure can not only be detrimental to the pelvic floor but also create further issues such as hernia. I personally have learnt the hard way in the past. I too had this mind set, I too trained hard and lifted heavy and pounded the pavement for 20 years! No matter how many crunches or how many weights I lifted, there was no getting away from the internal damage I was creating by not connecting and using the right muscles. My natural reaction was to go into denial as I looked and felt so strong. Luckily, the pelvic floor is made up of muscles, ligaments, and connective tissues and can be “trained” like all the other muscles in the body.
A WIDESPREAD PHENOMENON
I have started talking about the issues surrounding a weak pelvic floor and too much intra-abdominal pressure. I see so many people not training their core correctly. I was so surprised with the number of women both young and old who approached me after the class to say they felt they may have a form of urinary incontinence. Some feel they are not getting the connection of their deep abdominal muscles and are constantly “doming” creating a little pot belly. Without consciously connecting to these deeper core muscles (and yes believe it or not the pelvic floor is part of the core) we are putting ourselves at risk down the track if we over train the core or do not know how to train it correctly.
THE TRUTH HURTS
Let’s face it, we are not comfortable talking about our pelvic floor let alone having a chat about wee leaking when we cough or sneeze, but the issues are real. Some people may continue training incorrectly as they are simply not aware or feel embarrassed to address the issue and little do they know they are causing collateral damage.
THE CORE: OUR “CENTRE”
Core muscles are essential for stability and balance. Many people believe the core is the “six-pack” muscles, but in fact numerous muscle groups make up the core, inclusive of:
- Pelvic floor muscles
- Rectus abdominis (the “six-pack” muscles)
- Multifidi (deep back muscles)
- Transverse abdominis (located underneath the external and internal obliques)
- Gluteus maximus
All of these muscle groups work in concert to keep us balanced. When we focus only on one particular area (such as the rectus abdominis, by doing loads of crunches) this can be counterproductive and lead to injury as we are creating imbalanced muscles.
While the larger “global” muscles create big movement patterns, the smaller, deeper core muscles connect vertebrae from one joint to another. A good core exercise routine should work all of the muscle groups—large and small, without causing strain that can potentially lead to pelvic organ prolapse- now we do not want our “pelvic floor on the floor!”
ONE CRUNCH TOO MANY
You can do 1000 loaded sit ups a day which may give you a six pack, however this excessive intra-abdominal pressure, not only may stop you from breathing properly, but also may strain your pelvic floor, leading to prolapse (dropping) of the bladder, uterus, or other organs in the pelvic region. Now that’s not a nice thought! No one wants a prolapsed ANYTHING down below.
So how can you avoid this you are asking. The answer is simple. Learn to engage your core muscles from the inside, working deep and internally. It’s not all about those global muscles. Cease strong abdominal exercises to reduce impact on the pelvic floor and exercise your abdomen gently with core exercises.
The pelvic floor is often the missing link in many women’s sports training, whether you are runner, a gymnast, gym junkie, hiit addict or any woman engaging in sport I can promise you your performance will improve when you work the core correctly. Not to mention better looking abs! Now ladies let’s keep our pelvic floors off the floor.
Paola Di Lanzo will be running a workshop with Andrea Domin of Pilates Pointe. The workshop “A Pelvic Flaw” was created by Andrea an expert Pilates educator. If you are interested in signing up, please email email@example.com for more details. And for PT enquiries with Paola and her team of Pilates teachers please email firstname.lastname@example.org