I am sure we have all heard of the term “core strength training” and I am sure you all know that it refers to the abdominals and maybe you all know that it also includes some of the back muscles but did you know the pelvic floor muscles play an incredibly important role in the overall strength of the core?
Firstly, What is the Pelvic Floor?
The pelvic floor is a group of 16 muscles that work together as a functional unit to provide support, control, sexual function and stability to the pelvis and spine. This sheet of muscles, as one of the core muscles, helps in maintaining posture and intra-abdominal pressure and for holding organs in place. In fact the pelvic floor muscles work together with the deep abdominal muscles and the back muscles to keep the body erect.
The actual main task of the pelvic floor muscles is to hold up the pelvic organs against gravity, they ensure they stay in place when abdominal pressure increases from sneezing, coughing, laughing, or other physical exertion.
When we lift a weight for instance, the internal pressure increases and when the weight is put down the internal pressure returns back to normal.
We are obviously unaware of this chain reaction between all of the muscles, it literally happens automatically. As you lift the weight the pelvic floor muscles lift, the abdominal and back muscles draw in to support the spine, and the breath comes naturally. Why you don’t notice this is that the the pelvic floor muscles are responding appropriately and automatically to the increase in abdominal pressure.
The Diaphragm & The Pelvic Floor
The diaphragm, your main breathing muscle, is an essential partner with the pelvic floor, creating the top of the abdominal canister while the pelvic floor forms the bottom. These two muscles must function in coordination with one another for proper control of pressure mechanics to exist.
The majority of muscles in our body work in pairs so when one muscle contracts, it’s opposing muscle must elongate to allow that movement and vice verse. Applying this principle to the pelvic floor and diaphragm, as you inhale the diaphragm muscle contracts and compresses downward towards the pelvis, literally drawing the air in. At the same time and, in opposition to that movement, the pelvic floor elongates to accommodate for the pressure change. As you exhale though the diaphragm begins to dome (almost like an open parachute) and rises upward back to it’s resting place pushing the air out, whilst the pelvic floor gently contracts back up. This must also happen when you lift heavy objects, cough or laugh. If the coordination of these two is out of sync, you leak urine, or develop prolapse because you are not able to control the pressure mechanics in the pelvis.
Result of Core Weakness
If any of the muscles of the ‘core’, i.e. transverse abdominis, multifidi including the pelvic floor, are weak or have been injured and therefore damaged, then this coordinated automatic chain of events may be altered. In this situation, as you lift the weight the internal abdominal pressure is taken by the pelvic floor muscles instead of a symphony of support from all of the other muscles involved which may cause the pelvic floor to depress. If this continually happens during each exercise session and every time you lift in each session then obviously the continual excess strain and pressing down on the pelvic floor muscles will cause them to weaken and this may result in loss of bladder or bowel control, or pelvic organ prolapse. If a problem already exists, then pelvic floor symptoms can potentially be worsened.