Pelvic floor exercises

Like other muscles in the body, the pelvic floor muscles – the ‘sling’ of muscles that supports the bladder, bowel and uterus – can be strengthened by exercise. Ideally, all women should do daily pelvic floor exercises throughout adulthood to maintain strong muscles and reduce the risk of incontinence and prolapse. 

You can do the exercises anywhere: in a queue, watching television, sitting at a desk, cooking – basically any time you can focus your attention on strengthening your pelvic floor.

Pelvic floor exercises are not necessarily easy to do correctly. The pelvic floor muscles can be difficult to isolate. When done correctly, they are very effective, but practising the wrong technique can make a problem worse.

If doing the exercises yourself doesn’t help, then you can seek help from a pelvic floor physiotherapist or a continence nurse.

How to strengthen your pelvic floor

Start practising this exercise, either sitting or lying down on your back with your knees bent and feet flat. This is easiest on your bed or couch.

The aim is to exercise your pelvic floor muscles every day.

Steps What to do
Tighten Tighten the muscles around the anus, vagina and urethra all at once and try to lift or draw them up inside.

  • Make sure you are not pushing down, holding your breath or squeezing your buttocks or legs together
  • Nothing should be working above the belly button, but you may feel your lower abdominal muscles switch on.
Level 1
  • Slowly count to 3
  • Let your muscles go completely – this should feel smooth and quick and the muscles should stay relaxed while you rest
  • Rest your pelvic floor muscles while you count to 6
  • Repeat
  • Do as many as you can up to 10
  • If you find it difficult to let your muscles go, softening your belly and letting your abdominal muscles go might help, as well as quiet, relaxed breathing
Level 2 Please note, if you have an issue with vaginal or pelvic pain, you will need a special program from a pelvic floor physiotherapist before proceeding any further

  • Instead of counting to 3, slowly count to 6 or 8
  • Let your muscles go completely
  • Rest and relax your pelvic floor muscles while you count to 6 or 8
  • Repeat
  • Do as many as you can up to 10 or 15
  • Rest a minute. Then try some shorter, hard squeezes. Tighten hard then completely let go straight away. Build up to doing 20 of these in a row.
Level 3 After you have done 10 of the level 2 exercise, do some really strong squeezes – as strong as you can, then let go.
Do as many of these as you can, up to about 10.

As your muscles get stronger, try doing the exercises while standing, and then walking.

All women should exercise these muscles once a day, but, at first, 3-4 shorter sessions a day may be helpful.

If you can’t feel anything happening when you exercise your muscles, or you are finding it difficult to progress, you will need to see a pelvic floor physiotherapist.

As well as making it a regular routine, it helps to squeeze your pelvic floor hard and fast when you cough, sneeze, or pick up anything, but don’t ever do your exercises while urinating.

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