Whether you’re pregnant or not one of the most important muscles to strengthen is your pelvic muscles. In a nutshell this is because your pelvic floor is under all your organs, and during pregnancy the extra weight of your baby. Having a strong pelvic floor during delivery helps tremendously with labor and delivery as well as recovery.
One of the main side effects (not just from childbirth) of a weak pelvic floor is urinary incontinence. About one in four women suffer from urinary incontinence, the involuntary loss of urine when sneezing, coughing, or laughing. And even more have what’s called “urgency incontinence” when the urge to urinate is so strong that you fear you won’t get to the bathroom in time. In order to prevent this kind of urinary problem, you have to develop strong buttocks (glute) muscles and get in touch with your pelvic floor. We always hear how we should practice our kegels especially while pregnant.
I know this goes against everything we as women have been taught. When in fact kegels can actually make pelvic floor disorder worse in some cases. The Kegels strengthen the PC (pubococcygeous) muscle, which closes the sphincters of the pelvic floor and stops the flow of urine. Kegels are a step in the right direction. But they don’t address the function of the entire pelvic floor, they strengthen only one muscle. A strong, rigid muscle isn’t necessarily a functional, strong, flexible muscle. Remember TIGHT isn’t necessarily STRONG! You want strong, that’s where the squats come in.
Why squats? Well squats are the main exercise that builds good strong glutes. The muscles that balance out the anterior pull on the sacrum are the glutes. A lack of glutes, or having no butt, is what makes this group so much more susceptible to pelvic floor disorder (PFD). Zero lumbar curvature, missing the little curve at the small of the back, is the most telling sign that the pelvic floor is beginning to weaken.
I’m not saying you have to go load a bar with weight on your back to squat. Bodyweight Squats are perfect. Your main goal is to squat low. Some women may have a hard time with this. It takes practice and getting your range of motion down. When I first started I couldn’t even get parallel. My hips were so tight it was difficult. Now I can literally touch my butt to my heels no problem. Think of squatting to pee while camping or an emergency pit stop on the side of the road while traveling. That is how low you need to get. Squatting this low or deep is to create the posterior pull on the sacrum and balance the work of the pelvic floor.
I can’t express how important it is to get your range of motion down to perform a perfect squat. It takes lots of practice and stretching. Below are some pictures and suggestions I recommend to start practicing.
These stretches really help loosen up your hips, glutes and lower back.
A. Sitting Hamstring Stretch
This stretches your inner thigh, hips, glutes and lower back muscles. Sit on the floor with one leg out to the side and the other leg bent to the inside. Gently reach for your toes on the outstretched leg. Repeat on the other side.
B. Butterfly Stretch
The butterfly stretch exercise stretches your inner thighs, groin, hips, and lower back. If you are prone to lower-back discomfort, take extra care to lean forward from your hips rather than rounding your lower back. This exercise may also cause some knee discomfort. This procedure demonstrates the butterfly stretch that most fitness experts recommend. Sit up tall with the soles of your feet pressed together and your knees dropped to the sides as far as they will comfortably go. Pull your abdominals gently inward and lean forward from your hips. Grasp your feet with your hands and carefully pull yourself a small way farther forward. You
should feel the stretch spread throughout your inner thighs, the outermost part of your hips, and lower back.
C. Hip, Glute and Sciatica Stretch
During pregnancy many women (including myself) experience tightness through your hips and glutes. During your 2nd and 3rd trimester laying on your back to stretch isn’t an option. This movement is very mild but trust me you’ll feel it…. even if you’re not pregnant!
C1. Sit upright on edge of a sturdy chair. Cross leg placing upper ankle on your quad.
C2. Slowly lean forward till you cannot go any further. You will feel the stretch through your glutes and hip.
Body Weight Exercises to Practice
D. Bodyweight Squats
Be sure to do the stretches above before you start.
D1. To perform a body weight squat, clasp your hands together and hold at your chest (you can also extend your arms straight out in front of you with your palms down). Keep your feet flat on the floor a little wider than your shoulders. Slowly bend your legs to start the exercise and make sure to keep your back as straight as possible. You should also keep your head up and try to look straight ahead during the exercise.
D2. Keep your feet flat on the floor as you squat down. When your thighs are parallel to the floor, stand back up to finish the first repetition. Try to do at least 10 repetitions and then take a short break. Really focus on your depth. Once you get use to them work on holding your squat at the bottom.
E. Plie or Sumo Squats
Plie squats are slightly different than regular squats. The main difference between the two exercises is the placement of your feet. During a regular squat, the feet are placed shoulder width distance or slightly wider apart, and the toes face forward. When doing a sumo squat, the feet are in a wide stance with the toes turned out at an angle. The plie and regular squat both work the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, hip flexors and calves. However, the plie squat places more emphasis on the inner thighs and glutes.
E1. Stand with your feet in a wide stance, with toes turned outward. Place hands on your hips for support.
E2. Lower yourself down by bending your knees. Once your thighs are parallel to the floor, rise back up, squeeze your glutes and steadily and repeat.
F. Wall Sits
Wall sits is an example of an isometric exercise. In this type of exercise, the contracting muscles produce little or no movement. One drawback of isometric exercises is that they only strengthen the muscles in the angle in which you hold the position. You can overcome this drawback by repeating the exercise at different angles. For example, drop only a couple of inches down the wall the first time you do the wall sit. When you repeat it, lower yourself a couple inches more. Breathe regularly while you hold the wall sit. To protect your knees, keep them pointing straight in front of you and don’t let them pass in front of your toes.