A 15-Minute Pilates Workout to Strengthen Your Pelvic Floor

Shoulder bridges and squats are a few examples of the best Pilates pelvic floor exercises.
Image Credit: Oscar Martin/iStock/GettyImages

We don't pay much attention to our pelvic floor muscles. And yet, we should. "They're the literal base of your 'powerhouse' — aka your core — and, when strong, they form the foundation for all movement," says Randi Stone, owner of NYC Pilates.

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The pelvic floor is a set of muscles stretching front to back, from your pubic bone to your tailbone, and left to right, connecting your sit bones (the bony points in the middle of your butt).

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Your pelvic floor muscles work with your abdominals, back, glutes and inner thighs to hold your torso upright, according to Stone. They also act as a corset to keep your organs and spine in place, helping to prevent prolapse and herniations.

Is Pilates good for your pelvic floor? In a word: yes. Strengthening your pelvic floor can help reduce pelvic or back pain, prevent urinary and fecal incontinence and support sexual function, per the Mayo Clinic.

"If you think of your torso as a house, think of your pelvic floor as its foundation," Stone says. "If you don't have a strong foundation, everything above it will have to work harder or need to be reinforced to hold itself up."

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In the case of the human body, the stabilizing muscles in the front and back of your torso will have to work harder than they should to secure your bones in place. And your non-stabilizing muscles may try to act as stabilizers, causing you to feel stiff. "All of the above make you more vulnerable to pain and/or injuries," Stone says.

To keep your pelvic floor strong and intact, do this 15-minute pelvic floor Pilates-inspired workout once a day. Perform each of the dix Pilates pelvic floor exercises below for the amount of reps listed.

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1. Side Rib Breathing

As a result of life stressors and bad habits like sitting at a desk most of the day, most of us breathe shorter and shallower than is ideal.

To breathe correctly so your pelvic floor moves in coordination with your diaphragm (the muscle that separates your lungs from your abs and is the primary muscle of respiration), practice breathing into the sides of your ribs.

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Reps 10
Activity Pilates
  1. Start in a comfortable seated position with your legs crossed and place your hands on your hips.
  2. Inhale to widen your rib cage, then exhale and relax it, feeling it narrow as you empty your lungs. To feel the sensation of expanding your rib cage on the inhales, try doing this exercise with a slight twist of the torso in each direction.
  3. Inhale, widen your ribs and imagine your pelvic floor opening.
  4. Then exhale, feeling your ribs narrow and imagine your pelvic floor tightening and lifting up.
  5. Do 10 reps total.

2. Single Bent-Knee Leg Lift

This exercise focuses on pelvic stabilization. Move slowly, deliberately and gently, drawing your bellybutton in and up without holding your breath or clenching your shoulders.

Reps 10
Activity Pilates
  1. Lie on your back with your arms resting by your sides, knees bent and feet flat on the ground hip-width apart. Your feet should be close enough to your hips that if you reach one hand at a time toward each heel, you can just touch it with your fingertips.
  2. Relax your arms alongside your body. Think of your shoulders being "glued" to the floor to help keep your spine neutral.
  3. Take a deep breath in. Then, on an exhale, visualize your pelvic floor engaging.
  4. Maintaining the bend in your knees, slowly and gently lift your right foot a few inches off the floor.
  5. Lower your right foot to the ground. Then, lift your left foot a few inches off the floor.
  6. Stop the movement when you need to inhale again, then repeat a long exhale as you lift each leg off the ground in an alternating manner, emptying your lunges.
  7. Do 10 reps total.

3. Tabletop Frog

For this exercise, it's important that when first starting out you maintain a small range of motion. If you feel your low back arching or experience any low back pain, decrease your range of motion (or substitute this move for more of the single bent-knee leg lifts above).

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Reps 10
Activity Pilates
  1. Lie on your back with your arms resting by your sides, knees bent and feet flat on the ground hip-width apart. Your feet should be close enough to your hips that if you reach one hand at a time toward each heel, you can just touch it with your fingertips.
  2. Relax your arms alongside your body. Think of your shoulders being "glued" to the floor to help keep your spine neutral.
  3. Lift your feet off the ground so your legs are bent at a 90-degree angle. Keep your feet together but separate your knees.
  4. Bring your hands behind your head so that your elbows flare out to the sides.
  5. Exhale, contract your abs and lift your head and shoulder blades off the ground. Your neck can curl slightly, but it shouldn't strain toward your chest.
  6. Take a deep breath in, then on n an exhale, lower your feet down toward the ground.
  7. Continue exhaling as you lift them back up to the start position.
  8. Do 10 reps total.

4. Shoulder Bridge With Single-Leg Kick

This exercise opens your spine and targets your hamstrings and glutes, all while maintaining the contraction and release of your pelvic floor.

Reps 10
Activity Pilates
  1. Lie on your back with your arms resting by your sides, knees bent and feet flat on the ground hip-width apart. Your feet should be close enough to your hips that if you reach one hand at a time toward each heel, you can just touch it with your fingertips.
  2. Relax your arms alongside your body. Think of your shoulders being "glued" to the floor to help keep your spine neutral.
  3. Squeeze your glutes and core, and press your heels into the ground to drive your hips up toward the ceiling until you form a diagonal line from knees to hips to chest. Resist the urge to arch your lower back as you raise your hips. Focus on keeping your spine in a neutral position throughout.
  4. Lift your left leg off the ground and straighten it. Your left foot should be flexed.
  5. Keeping your left leg straight, lower it a few inches, then lift it back up. Repeat this three times. That's 1 rep.
  6. Switch legs and repeat.
  7. Do 10 reps total.

5. Wall Squat

This exercise builds posture awareness, uses gravity to help you engage and relax your pelvic floor and glutes and works the front and back of your legs.

Reps 10
Activity Pilates
  1. Stand tall with your back against a wall, feet hip-width apart and arms down at your sides.
  2. Lean into the wall and walk your feet away from the wall as far as you need to so that your back is mostly flush with the wall, from your tailbone to the top of your shoulders.
  3. Lift your arms so they're straight out in front of you.
  4. Take a deep breath in, and as you exhale slide down the wall and bend your legs until you're in a squat position (or as close as you can get).
  5. Pause for a moment at the bottom of your squat.
  6. On an exhale, reverse the motion by pressing through your heels to return to standing. As you stand, lower your arms back to your sides.
  7. Do 10 reps total.

Tip

You control your range of motion. The lower you go, the more you challenge your pelvic floor, glutes and legs.

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