In Part I of this blog series, I shared some general information on how your pelvic floor plays a role in running, and introduced a strategy (as taught by Julie Wiebe) to prevent leaking when you run. In this blog, I’ll be presenting seven exercises that runners can do to improve pelvic floor function.
As previously discussed, your pelvic floor muscles not only keep you from leaking; they also play a major role in creating core stability. When you exhale and engage your pelvic floor, your transversus abdominus automatically turns on. Your diaphragm, pelvic floor and TA work together to create tension and prevent unnecessary movement at your torso and pelvis when you run– both when you inhale and exhale.
The goal is not to intentionally exhale and squeeze your pelvic floor muscles while you run. (Can you imagine how exhausting that would be?!) The goal is to breathe with your diaphragm and run with good alignment. When you do this, your deep core muscles respond automatically to your breath and can do their job effectively.
That is, if your pelvic floor and TA are not dysfunctional. But what if they are? If you already have dysfunction in your deep core (indicated by leaking, pelvic pain, diastasis recti, and possibly other less obvious symptoms), in addition to addressing your running form and breathing, you will likely need to do some specific work to undo the effects of any bad patterns you’ve established, and get your core muscles working properly.
The following exercises will help you do this. I highly, highly recommend that you also see a women’s health/pelvic floor physical therapist if you are experiencing any symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction. Also, check out Julie Wiebe’s website for additional resources.
Diaphragmatic breathing with pelvic floor contraction:
- Lie on your back and bolster your head and shoulders with a pillow or stack of folded blankets (not shown). Inhale through your nose to let your belly expand. Your ribcage should expand laterally, like an umbrella opening.
- Exhale through pursed lips as you engage your pelvic floor (imagine you are picking up a small bean with your vagina). You should feel your belly draw inward, like an umbrella closing.
- Repeat 10 times.
Supine heel slides
- Lie on your back with head and shoulders elevated. Bring your knees to a tabletop position, maintaining your neutral spine. Don’t flatten out or excessively arch your back.
- Inhale and allow your belly and ribcage to expand.
- Exhale and lift your pelvic floor, then extend your right leg forward, allowing your right heel to hover above the ground. Continuing to exhale and stay engaged, return your leg to tabletop. Maintain a neutral spine throughout the entire movement.
- Once back in tabletop, inhale and relax your pelvic floor.
- Repeat on the left side. Alternate sides for a total of 10 repetitions. NOTE: If you find yourself unable to perform this exercise in good form (back arches, belly pushes outward), start by practicing heel slides with one foot on the ground.
All 4s Rocking
- Start on your hands and knees in a neutral spine (don’t tuck your butt, maintain a slight curve at your lower back).
- Inhale as you send your hips backward, making sure not to tuck your butt under.
- Then, exhale and lift your pelvic floor. Continuing to exhale and stay engaged, send your shoulders forward, maintaining a neutral spine.
- Repeat 5-8 times.
- Stand with your feet at about hip width. Inhale and relax your pelvic floor as you push your hips back and bend your knees to lower into a squat, keeping weight in heels and knees aligned with your middle toes.
- At the bottom of your squat, exhale and lift your pelvic floor. Continuing to exhale, drive your heels into the ground and rise to standing.
- Repeat 10 times.
- Place a light resistance band around both legs, just above your knees. Lie on your side with knees bent, hips stacked and feet pressed together. Shoulders hips and feet should align. Stick your butt out slightly.
- Exhale and lift your pelvic floor. Continue to exhale and stay engaged as you lift your top knee, keeping your feet pressed together.
- Inhale and relax your pelvic floor as you return your knee to the starting position.
- Repeat 15 times. Switch sides.
Sliding lateral lunges
- Stand with feet at hip width and place your left foot on a small towel (for wood floors) or paper plate (for carpet). Shift your weight into your right foot.
- Inhale as you begin to push your right hip backward and bend your right knee, keeping your foot, knee and hip aligned. Simultaneously slide your left foot to the side, keeping your left leg straight. Keep your weight in the midfoot to heel of your right foot.
- Exhale and lift your pelvic floor. Then drive through your right heel and begin to extend your right leg as you return to standing, simultaneously sliding your left foot back to the starting position. You should feel this mostly in your right glute.
- Repeat 10-12 times. Then switch sides.
Plank with donkey kick
- Start in a plank position on your hands, with feet at hip width. Lift your right foot off the ground and inhale as draw your knee in toward your chest. Avoid tucking your tailbone.
- Exhale and lift your pelvic floor, then extend your right hip to “kick” yourself in the butt. Keep your knee bent and foot flexed.
- Inhale as you draw your knee back in. Repeat 5-8 times. Rest, then switch sides.