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The pelvic floor exercise everyone knows is the Kegel, a squeeze-and-hold move that tightens your pelvic floor muscles. But does it strengthen them or just make them tighter? Here some pelvic floor trainers that really deliver.

The group that has heard most about pelvic floor exercises is women who have, or are about to have, kids. And what they know about pelvic floor exercises is that doing concentric contractions (squeezing) will tighten up their pelvic floor muscles. 

Everything about that is wrong.

Here's who needs to care about pelvic floor muscles:

Everyone. 

Because everyone has them. When your pelvic floor muscles stop working properly you'll know all about it because you'll suffer problems like incontinence and chronic lower back pain. Doesn't sound that great to me. What if your pelvic floor muscles worked better?

Well, then you'd see increased core strength, more power and better spinal stability. So whether your bumper sticker says "powered by fairy dust" or "Do You Even Lift Bro?" (Or, indeed, "I train like a girl: try to keep up") your pelvic floor is important.

What Is It, Where Is It And What Does It Do?

Your pelvic floor is the base of your core. It's the thing that stops the contents of your abdomen from falling through the middle of your pelvis onto the floor. It surrounds your genitals and anus and plays a role in maintaining their function. In anatomical terms the pelvic floor is made up of the pubococcygeus, the puborectalis, the iliococcygeus, and the coccyges. 

Oh, sorry, did you not order a mouthful of Latin? It's not that hard to make sense of these, in fact. Anywhere you see "ilio" that means it connects to the pelvis. Anywhere you see "pub-" that means it connects to the pubic bone, the bone just above your genitals. Anywhere you see "coccy-" that means it connects to the tailbone. Knowing that, it's easier to make sense of the names. There's a muscle that ties the coccyx to the os pubis, a muscle that ties the pelvis to the coccyx, a muscle that ties the rectal area to the pubic bone and a muscle that ties the inside of the hips to the sacrum. Surrounding all this is a lot of connective tissue, but the job of the pelvic floor is to hold the bottom of your torso together. Think of it like the mirror image of your diaphragm, and remember that it also plays an active role in breathing!

Having made sense of what the pelvic floor actually is, and clarified its job — it has a lot more to do than strengthen your vaginal wall — we can talk about what we want from a pelvic floor exercise. Ideally, we want something that will both lengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor and increase their neurological activation.

Now's a good time to be clear: a longer muscle isn't a looser muscle. And a shorter one isn't stronger, just tighter. So when I say longer, I mean more elastic, and when I say more neurologically active I mean "more able to maximally contract."

Why Kegels Won't Cut It

Kegels are concentric contractions. When you concentrically contract your pelvic floor one of two things happen. One is that you actually contract other muscles because you can't neurologically "find" your pelvic floor. That's the most common, so for people who haven't had good coaching Kegels just don't work at all a lot of the time. The other is that you teach the muscles to gradually be tighter and tighter. 

And there's a big problem with that. The pelvic floor is a postural muscle. It needs to be strengthened but not shortened. Making their resting length shorter doesn't make them more effective. What it does is tie your insides together tighter and tighter. That's a bad outcome. What we want is long, relaxed and powerful, with an appropriate, elastic resting length, not short, tight and tense.

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