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The secret’s out: Stress is a major contributing factor to pelvic-floor complaints in women and men.

Chronic stress can cause the sling of muscles that support the organs in the pelvis — including the bladder, the bowels, and, in women, the uterus — to clench. In time, these too-tight muscles weaken, which can lead to incontinence as well as discomfort or pain during exercise, urination, bowel movements, and sexual intercourse.

Symptoms of physical dysfunction may be accompanied by embarrassment and shame, which can increase stress and worsen the problem.

You can relieve sporadic or mild symptoms, such as periodic incontinence or discomfort, by adopting a daily regimen of diaphragmatic breathing and core and glute exercises, says Erika Mundinger, DPT, a Minneapolis-based physical therapist who specializes in pelvic and spine treatment. (She’s also the creator of a pelvic-floor workshop, “No Pee in PR,” geared toward athletes.)

For pain or more severe symptoms, Mundinger recommends consulting with a pelvic-floor specialist for a formal diagnosis and treatment plan.

While it may be tempting to skip, the mindful-breathing technique in the circuit below is worth practicing, she says.

“Much dysfunction in the pelvic floor is related to muscles that are both tight and weak,” she explains. Tightness makes it difficult to develop strength, making it imperative to relax first.

The Workout

Perform this routine three to five times per week, completing all reps of each exercise before moving on to the next. Rest for one minute at the end and repeat for a total of three rounds.

Supine Diaphragmatic Breathing

  • Lie on your back on a flat surface or in bed, with your knees bent and your head supported. You can use a pillow under your knees to support your legs.
  • Place one hand on your upper chest and the other just below your rib cage.
  • Breathe in slowly through your nose so that your stomach moves out against your hand. The hand on your chest should remain as still as possible.
  • Gently tighten your stomach muscles, letting them fall inward as you exhale through pursed lips. The hand on your upper chest must remain as still as possible.
  • Breathe in this fashion for one minute.

Body-Weight Glute Bridge

  • Lie down, with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor and hip width apart.
  • Squeeze your glutes and pull your ribs down toward the floor.
  • Inhale and drive down through the middle of your foot to lift your hips until they form a straight line with your knees and shoulders. Keep your ribs down.
  • Exhale and lower your hips to the floor under control.
  • Repeat for 10 reps.

Optional: Place a mini-band around both legs, just above your knees. Gently push against the tension of the band to keep your knees in line with your hips.

If you feel cramping in your hamstring, make sure the pressure on your feet is under the middle of the arch.

Knee Hover

  • Come down onto the floor on your hands and knees. Make sure your knees are directly under your hips and your shoulders are stacked directly over your hands.
  • Inhale. On the exhale, lift your belly button up toward your spine, arch your back like a cat, and lift both knees about an inch off the floor.
  • Hold this position for a count of five. Lower your knees to the floor and relax your torso.
  • Repeat for two reps.

(For additional stretches and strengthening exercises for a strong and mobile pelvic floor, see “6 Exercises to Support Your Pelvic Floor.”)

This originally appeared as “Fix Your Floor” in the October 2019 print issue of Experience Life.

Photography by: Kelly Loverud; Styling: Pam Brand; Fitness Model: Robert Clark
Jennifer Blake

Jennifer Blake is a Minnesota-based strength coach and fitness writer.

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