You might only think about your pelvic floor with respect to sexual activity or holding your bladder.
But the truth is these muscles play a vital part in stabilizing your core and preventing injury.
Aaptiv has core workouts you can do that will help increase the strength in your core. View them in app today!
Both men and women can be susceptible to pelvic-floor dysfunction, even though symptoms tend to be most prevalent after childbirth or over time with age—and cardio exercise can be a sneaky culprit.
The good news? It’s preventable.
Our experts answer four common questions about how cardio affects your pelvic floor, and what you can do about it.
What are symptoms of pelvic floor issues?
“The pelvic floor supports the pelvic organs, bladder, colon, and prostate/uterus,” explains Pelvic Floor Clinical Specialist Rachel Gelman.
“So, if those muscles become dysfunctional, it can lead to urinary, bowel, and/or sexual dysfunction, or pelvic pain. Some specific symptoms can include: pain with sex, urinary urgency/frequency, pain with urination, constipation, pain with bowel movements, pain with sitting, and/or urinary incontinence.”
Leaking urine during activity is very common among women, whether they’ve given birth or not. However, it’s not something to ignore.
“Women with pelvic floor dysfunction can have involuntary urine leaking, pelvic organ prolapse, pelvic pressure, sexual pain, hip pain, low back pain, and SI joint pain, among others,” adds Physical Therapist Isa Herrera.
“The pelvic floor muscles are a primary stabilizer of the hips and spine. So, when they are weak or too tight, they can cause pain in the adjacent areas. Women with tight or hyperactive pelvic floor muscles can experience menstrual pain, as well as a deep ache in the vagina, or pain when touching the vulva-vaginal area.”
How does cardio affect women’s pelvic floors?
“As your respiration rate (and the activity of your diaphragm) increases during cardio, the pelvic floor responds by increasing its activity, as well,” says Dr. Weinbender.
“During cardio activities, the diaphragm, deep abdominals, and pelvic floor have to work together as a team to stabilize the pelvis, maintain continence, and keep you moving. Low impact activities, such as swimming, do not require as much pelvic floor activation, compared to high impact activities, like running or jumping, that require increased pelvic floor muscle strength and coordination.”
However, when done properly, cardio can actually help your pelvic floor muscles function better, says Herrera. She argues that some women have improved pelvic strength and pelvic stability after incorporating cardio into their workout routine.
Keep in mind, says Herrera, that all cardio is not created equal. This means that some cardio options can make pelvic floor symptoms worse, particularly for postpartum women and high-level athletes.
Looking for new cardio workouts? We’ve just released new classes in-app. Check out Aaptiv today.
Should you avoid or modify certain types of cardio, if you’re experiencing pelvic floor problems?
In the meantime, she recommends strengthening your pelvic floor through moves like bridges, squats, diaphragmatic breathing, and Kegel exercises.
“If you’re having pelvic pain or urinary leakage, it’s good to temporarily avoid high impact cardio activities until you can address your pelvic floor issues with a specialized health care provider,” agrees Dr. Weinbender.
“These can be modified to be less ballistic (jumping, explosive motions). For example, instead of box jumps, try box step-ups. Pelvic floor muscle activation during workouts doesn’t just depend on muscle strength. It also requires the brain to coordinate increased activation during ballistic motions.”
You can also stick to low- or no-impact exercises that don’t put pressure on your vagina. These can include walking, swimming, stretching or elliptical workouts.
“If a woman is symptomatic when doing a particular cardio exercise, or her pelvic floor issues worsen, then her body is already talking to her. It’s telling her, ‘This exercise is not a good fit for you,’” says Herrera.
“To protect the pelvic floor muscles, all women should monitor their breathing and make sure [that] they are not holding their breath, which increases intra-abdominal pressure, [thus] worsening leaking or increasing pelvic pressure or pain. And, since the pelvic floor muscles are connected to the hip, all women can benefit from a stretching program that involves the inner thighs, hip flexors, and glutes.”
What should you do if you’re experiencing pelvic floor issues, but you still love cardio?
If you’re experiencing pelvic floor issues and want to continue with cardio activities, consult with a local pelvic floor physical therapist who can help you meet your goals, says Dr. Weinbender.
Let your doctor know your personal history. There are all kinds of reasons for pelvic floor dysfunction, and you’ll want to identify solutions based on your body.
In the meantime, continue to modify to reduce symptoms, says Herrera, while focusing on strengthening your pelvic floor muscles.
Aaptiv can help with workouts designed to help you strengthen your core. Learn more about Aaptiv here.