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The role of exercise in maintaining pelvic health

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You may have heard that pelvic floor exercises help to treat urinary incontinence in women. From a survey of 2,000 women, the RCOG reported that one in four have never done these exercises. But did you know that general exercise can also help to maintain your pelvic health? Read on to discover the relationship between exercise and good pelvic functions.

Who is affected by pelvic floor dysfunction?

There are many causes of pelvic dysfunction resulting in a range of uncomfortable symptoms which you can gain insight into here.

  • Being pregnant or given birth – this is more likely to cause weakened pelvic health if you experienced a difficult delivery
  • Stress and anxiety - to help postpartum pelvic dysfunction, focus on your wellbeing after childbirth
  • Pelvic surgery – if you’ve had a hysterectomy
  • Persistent constipation or coughing – similar to the development of an inguinal hernia, if you strain your lower abdominal and pelvic muscles often, they will weaken
  • Ageing – particularly if you’re going through the stages of the menopause, reduction in the production of certain hormones can weaken your pelvic structures
  • Traumatic injuries – if you’ve previously damaged your pelvic area through a car accident for example
  • Genetics – some women are genetically predisposed to naturally develop weaker pelvic tissue.

How can I tell if my pelvic floor has weakened?

If you’ve been struggling with one or more of the following symptoms as a result of any of the above factors, you may have a weak pelvic floor. But don’t worry, our specialist Urogynaecology team can help!


  • Pain
  • Incontinence
  • Flow that starts and stops
  • Habits that are frequent


  • Movements that are strained
  • Constipation
  • Movements that mean you have to change toilet positions
  • Incontinence

You may also experience unexplained back pain or persistent pain in your pelvic region.

What exercises can strengthen my pelvic floor?

Strengthening your pelvic floor muscles can reduce incontinence, improve sexual health, decrease symptoms of pelvic floor prolapse, and help treat overactive bladder. The following exercises are low impact and encourage the slow controlled strengthening of your muscles.

  • Pelvic floor exercises – Also known as Kegel exercises, these exercises involve tightening and relaxing your pelvic muscles across a series of repetitions.
  • Heel slides – Lay flat on your back with your lower back supported on the mat and your hands to your side. Bend your knees and put your feet on the floor. Straighten one knee slowly so your leg lies flat against the mat and return to your original position
  • Toe taps – Start by laying on your back, making sure your pelvis is tilted forward and your lower back is flat on the floor. Lift both legs so your shin faces the ceiling but bend at the knees. Lower each foot to the floor, engaging your core
  • Swimming – Classes such as Aquafit combine core exercises in the water to reduce impact. Many pregnant women enjoy swimming as it can ease the weight of their baby bump, and it can do the same in reducing the pressure on your pelvic floor. Start with a few 30–45-minute sessions of swimming to build up your strength
  • Walking – Whether you walk around your local neighbourhood on your lunch break or go for a hike at the weekend, walking will strengthen and tone all the muscles that support your pelvic floor. Set a step goal and aim to reach it every day

What is a hypertonic pelvic floor?

This condition is where the muscles in your lower pelvis are in a state of constant contraction and they can’t relax or control bodily functions such as bladder and bowel movements.

What exercises can help with hypertonic pelvic floor muscles?

Hypertonic exercises aim to relax and lengthen short or tight pelvic muscles. Lengthening muscles is just as important as strengthening them. Getting an exercise mat may help to provide more comfort in these exercises too.

Happy baby pose

Start this pose by lying flat on your back. Then take hold of your shins with knees bent and gently push your knees towards your shoulders. Try reaching for the outer edges of your feet and keep your chest open and spine long. Breathe deeply in this pose as your pelvic floor muscles relax.

Child’s pose

Begin on all fours before sitting back on your heels and allow your torso to relax onto your thighs. You can also widen your knees and touch your toes together if this feels more comfortable. Rest your head on the mat and lay your arms beside your legs.

Diaphragmatic breathing

When you breathe, your diaphragm (the muscle below your ribcage) moves. Your diaphragm moves down when you inhale, causing your pelvic floor to lower and stretch. The opposite happens when you exhale, your diaphragm rises and your pelvic floor contracts slightly as it moves up. Breathing deeply into your belly allows your pelvic floor to rest.

What exercises should be avoided?

It is recommended to avoid high impact, high intensity exercises such as running, HIIT workouts, box jumps etc as this can cause urinary leaks and further damage to your pelvic floor. Movements like crunches, full plank, heavy weights and sit-ups which focus on strengthening your abdominals, can put pressure on your pelvic floor.

What if exercises aren’t helping to improve my pelvic health?

If you’ve tried the exercises mentioned in this article and you’re still struggling with urinary incontinence, pelvic pain, pelvic organ prolapse, or persistent urinary tract infections, we’d recommend you seek further support from one of our private experts.

Our private GPs offer a 25-minute appointment and can provide a diagnosis in some cases or refer you to our Continence Care team or expert Consultant Gynaecologists or Urogynaecologists for treatment.

To book or find out more, contact our Private Patient team via LiveChat, by completing our online enquiry form or by calling us on 01580 363158.

Published on 05 April 2024