Part 2: Strengthening and Integrating the Pelvic Floor into Weightlifting
Guest Author: Jillian Seamon
In Part 1, we explained what the pelvic floor is and why it’s important. In this part, you will learn how to ensure your that your pelvic floor is functioning properly. First, one must understand that the pelvic floor moves in three planes of motion- forward and backward (sagittal plane), side to side (frontal plane), and rotation (transverse plane). Weightlifters, or any athlete, need(s) to train the pelvic floor in all three planes for highest performance. The popular Kegel exercise, or squeezing of your pelvic floor (“holding your pee in”), is only the very first step so that you may feel what the pelvic floor is. Once you understand that feeling, you can integrate it into your lifts and exercises.
Proper Breathing = Proper Pelvic Floor Function
Like previously discussed, breathing, inhaling and exhaling are of the utmost importance for pelvic floor function. “Breathing is like a report card of what is happening with the rest of the body positionally. If you can’t get a full breath, less than full power output,” said Megan Dupree, pelvic floor expert of Back in Balance Therapy. You can start by laying on your back (supine) and just feeling your breath. Feel your pelvic floor drop and rise and your diaphragm allow your ribs and belly to expand and contract. Then, progress to the same thing standing, ideally in a partial squat type of position (you know, because we don’t weightlift laying down). Work on this for 3-5 minutes at a time, before and/or after a training session.
Training the Pelvic Floor in the Sagittal Plane
Weightlifters live mostly in the sagittal plane, as we are consistently loading eccentrically in an anterior tilt (hips are tilted forward, like when pulling, standing waiting to jerk, squatting, etc.). This is great that we’re really strong there, but we need to balance it out with posterior tilt exercises. “The body will not allow you to get any stronger in anterior tilt if you cannot posterior tilt, you will plateau.” These types of exercises include glute bridge with posterior hip tilt on exhale, leg lowers with a focus on keeping your hips tucked, hollow holds, and wall squat sit with ball squeeze.
Training the Pelvic Floor in the Frontal Plane
For the frontal plane, weightlifters experience movement here in the split jerk. The pelvic floor allows your hip bones to each move up and down and translate side to side. Good exercises to train in the frontal plane include lateral lunges, Cossack squats, and single leg deadlifts. Dupree also recommends the use of furniture sliders for these kinds of lateral exercises.
Training the Pelvic Floor in the Transverse Plane
Finally, hip rotation mobility exercises work the transverse plane. Dupree regularly prescribes the shin box switch or rotational core exercises such as Palloff press or landmine rotations. In our sports, she said she notices what she calls “the weightlifter waddle”, in which lifters are unable to rotate through their hips, so their entire body sways side to side as they take each step. Yoga, running, walking, and dancing are all great ways to train in the transverse plane. Dupree said, “Just be an athlete, go play, being cross-disciplinary is highly underrated.” (but of course, don’t be stupid and do anything to hurt yourself). Don’t forget to invest some time in foot joint function like previously discussed too!
Integrating the Pelvic Floor into Lifting
Then, incorporate this pelvic floor strength with your lifting. We all know we are already thinking of a bunch of cues when we snatch or clean and jerk, so leave this work for the squats, deadlifts and accessory work and trust that your neuromuscular system will integrate it to the weightlifting movements. Remember to keep breathing while you lift. Too often, athletes hold their breaths and they lose out on the trampoline inhale-exhale effect (you should deeply inhale into your pelvic floor as you start the lift, then forcefully exhale as you stand up. And don’t forget to keep breathing fully between reps and sets!) Actively focus on your pelvic floor as you descend into a squat. Do you feel where you lose tension? Are you able to maintain control as you stand up a deadlift? If you do single leg work, like a lunge, can you keep tension the whole time you lower? Remember, weightlifters are often in mid-spine extension, hip anterior tilt, so we need to exercise the opposite of that. Dupree proclaims, “An imbalanced body will not allow you to get strong past a certain point, you need to get ‘Back in Balance’.” (See what she did there?)
So when should you seek further help? Not being able to hold pee or poo, or not being able to pee or poo is a definite cause to see a healthcare provider. If you experience any kind of sexual dysfunction, including not being able to experience “happy times”, seek help. Everyone deserves happiness. If you’ve had any type of abdominal surgery, gave birth, or have a digestive or endocrine issue, it would benefit you to see a pelvic health therapist. Unfortunately, there’s not a ton of information or importance stressed in the traditional medical model about pelvic floor health, but there are plenty of pelvic health specialists across the country ready to help.
In closing, I hope this article gave you some knowledge about the importance of the pelvic floor, its relationship to the rest of the body, why it might be dysfunctional and what you should do if it is, and how to strengthen it. Pelvic floor health is important for both men and women, and you don’t need to feel uncomfortable talking about it. If you want to be the best weightlifter you can be, understanding the pelvic floor will help get you there.
If you would like to learn more or have questions about your pelvic floor function, Megan Dupree is available for consultation (remotely or in person) and treatment:
Megan Dupree, Back in Balance Therapy, LMT, NKT3, DNA2, AiM, AP2, SFG, NASM, Prenatal Bodyworker and Movement Coach, Pelvic Floor Educator and Speaker