I spent my twenties in the gym. I loved it. I did all the step and aerobic classes (badly, I had no coordination), as I got older BodyPump, BodyCombat, spinning and any other class I could get in, running on the treadmill, climbing on the stairmaster, hours and hours and hours of my life spent in a soul-destroying, indoor, sweaty environment usually plugged into music or some other distraction.
Yep, if I had my way I would burn them all to the ground. Whilst I appreciate that they provide a convenient way to get what everyone tells us is the minimum amount of exercise we need weekly, mostly gyms are money-making enterprises designed to extract as much cash off you as possible in the name of providing you with a healthier lifestyle.
As much as it pains me to say it, however, I have to accept that I have a long way to go with converting the masses to avoiding the gym in favour of moving more outside and other natural movement, even working out at home or incorporating more exercise into daily life. That’s partly because we have been brainwashed and partly due to the convenience. Many women in particular are time poor and the gym is the only way they’re going to get some time to themselves and get their exercise in.
So what can you do differently in the gym to stop annihilating your pelvic floor muscles?
Stay off the Treadmill
If you’re a runner, get your ass outside! The only thing the treadmill and the ground have in common when you run is how many calories you burn. Beyond that, running on a treadmill and running over ground are NOT the same thing. The treadmill belt grabs your foot and moves your leg back behind you FOR you. When you run overground you have to use your glutes and hips to move your leg behind you which engages the glutes. If you’ve read any of my other stuff, you’ll know that your glutes play a big part in balancing out and toning the pelvic floor muscles.
If you are going to run on a treadmill, put some incline on it, so you have to use your glutes, and then read any of my posts on running technique so you don’t land like an elephant and jolt your giblets every time.
You could switch out the treadmill or a stair master or elliptical which uses the hips and is impact free.
One of my main irritations with the gym is how many of their ‘exercise’ machines are seated. Think leg curl, leg extension, leg press, pec deck, lat pull down, bicep curls, inner thighs, outer thighs. They’re all seated. So average person gets up in the morning, sits for breakfast, gets in the car and sits on their way to work, sits behind a desk all day, gets back in the car and sits on their way to the gym, then gets out of the car and sits on an ‘exercise’ machine and convinces themselves they’re working out, when in actuality they’re reinforcing the deterioration of their hips and continuing to tell their glutes that they’re not needed or wanted thank you very much. Did I mention above that you need good healthy butts to have a strong, supportive pelvic floor.
If you are going to the gym, know that sitting on a machine which comes with a sign telling you how to operate the machine and depicting a little human being with a single set of muscles highlighted in red is not functional, it’s not a workout and it’s not strength training.
Whilst isolating muscle groups has some value in rehabbing injuries, isolating body parts in a bodybuilding kind of way (think pecs and triceps Tuesday, Wednesday leg day, Thursday back and biceps), creates more dysfunction than any other way of training! Just stop it!
Yes, I know I’ve just said stay off the machines and now it appears like I’m saying stay away from free weights – might as well just sack off the gym membership right now, which would actually be preferable, but if I haven’t convinced you then lifting free weights needs more instruction than your mate or trainer shouting at you that there’s no pain no gain.
My second major rant with gyms is that their gym induction is sketchy at best and they leave people to their own devices with the equipment. How you move matters. If you’re going to lift stuff at the gym, particularly if it’s a free weight, get someone to check your technique at the very least.
If you do have pelvic floor muscle problems, then you need to be very aware of lifting and bearing down. If your lifting technique is off then that downward pressure can do more harm than good.
It is absolutely doable to tweak your technique, your breathing and your lifting strategy so that you can do it without annihilating your pelvic floor! Speak to me 😊
High Intensity Interval Training
I get it. I’ve been there. I’ve been a Crossfit competitor and coach. I love me a bit of high intensity, sweating, nearly puking on the floor. It’s great. If you’re that way inclined. However, even the elite athletes use it wisely. For us ‘normal’ people, we’ve just bought into the whole more is better, rest is rust, sweat is weakness leaving the body bullshit. HIIT is an incredible stress on your body and if you have a weakness, whether it’s a movement compensation, or a pelvic floor problem, then you have no business flinging the amazing body you live in around until you’ve sorted that shit out!
Believing the utter Bollocks that A Six Pack is Good for you
No muscle should be ‘ripped’. A muscle should be able to contract and it should also be able to relax. That includes your pelvic floor. Constantly being in an environment that reinforces the idea that ‘ripped’ ‘bulky’ ‘toned’ is best is not good for your mental or your physical health and it continues the buy-in to the type of media that places more value on what your body looks like than how it moves and functions. Changing your mindset to one that values moving well in a variety of ways rather than how many hard bumps on your belly you can see is quite possibly the best thing you can do for your pelvic floor. If you’re constantly holding your abs tight in some misguided belief that it’s good for you core, or it strengthens your core, or helps your back or you’re gripping your pelvic floor because you think it’ll strengthen it then let that shit go – that doesn’t mean bear down, it just means relax the tension. The more tension you’re holding in your abs and pelvic floor the more tension and pressure you’re creating and the more ‘damage’ you’re doing to the muscles in that area.
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