Crunches may be the most basic ab workout, but it is not the most effective at getting results or building strength. With traditional crunches, you’re isolating only the muscles on the front and sides of your abdomen, but you’re leaving out the most critical part of the abs: the pelvic floor muscles. The pelvic floor muscles form the base of the group of muscles commonly called the “core.” These muscles work with the deep abdominal, back muscles, and the diaphragm (breathing muscle) to support the spine. When it comes to your workouts, targeting the pelvic floor may be the secret to actually seeing results.
That’s right: You can yoga-pose and Pilates-girl your way to better abs, and celebrity trainer Lia Bartha is going to show you how. Bartha, the founder of B The Method, has worked with supermodels and actresses alike to strengthen, restore, and protect their bodies through her own method that involves pilates-based, low-impact movements. Read on to get the 411 from Bartha on the moves she recommends to target your pelvic floor.
Why is the pelvic floor so important?
When your pelvic floor is either too tight or too weak, it can cause many symptoms from pain with sex to the inability to orgasm to a leaky bladder or constipation. People don’t put enough emphasis on caring for this muscle group because they don’t know what it is, where to find it, and why it matters. The pelvic floor is a hammock of muscles located between the tailbone and pubic bone in the pelvis, and your workouts can have a huge impact on the health of your pelvic floor.
High-impact exercises, lifting heavy weights, jumping, clenching while working out, and not breathing properly can cause the pelvic floor to become too tight. This can lead to so many issues within the body. The same goes for not putting any care and emphasis on strengthening this muscle group. Therefore, you need to pay attention to both strengthening the pelvic floor (for many benefits, including toning those ab muscles) as well as stretching or lengthening the pelvic floor. Try these nine moves below that Bartha recommends for a variety of both toning and stretching the pelvic floor muscles.
Nine moves to target your pelvic floor
1. Happy baby
Lay down on your back with your knees bent and feet in the air. Hold your big toes with your fingers, and press your tailbone down to the floor in a neutral pelvis. This position will actively stretch your pelvic floor and force it to relax.
2. Open butterfly stretch on a ball
Sit on top of a small stability ball, like this one, with your legs open wide. Lay your chest forward toward the ground with your arms straight on the floor. Rock your hips side to side on the ball. This position will actively stretch your pelvic floor while stimulating blood flow.
3. Tabletop legs on your back
The tabletop position is a go-to for working the deep layer of the abs in Pilates, and Bartha’s variation has an extra intense focus on the pelvic floor. Start laying on your back and lift your legs up at a 90-degree angle, one leg at a time. Follow the sequence (starting at around one minute into Bartha’s guided workout video, above) to work multiple muscles in the pelvic floor.
4. Circle gut massage
Lay down on your stomach with the ball placed under your low abdominals and pelvis. It will fit right in that “v” muscle area. Circle your hips five times in one direction and then switch directions. This will stretch, massage, and reset the gut, hips, and lower abdominals.
5. Bent leg circles
Lay on your back in a neutral pelvis and spine. Lift your legs into a tabletop position. Either lying flat or lifting your neck and shoulders slightly with hands clasped behind your head, start to circle your legs in opposite directions from each other. Then, repeat in the other direction. This move will strengthen the pelvic floor and inner thigh muscles while loosening up the hips.
6. Moving frog plank
Get into a child’s pose with your feet tucked underneath. Lift your knees and press out into a plank position with a slightly externally rotated hip. Your toes are apart, and your heels are squeezed together. Now, push back on your arms and into a child’s pose position, but keep the knees hovered. This move will both stretch and strengthen the pelvic floor in a single exercise.
7. Core bridging
Lay on your back with your feet and knees in parallel. Start to tuck your hips up into a bridge but make sure not to clench the glutes. Lead the exercise from the lower abdominals, pelvic floor, and inner thighs. You won’t be able to lift as high, but you will definitely understand why this is good for orgasms when you get into the position. You will feel the connection to that pelvic region.
8. Standing leg lifts
When you engage your core while standing, you’re also able to work your balance, which is targeting your core on an even deeper level. Try bending your leg and bringing your knee as high as you can so you feel your core activate. You can go from a lunge position into a knee lift, or do a slow march in place (try Bartha’s routine starting at 15 minutes in the workout above).
9. Bear plank
Start on your hands and knees with your wrists directly underneath your shoulders, your knees directly underneath your hips, and your spine in a neutral position. Engage your core and lift your knees one inch off the ground. Hold for a few breaths and then lower the knees, repeating a few times in a row.