There are a lot of ways I’ve heard people describe how to activate the pelvic floor muscles:
- Stopping the flow of urine.
- The pelvic lift you feel when you tuck your tailbone.
- Trying to hold in a fart.
While I don’t think any of these descriptions are inaccurate, necessarily, I have encountered a couple of problems when putting them into practice on my own body.
First, there’s the reality that since the pelvic floor is a group of muscles — with different orientations, origins, and insertion points — rather than a single muscle, it doesn’t perform just one function. Therefore, an image that focuses on just one area of my pelvic floor — for example, urethra or vagina — isn’t wrong but is incomplete.
Second, I have other muscle groups that like to be recruited to do the work instead of actually using my pelvic floor. For example, “holding in a fart” involves me contracting my gluteal muscles while I feel “tucking my tailbone” predominantly in my abdominal muscles. In my case, I think it’s because I expected the pelvic floor movement to be bigger than it was — to be visibly noticeable from the outside — and those larger muscle groups were able to provide that look.
From talking with knowledgeable people, including my pelvic floor physical therapist, it seems fairly common for people be unaware of what pelvic floors do, be unclear as how to activate it completely, and/or misinformed about what it feels like when it’s actually happening. I can’t claim to speak for anyone else, but I know that for me, my PT was one of the first people who encouraged me to find my pelvic floor muscles by actually touching my pelvic floor — that is, by placing my hands on the areas of my body that are immediately external to my pelvic floor muscles. Essentially, this meant I spent a lot of time touching my crotch.
[Video from Michelle Kenway via YouTube.]
This is not my physical therapist, but these are most of the same basic awareness exercises I was taught to do. (I learned the perineum one while sitting, though I could definitely see how side-lying could be more comfortable for hands and wrists. And I learned one more with one hand on my perineum/sit bones and the other on the butt cheeks near my anus. But I cannot find any clips of that last one.) They, along with precise and detailed models of the pelvic floor, were immensely helpful to me in understanding what that area of my body looked like and how each muscle group felt when it moved.
I don’t think everyone needs to put their hands on their perinea and their pubic bones in order to visualize their pelvic floors — though it seems like there are people who don’t but might like to know about this option. And I definitely would have appreciated some insight before I was twenty-eight years old.