This Is How To Strenghthen Your Pelvic Floor

by Rachel Sanoff

Two years ago, HelloFlo burst onto the scene with a glorious, hilarious, and empowering viral video called "Camp Gyno," advertising their menstrual kit subscription service, especially reaching out to young girls entering puberty. Now, HelloFlo is partnering with VProud, a video conversation platform designed to be a safe-space for women, to provide online video master classes for women of all ages, focusing on issues ranging from how to parent kids through puberty to how to strengthen your pelvic floor.

The master classes' mission is to provide affordable access to reproductive and sexual health lessons for women, by women. HelloFlo currently offers six master classes, each about 45-60 minutes in length, with the goal that they will never cost more than a co-pay. In other words, you can access information from leading nutritionists, gynecologists, and physical therapists for only $30.

Naama Bloom, CEO and Founder of HelloFlo, spoke to Bustle about how the company has expanded to include these video lessons. Prior to creating these video classes, Bloom began working with other women and companies to familiarize herself with different issues affecting women and she was also drawing upon her own experiences as she ages. Then she met Karen Cahn, founder of VProud, and the next phase of development began. "She and I instantly hit it off," says Bloom, "and we knew we wanted to do something together." It was during one of their first brainstorming sessions that Bloom thought up the first class, which focuses on fertility. Around the time of her first pregnancy, Bloom saw an acupuncturist and Chinese medicine specialist about fertility. When speaking to Cahn after the first appointment, Bloom remembers saying, "I wish I could just take that first session with this woman and put it on video for the rest of the world to see" because it had helped her so greatly. Bloom wanted to provide access to women who didn't live in New York and who couldn't afford the price of an acupuncture session. Both women recognized the opportunity before them, so they pitched the idea to the acupuncturist, Margaret Sikowitz. Sikowitz jumped on board and teaches the fertility class available on the site.

From that point forward, Bloom and Cahn started focusing on "issues that are common for women but just don't get talked about." This led to classes that discuss treating sexual dysfunction, exercising your pelvic floor to both improve sex and treat incontinence (which is common after pregnancy), and more. A goal of the classes, says Bloom, is to explain terminology and anatomy. "One of the first things to happen when you get a new health issue is just trying to figure out what it's called." This is why the pelvic floor class begins by identifying parts of the pelvis on a skeleton, and why the sexual dysfunction class includes a lesson on the anatomy of the vagina. These are incredibly important body parts that we often ignore because our culture makes us uncomfortable about them, and HelloFlo is combating that stigma by teaching women body awareness.

Bloom hopes that these master classes will help women to avoid getting sucked down "the Google rabbit hole," as she calls it. When she hadn't yet conceived her first child, Bloom's doctor had warned her about potential fertility issues. The stress led her to a message board where other women with no medical background began diagnosing her. "I really made myself nuts... Google is amazing and so helpful, but I'd personally rather pay someone to curate it and make sure it's expert information. A lot of the information is from people who don't know what they're talking about." We all know what it's like to Google a minor and treatable issue only to end up thinking we're dying an hour later. I'd much rather watch a HelloFlo master class taught by leading women experts in these fields, instead of digging through hundreds of thousands of inexpert results.

It Starts With Education

In the master class about strengthening your pelvic floor, called Control Your Leaking, Missy Lavender, founder of the Women's Health Foundation, and Sandra Hilton, P.T., D.P.T., M.S., discuss painful sex, as well as bowel and bladder incontinence (inability to hold urine, stool, or gas) brought on by aging and/or pregnancy — all things that can be treated and often reversed by strengthening the pelvic floor. Unfortunately, as many of us have experienced, women's health problems are not taken seriously, especially when they involve a "mysterious" feminine region like the pelvic floor. *Eye roll*. That is why it is so important for us to empower ourselves with knowledge and educate ourselves and each other about our bodies.

A Weak Pelvic Floor Is Nothing To Be Embarrassed About

Throughout the class, the two "pelvic health champions," as they call themselves, emphasize the frequency with which women experience the effects of a weak pelvic floor and explain that it's an issue that can often be treated through exercise, without permanently relying on pads or medication. As aforementioned, it is especially common for women to experience incontinence after pregnancy because of all of the changes that the pelvis undergoes during pregnancy and childbirth. However, you should incorporate these exercises into your day during any life stage.

Despite the commonality of this specific health issue, Lavender and Hilton remind us that it shouldn't be normalized as something that a woman just has to suffer from in her life with no help or relief. However, easy methods are not often talked about since incontinence is considered to be something that is embarrassing, rather than something that is treatable. The majority of the video focuses on Kegel exercises which, as Bloom says, are things that many of us have heard of but don't know how to properly execute. Besides teaching anatomy and proper form for Kegel exercise, Hilton and Lavender also discuss how pelvic floor strengthening can improve a woman's sex life as she ages.

A stronger pelvic floor can help sex become less painful at any age, and it especially helps sex become less painful during menopause when hormonal changes cause the vagina to become dryer. Hilton and Lavender also suggest becoming comfortable with masturbation and toys in order to maintain a healthy sex life, and recommend unscented lube to avoid irritation. They remind us how important orgasms are for a healthy life, and explain that you can even feel your pelvic floor contract during an orgasm!To celebrate these new master classes from HelloFlo, here's a look at what you can do to strengthen your pelvic floor:

1. Understand Pelvic Anatomy

The master class begins with a basic anatomy lesson that many of us never receive, even though the pelvis is such an important part of our bodies. Being able to visualize your pelvis, especially your pelvic floor, helps you to eventually activate those muscles. Lavender explains that the pelvic floor, "is really a hammock, or a bowl of muscles that run side to side and front to back" and it consists of "the largest set of muscles we don't know about and we're not working." Hilton says that one of the amazing things about the pelvic floor is that it works all of the time and we don't even notice it, but as we age, we will need to be able to find the muscles in order to strengthen them.

2. Build Up To Various Exercises

You can't strengthen your pelvic floor if you are unable to identify those muscles within your body, and the master class teaches ways to familiarize yourself with that region below the belt. In the video, Lavender reminds the viewer that pelvic muscles are deep within your body and, unlike other muscles that you may exercise, cannot be watched in the mirror to ensure proper workout form. Instead, Lavender and Hilton suggest analogies, and "what kinds of things can you think about to get these muscles to activate?" They suggest imagining that you are in a crowded room with strangers and you have to hold in gas, or that you have to clench to stop the flow of urine. The muscles that you will activate are your pelvic floor.Numerous Kegel exercises, or "the contraction of the pelvic floor," are depicted, each with varying difficulty:

Lay on your side, and begin contracting your pelvic floor by imagining that you are trying to not pass gas. Do this 10 times. However, quality is more important than quantity. In the video, Hilton says, "If you can only do six with good form, stop at six."

You will get stronger as you do Kegels more often, and will eventually build up to 10 at a time. Following these exercises, while still on your side, contract as if you are trying to hold in pee and hold the contraction for 10 seconds.

Once you've mastered this position, you can challenge yourself by doing these same contractions while laying on your back. This positioning is a bit harder, and a good challenge to work up to.

Sitting up is the next progression, as gravity makes the contractions more difficult. And remember, proper Kegels are invisible and internal! No one should be able to tell what you are doing — which is conveniently great — because then you can do them anywhere at anytime!

Engaging your transverse abdominus, which is the "muscle layer on the abdominal wall that wraps around the front and side — like a corset," is also an important method for strengthening the pelvic floor. You can find the soft muscle, Hilton explains, "right above your pubic bone" a You can do this by laying on your back and contracting your abdomen as if you are trying to slip into a pair of tight jeans. Eventually, when you contract your pelvic floor, you should feel the transverse abdominus contract afterward.

When the pelvic floor, transverse abdominus, and multifidus work together, "everything has more power and strength," says Hilton. You can engage the multifidus, or the small muscles between each segment of your spine, by imagining that you are lengthening your spine.

Want more of Bustle's Sex and Relationships coverage? Check out our video on sex positions for small penises:

Images: HelloFlo (7)