A Closer Look at the Core & Pelvic Floor

What are these muscles, how do they work and what do they do?

The pelvic floor is a large basin shaped structure made up of several layers of muscles, ligaments and fascia, which form the base of our body. It attaches all the way around the inside of our pelvis from the pubic bone at the front to the coccyx at the back, having openings for the urethra, rectum, and in females, our vagina.

The majority of the pelvic floor muscles are slow twitch, or endurance muscles. This means they are designed to work over a long duration without fatigue. A much smaller percentage of fast twitch, muscles act as ‘back up’ when needed for example when we cough, jump or lift an object.

The pelvic floor fascia blends with involuntary muscles fibres which anchor the pelvic organs to the pelvic floor and surrounding structures providing three-dimensional support.

Our pelvic floor has many jobs to juggle, it supports the posture of our pelvic joints and lower back, provides a stable base for movement, and maintains the position our pelvic organs – the bladder, uterus and bowel.  Believe it or not our pelvic floor helps with breathing and even has some influence on our emotions. Resting pressure in the muscles maintain closure of the openings, preventing unwanted leakage, and the muscles relax to allow the bladder and bowels to empty when appropriate. The pelvic floor is also hugely important for our sexual function and satisfaction. So all in all, it’s quite an important bit of kit!

Problems with the pelvic floor can happen at any age and time of life and not just due to pregnancy and childbirth. Although these are significant factors, other things, like heavy or repeated lifting, strenuous or high impact exercise, chronic constipation, chronic cough, being overweight and the menopause can all contribute. Other health related issues, such as diabetes and neurological conditions may also affect the pelvic floor muscles and their ability to work well.

Against popular belief, symptoms from the pelvic floor aren’t always due to weakness. Like any of the muscles in our body, symptoms can arise from weakness, stiffness, fatigue or overwork, or due to an inability to work with the speed, endurance or timing for the task at hand. 

Having said this, our pelvic floor muscles could be the fittest, fastest, strongest and most dynamic, but will only be functionally successful when balanced and coordinated with the rest of ‘The Core’.

‘The Core’ is a descriptive term applied to our deepest, innermost muscles, being the diaphragm, pelvic floor, multfidi (in the spine) and transversus abdominis (the deep abdominal wall), and their tendons, connective tissues (fascia), nerves and blood vessels,  which all form a cylindrical muscular corset.

Core: ‘the central, innermost, or most essential part of anything’.

Our core system as a whole, is vital to our basic everyday functions, such as breathing, regulation of pressure within our abdomen (intra-abdominal pressure) and movement.

The muscles of our core work to a rhythm. To breathe in, our diaphragm pulls down, drawing air into our lungs and to breathe out the diaphragm lifts, pushing the air out, like a giant bellow. If the other muscles of the core remained fixed in their positions, then our abdominal organs such as the bladder and intestines would be squeezed with every breath. Instead, as the diaphragm pulls down, the pelvic floor lowers, the abdominal muscles extend to allow expansion of the belly, and the lumbar curve (lordosis) flattens a little. The reverse happens as we breathe out.

This coordinated action of the core muscles not only balances intra-abdominal pressure whilst we breathe, but whenever any part of the core is occupied in a task, the rest will work to establish balance.

So rather than working in isolation, the core muscles continually work together, like a well rehearsed orchestra, an action that has been proven using transabdominal ultrasound.

Pump up the Power

Traditionally there has been over emphasis on the strength model when it comes to core training. However, the core muscles need more than power alone.

Strength is actually a very small part of overall core system performance and is usually only required in short bursts, in association with speed, for example when we cough, laugh, sit up, lift or run.

Most of the time though, our core muscles work with endurance, a continual, involuntary, low level effort (resting tone) which stabilises our spine and abdominal organs throughout the day.

Our core muscles have a ‘blue print’, developed from childhood, so it can actually predict when changes in effort are required. As children, as we are developing movement skills our core muscle system learns how to contribute to walking, talking and bladder control.

As a result, as adults, when functioning well, the core muscles have been shown to reflexively contract around 200 milliseconds before any visible movement of our limbs.

When a core system has this ability it is referred to as ‘a functional core’.

Hypopressives, restore & build a functional core improving,

  • Bladder and bowel control
  • Blood and lymphatic circulation
  • Blood pH balance
  • Intestinal function and digestion
  • Posture maintenance
  • Regulation of internal pressure
  • Respiration
  • Sexual performance
  • Speech
  • Stability of our body and limbs
  • Support for our internal organs