A few weeks ago, women’s health physio Fiona Morgan wrote a guest blog about the pelvic floor and its importance for men and women. Many walkers commented that Nordic walking has helped improve their pelvic floor. This blog sheds light on why this is the case and how through our technique we can further strengthen this important set of muscles.
What is the pelvic floor?
The pelvic floor is a sling of 12 muscles (in three layers) underneath your pelvis. It runs from your coccyx at the back, to your pubic bone at the front and is connected on the sides by your sitting bones, creating a trampoline-like base to your body.
Just like a trampoline, the pelvic floor is designed to be elastic – contracting, relaxing, stretching, lengthening as and when required. It always has some tension in it (it’s an endurance muscle stopping things falling out) but it also has to respond quickly and powerfully to sudden movements – coughing, sneezing, jumping, short intense exercise.*
Although it differs a little between men and women, the way the pelvic floor works and what it’s needed for is mostly the same.
Why is it important?
The pelvic floor has many important roles. The ones most people think about are:
- maintaining continence over the bladder and bowel;
- supporting the pelvis and pelvic organs (bladder, bowel, uterus);
- facilitating good sexual functioning.
But did you know that the pelvic floor is also part of the deep core stabilising muscles protecting your lower back, and supporting the upper, middle and lower sections of your body (essentially your entire body).
The other deep core muscles are your diaphragm, the deep abdominal muscle (transverse abdominus); and multifidus – which run along your lumbar spine. All these muscles work in unison with each other. They are like the sides of a pressurised container: the pelvic floor is the bottom, the deep abdominal muscle and multifidus form the sides, and the diaphragm is the lid on top.
If any of these muscle groups aren’t working properly, the container will start to lose pressure, weakening the stable base you need to move effectively. The result is a decrease in overall strength due to the lack of support from your core and your clever body then starts to compensate using other areas.
Nordic walking helps strengthen the deep abdominals, the multifidus and the pelvic floor. It’s just a question of knowing what to do.
How can you improve your pelvic floor through Nordic walking?
Here are some key pelvic floor health points to think about when Nordic walking. They are relevant for men and women:
- Think of the pelvic floor as a trampoline. It has to be able to contract and relax. It can only do this if you allow the other deep core muscles (diaphragm, deep abdominals and multifidus) to contract and relax also.
- Be active with your heel/toe roll as this will help to engage your glutes and the whole back /posterior line of your body better. This will also help to activate your pelvic floor more effectively as this back line connects through your pelvis where your pelvic floor muscles are attached. The majority of pelvic floor muscles sit towards the back of the pelvic ring, so when you do a hell/toe roll effectively, you feed better muscle energy through the whole back line of the body.
- Push your pole into the ground to help stimulate your deep core muscles. The firmer the push against the resistance of the pole in the ground, the better they can work.
- Also allow your deep abdominals time to relax - don’t keep your tummy pulled in throughout your walk. It’s fine to tighten it to help with your balance going up/downhill and on slippy ground but keeping it permanently tight (bracing) can cause bearing-down on your pelvic floor. This can potentially cause a weakness here and impact on your breathing and movement pattern. Again, think trampoline - for all your deep core muscles.
- Rotation in your upper body (and the small counter-rotation of your pelvis) when Nordic walking allows the muscles around the whole of your spine and pelvis to work effectively together. Strengthening their connection and improving your body's overall movement.
- Use your diaphragm for breathing whilst Nordic walking. We will be talking about this is future classes.
*For those of you interested in statistics the ratio is 65% endurance (slow twitch muscles) to 35% strength (fast twitch muscles).
I never cease to be amazed at the subtle ways in the Nordic walking improves overall health. It's why we always include a technique focus in our classes. Health and fitness all wrapped up in an enjoyable walk in beautiful areas with ever changing scenery - you couldn't ask for better than that.
You can find our favourite Nordic walking poles here and if you're looking for our advice on other walking kit here's our recommendations on the best:
walking socks (socks are an important but forgotten factor)