What is the Pelvic Floor?

What is the Pelvic Floor?


By Claire Shield Senior Physiotherapist

What is my Pelvic Floor?

Your pelvic floor is a sling of muscles that run from your pubic bone back to your tail bone and sideways from sit bone to sit bone – they form the “floor” of your pelvis. The pelvic floor has 3 openings in females: the urethra, vagina and the anus, and 2 openings in males: the urethra and the anus. The role of the pelvic floor is to support all of our abdominal contents (bowel and the bladder, as well as the uterus in females) and to stop urinary and faecal incontinence, and flatus (farting!). The pelvic floor is also part of our “core” and helps maintain good posture and pelvic alignment, and will help to stabilize our trunk during standing, lifting and other activities of daily living.

The pelvic floor muscles are normally thick and firm, and wrap tightly around each opening to keep them shut; both the urethra and anus have a muscular sphincter to assist this. When the pelvic floor muscles contract, the floor elevates and the urethral and anal sphincters close, and in females the vagina wall also draws up. The pelvic floor works with the abdominal “core muscles” to provide spinal and pelvic stability.

The pelvic floor can also push downwards, and depression of the pelvic floor causes more pressure on the openings, weakening the muscles and causing incontinence.

Things that can increase the downward pressure or weaken the pelvic floor:Female pic

  • Straining on the toilet
  • Chronic coughing
  • Heavy lifting including weights sessions at the gym
  • High impact exercise
  • Sit-ups or curl-ups
  • Chronic back pain, hip pain or pelvic pain
  • Being overweight
  • Increasing age 
  • Being pregnant
  • Childbirth: One in three women who have had a baby wet themselves
  • Prostate changes including enlargement and cancer
  • Abdominal surgery, hernias


How do I know if my Pelvic Floor is working?

As explained above, one of the roles of the pelvic floor is stop leakage of the bowels and bladder, so if you have full control of these during all daily activities, your pelvic floor is working well. Can you stop the flow mid-stream when going to the toilet and emptying the bladder? Try to choose a time when you aren’t “busting”, and only do this test once a week. This is not a way to train or strengthen your pelvic floor.

How do I exercise my Pelvic Floor?

Be sure to keep your abdominals relaxed, and keep your buttock muscles unclenched.

Females: Squeeze and lift around the front and back passage as if you are trying to not pass wind. Try to do a maximum lift and hold for 6 or more seconds.

Males: Tighten your pelvic floor muscles by elevating the testicles, and feel for movement at the base of the penis towards the body. Try to do a maximum lift and hold for 6 or more seconds.Male pic

Ensure you are still breathing, and practice in different positions as this will change how much pressure is going through your pelvic floor, i.e. there is more load on your pelvic floor in standing and whilst lifting compared to lying down. Dr Pauline Chiarelli describes the importance of having “The Knack” which is when you can maintain a good Pelvic floor contraction whilst coughing, sneezing, lifting, shouting, etc.

Being able to activate your pelvic floor when needed is crucial in leading a normal life, but it is also just as important to being able to relax it completely. Between each 6+ second hold, rest completely for 6+ seconds. Repeat 6 times, and that is one set. Try to do 4 sets a day in different positions including lifting/coughing, etc.

If you feel you have any problems with how your pelvic floor works, including trouble controlling bladder function (need to urinate frequently, leakage, etc) please discuss this with your Physiotherapist. It is never too late to start exercising your Pelvic Floor, and we understand it is not something that is easy to talk about. At Your Health Domain, we have books, CDs and other resources available for you. We are trained in assessing and managing Pelvic Floor problems in both men and women.

The Australian Physiotherapy Association included this interesting article on Pelvic Floor exercises.


Call 9251 5111 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to book an appointment.

Visit www.yourhealthdomain.com.au for more information


Dr Pauline Chiarelli “Womens Waterworks: Curing Incontinence” 2007

Irmina Nahon, Pauline Chiarelli & Wendy Watts “Men have a Pelvic Floor too” 2009

pilates timetable



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