What Trainers *Actually* Mean When They Tell You To ‘Activate Your Pelvic Floor’

"Lift your pelvic floor" is one of those classic fitness cues like "engage your core" or "keep a neutral spine." You've probably heard it in yoga, Pilates, and strength-training classes alike. But for how often it gets called out mid-workout, it's rarely explained step-by-step. That's why on this week's episode of Well+Good's YouTube series, The Right Way, Pilates instructor Chloe De Winter explains how to activate your pelvic floor—you guessed it—the right way.

First, a quick anatomy lesson: The pelvic floor sits between the tailbone and the pubic bone, and supports the bladder, bowels, vagina, and uterus. "Keeping [the pelvic floor] strong can help maintain sexual, bowel, and bladder functions, and prevent things like pelvic organ prolapse and urinary incontinence," Amy Hoover, DPT, a physical therapist with P.volve, previously told Well+Good.

When a fitness instructor asks you to engage your pelvic floor, they're giving you the opportunity to strengthen this key area of the body. However, there are a few common mistakes De Winter wants you to avoid next time you're using your pelvic floor to jump into a handstand or muster the strength for a perfect plank.

Experts In This Article

Don't just grip all your muscles

First, resist the urge to tense your entire body. Lifting the pelvic floor doesn't require gripping your whole core; instead, it's just about a gentle upward pull on those muscles between the tailbone and pubic bone. If you do it correctly, says De Winter, no one else should actually see anything happen.

Keep breathing

"The next mistake I see all the time with pelvic floor contraction is breath holding," says De Winter. Obviously, holding your breath prevents oxygen from reaching your muscles (which is so not what you want in the middle of a workout), so keep your breaths as even as possible while you engage your pelvic floor.

Relax the glutes

Finally, "there is the tendency to want to squeeze and clench your butt cheeks," says De Winter. Again, this is simply adding unnecessary tension in the body when the pelvic floor muscles are the only thing you need to be working. "Really, your pelvic floor and your glute muscles are two very different things," she says. You can work those glutes later, okay?

If you're ready to try pelvic floor activation the right way, tune in to the full episode of The Right Way.

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