I’ve always taken pride in thinking I knew everything I needed to know about my body, fitness and wellbeing – well, until I had my first baby, that is.
I thought I knew all about how strong I needed my pelvic floor to be so that I wouldn’t be wetting myself after birth. I practised my pelvic floor exercises regularly from my mid twenties and through pregnancy.
But what I hadn’t bargained on was that it was actually possible to overdo your pelvic floor exercises, and for it to become too tight and inflexible.
This can not only cause some of the same symptoms as a weak pelvic floor, but also cause painful sex to boot – as it did for me.
Truthfully, I’d never been taught how to exercise my pelvic floor properly and I assumed I was doing it correctly – that was until I invested in the Elvie Trainer.
But first, let’s get back to basics.
The pelvic floor is a bowl-shaped set of muscles slung between the opening in your pelvis which keeps your organs from dropping through that hole. It’s a core part of our, well, core, and having a well-functioning one is pretty key to our physical wellbeing – particularly postnatally, and as we enter the perimenopause and later life.
Except, if you think about it, your pelvic floor is one of the hardest parts of your body to train, because you can’t see it. Most of us are a little clueless about what it looks like and where it is – let alone how to exercise it properly.
I was one of those women, until I went through the traumatic birth of my first daughter 2014, aged 31.
I was worried about having a weak pelvic floor postnatally, so while pregnant, I squeezed and squeezed my pelvic floor and ended up making it too tight.
I practised anywhere, and everywhere – but had never been taught how important it is to release the pelvic floor after a lift, and I neglected this part of the exercises completely.
Imagine doing a bicep curl to strengthen your muscle, but never fully straightening your arm afterwards. You’d end up with a bulky bicep, but with an arm that can only straighten halfway – it wouldn’t function well at all.
Flexibility is just as important as strength when it comes to your pelvic floor. An over-tight pelvic floor means that penetration of any kind might be painful – for example when it comes to penetrative vaginal sex. This was incredibly upsetting for both my partner and me.
Everything changed when I discovered the Elvie Trainer, which was recommended to me by my women’s health physiotherapist.
Once she helped me to identify the reason behind my painful sex, and prescribed the exercises I needed to do, the Elvie was a brilliant way to ensure I was actually doing them properly.
The Elvie gives you instant biofeedback on your muscle movements, which can be hard to perceive, particularly postnatally if your pelvic floor and general pelvis area is a little numb.
It looks less like a medical device, and more like something you might display on your bookshelf. For me, the pale green colour and soft-touch medical-grade silicone certainly soothed any nerves I had about inserting it into my vagina the first time.
It was a key part of my physical rehabilitation after birth and solving the painful sex I experienced
Once inserted, you switch it on and link it up to the Elvie app. When you’ve got used to the feel of it, which shouldn’t take too long as it’s not overly large and the silicone is super-smooth, you can start to practise your lifts and engage your pelvic floor.
There are a number of workouts (that look more like games, phew!) to help you work the right muscles in different ways.
The range of guided exercises is intended to target fast twitch muscles (the type you need to react to stop you weeing when you cough, for example) as well as slow twitch muscles (the sort you might need to hold yourself in for a longer period of time).
It also helps you to see when you should be releasing your pelvic floor, and crucially, if you’re failing to do that. It also tracks your progress so you can see how its fitness is improving.
Despite knowing that we should be training our pelvic floor regularly, according to research from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), one in four of us have never done any exercises.
Even if you have, over half of us are thought to be doing them incorrectly. And one in three of us will suffer from pelvic floor issues at some point in their lives.
Many new mothers only start their pelvic floor exercises when it’s mentioned in passing at one of their ante-natal appointments with a midwife, when really it should be a daily habit from post-adolescence.
Women are not given instruction on how to do them correctly, either verbally or even via a leaflet. So, most of us panic and start doing what we think is the right thing.
A good routine is to engage the pelvic floor in three rounds of 10 shorter lifts of one second, and one longer lift of 10 seconds and do that at least once per day – making sure also to release the pelvic floor properly in between all of these lifts.
Like a lot of women’s wellbeing in a resource-stretched NHS, pelvic floor health is not given the priority that it deserves.
And because it’s not a priority, many of us suffer in silence. As a result, pelvic floor health and women’s sexual wellbeing, along with things like incontinence, are all still considered taboo topics too.
It’s a vicious circle. We don’t talk about these things openly, so we can’t get the help we need – and we can’t get the help or information we need in order to be able to talk about these things properly, because we don’t understand them.
As someone who’s suffered as a result of this, I feel passionately that others shouldn’t have to do the same, which is why I advocate so loudly for women’s health and sexual wellbeing.
While I’m grateful for my Elvie now, the first time I used it, I wasn’t sure I could even notice a difference, but, as with all fitness journeys, the magic comes over time.
Priced at £169, it’s not cheap, but the cost per use soon comes down if you’re using as intended daily. For me, it was a key part of my physical rehabilitation after birth and solving the painful sex I experienced.
And when I felt stronger physically, I was able to have pleasurable sex with my husband again – and because we were better connected in the bedroom, we were better connected outside it, too.
With so many women needing to rehabilitate their bodies properly after birth, and prepare for the perimenopause, this is a crucial piece of kit in my women’s wellbeing toolbox.
For many of us, it can be life-changing.
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