CoreBody Blog

Your Abdominals & Spontaneous Contraction of the Pelvic Floor

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The Pelvic Floor engages spontaneously through our spinal cord reflex which is 5x faster than verbal cueing, improving our efficiency of movement.

Brent Anderson, a presenter from Pilates on Tour, inspired this newsletter as he recently shared his six-year study of the Pelvic Floor abdominals and how they engage spontaneously and 5x faster than through verbal cueing!

An important distinction: Abdominals are NOT the heavy lifters, but do play a HUGE supporting role

You might think that abdominals are the body’s primary “heavy lifters”, however, that is only partially true. Abdominals do move your torso in flexion and rotation but primarily they play an important supporting role in keeping your innards (abdominal organs) reinforced so that other muscles can work more efficiently.

Without deep pelvic floor and transversus abdominal engagement from the base of the spine upward, too much Intra-Abdominal pressure downwards/outwards (a.k.a. bearing down) can occur, which can lead to an abdominal organ hernia, prolapsed uterus, stress incontinence or other issues. Not good!

Where is the Pelvic Floor located + what is it’s Function?

The pelvic floor muscles, both superficial and deep, are shaped like a hammock and found at the base of your spine where your orifices are. The Pelvic Floor muscles help maintain continence and also form part of your “core” abdominal muscles with the Transverse Abdominals (TrA), the Internal Obliques (IO) and the thoraco-lumbar fascia (TLF)- working together to support your pelvis and lower back. 

Your core abdominal muscles are responsible for fluid and efficient response to complex or high-impact movements of everyday activities or exercises. So, if you’re running, swinging a golf club, executing the Snake on the Pilates Reformer, sitting to standing up, your core abdominals must simultaneously engage to support these functions.

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What happened to the Pelvic Floor conversation?

What has been a mystery to me over the past few years is that my mentors haven’t discussed the Pelvic Floor anymore.  Instead, we have migrated to the integration of the fascia and connective tissues that react when the Transversus Abdominals are engaged causing a lateral-pull across your back body, supporting your pelvis and back in movement. My latest articles on Bio-Tensegrity, explain that efficiency of movement is the result of tension or tone matching anticipated load through engagement of the Transversus Abdominals (TrA), Internal Obliques (IO) and lateral pull of our Thoraco-lumbar Fascia (TLF).

Spontaneous Pelvic Floor Contraction + the Spinal Cord

Brent Anderson a PhD, licensed physical therapist and orthopaedic certified specialist with more than 20 years of experience shared the results of his six-year study on how the Pelvic Floor abdominals engage spontaneously.

His study shows that the Pelvic floor engages spontaneously through our spinal cord reflex in response to load, tempo and alignment.  In our Pilates environment, we always consider proper load or spring tension, playing with different tempos and pace in good form and alignment. Brent described how these 3 factors effect efficiency of movement with sensory integration and instant Pelvic floor engagement.

Brent states, “Over the past 30 years the pelvic floor has been shown to be an active player in its synergistic activity maintaining Intra-Abdominal Pressure (IAP) appropriate for the anticipated load (Hodges, Panjabi). As a result, physical therapists, Pilates teachers and other restorativemovement practitioners have incorporated active pelvic floor lifting as a standard cue toimprove core control.”

The purpose of Brent’s study of Spontaneous Pelvic Floor Contraction was to examine if traditional cues would effectively facilitate an elevation of the pelvic floor. What he found? They did not. In fact, there was a 45% failure rate. Real-time Ultrasound was used on Pilates Instructors to prove whether the Pelvic Floor moved upwards (good), downwards (bad when load is involved) or if there was no movement at all.

Interestingly, the study was primarily based on female Pilates instructors as male instructors had 100% pelvic floor lift with verbal cues. Perhaps the difference in % was because women have indoor plumbing!

Three ways of engaging the Pelvic Floor were tested:

  • Intentional cueing of the pelvic floor – Volitional Cueing = 45% failure rate;
  • Mechanical displacement (engagement) with Diaphragmatic Breath = 95% success rate;
  • Spontaneous organization (engagement) through proper load, tempo and good alignment = 90% success rate

Over 6 years of study undeniably proved how breath, good alignment and proper load is the best combination for spontaneous organization of the lumbo-pelvic and trunk neuro-muscular-fascial systems (NMFS).

With Pilates instructors executing specific Pilates machine-based exercises using diaphragmatic breath, proper load, form and alignment, real-time ultrasound captured a 100% spontaneous pelvic floor contraction every time.

Spinal Cord Reflex to Anticipated Load – 5x faster

Ironically, Brent’s study also proved that spinal cord reflex of an anticipated load was 5x faster than volitional cueing.  In terms of pelvic floor connectivity, he proved that the body instantaneously reacts to load versus cueing it to react to an anticipated load.

Balance points come through Sensory Integration

In my classes, I intentionally play with different loads and unstable surfaces such as the rotator discs and balls. This opens clients’ neuropath ways helping to improve balance and movement with good support and alignment. Clients learn to organize themselves alignment wise and the amount of tone needed find balance. According to Brent, “the body adapts at a spinal cord level, that you find the balance point through sensory integration organizing yourself spontaneously with pelvic floor connectivity versus volitional training of the same core muscles to gain stability.”

Movement that is More Efficient

With Shari Berkowitz’s Bio-Tensegrity study we now have concrete evidence that when we’re talking abdominals, the focus is: Cueing Diaphragmatic Breath + Engagement of the Transverse Abdominals and Internal Obliques causing a lateral-pull across your back body, supporting your pelvis and back in movement.

With Brent Anderson’s study on the Spontaneous Connection of the Pelvic Floor, It is exciting to know that with proper spring tension, tempo and alignment, we become more effective adapting to load with spontaneous pelvic floor engagement creating just the right amount of tone needed to move efficiently!

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