4 ways squats are failing your pelvic floor (and how to improve)

Have you heard? Squats are the new Kegel! Just swap your 200 Kegels for 200 squats and your sneeze pee and other pelvic floor woes will be on their merry way.

If only it were that simple.

Our culture is understandably fond of the just-tell-me-the-one-thing-I-need-to-do approach to pelvic floor woes. After all, every women’s magazine, and probably your ob/gyn or midwife, have told you that the only reason everything isn’t A ok down there is because you’re not doing enough bleeping Kegels.

Then your best friend, or Facebook, or some article on the interwebs, told you that Kegels are out and The Squat is really where it’s at, so you started squatting with a vengeance.

I’ll be the bearer of bad news and tell you that swapping your Kegels for squats doesn’t guarantee you pelvic floor nirvana any more than 200 Kegels a day did. In fact, there is no one thing that will fix your pelvic floor because what's going on with your pelvic floor is a whole body issue that requires a whole body approach.

But! Squats can be a damn fine way to strengthen your glutes and hamstrings as well as improve the ranges of motion in your knees, hips and ankles. And that, my friends, can go a long way towards helping you achieve pelvic floor nirvana, whatever that is, or, more realistically, help you no longer need to rely on a pantiliner just in case you’re surprised by a sneeze.

How you do, what you do

As with most things body related, how you do what you do is crucial and will make or break the results you get. So, let's take a quick look at how you squat.

Go ahead, if you feel comfortable, and squat down to the floor. While you’re down there, I want you to evaluate for 4 things:

  1. Are your heels heels down, in contact with the floor, or are you stuck trying to balance on the balls of your feet because there’s no way your heels can reach the floor?
  2. Are the outside edges of your feet straight or turned out? 
  3. Are your knees stacked over your ankles or do they travel further forward? If you back your knees up over your ankles do you fall on your butt?
  4. Could you comfortably hang out here for a few minutes or would your knees and hips protest?

Go ahead and come back to standing. I'll have you squat down one more time and this time I want you to pay attention to whether or not you hold your breath and bear down when you squat and/or come back up to standing.

Now that you’ve gathered that info, keep reading.

4 Reasons Squats are failing your pelvic floor

Keep in mind, there are lots of ways to squat and none are inherently wrong. That said, if you’re seeking maximum pelvic floor benefits from your squat, keep reading.

  1. Your heels are off the ground. If you have too much tension in your calves and can't get your heels down to the floor, you won’t be able to get as much help from your glutes because your weight is shifted forward instead of back behind your heels. Why does that matter? More use of your glutes equals more pelvic floor benefits.
  2. Your feet are turned out. You might find that you have too much tension in your lower legs or hips to be able to squat without turning your feet out. That’s fine, don’t force it. Just know that you want to work towards being able to squat with the outside edges of your feet straight so, once again, you can get more use of your glutes when you squat.
  3. Your knees are in front of your ankles. Squats use a lot of muscles - glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, core, etc. How you squat will determine how hard those muscles are working. When your knees travel in front of your ankles, you’re asking your quads to do the bulk of the work rather than your hamstrings and, you guessed it, your glutes. The more you can back your knees up over your ankles and keep your shins vertical, the more your glutes and hamstrings will be asked to step up.
  4. You’re bearing down and holding your breath. If you struggle with sneeze pee or pelvic organ prolapse, holding your breath and bearing down increases the load to your already struggling pelvic floor and can make things worse. If you don’t (yet) have the strength to comfortably do a full squat, baby step it and use a chair. Can you sit down in a chair and stand up without bearing down and holding your breath (or using your arms to help)?

If you want squats to help banish your sneeze pee or help escort your descending pelvic organs back north, it’s crucial you pay attention to these things. Without these parameters in place, your squats are missing the pelvic floor mark.

My squat sucks, am I doomed to a life of pantiliners?

If you discovered that was more than a little challenging, don’t despair! All is definitely not lost. For more help, I invite you to check out my free online movement class How To Squat For Your Pelvic Floor.