Read the directions and watch the short video before performing the SET.
1. Pelvic Party (15 reps)
Level 1: Supine
Level 2: Sitting
Level 3: Standing
Level 4: Squatting
Start with a Pelvic Party. You can also call this a “pelvic floor release and contract with lower rib breathing and lower abdominal activation,” but that’s a mouthful. It’s probably best known as the Kegel. It is also the best way to practice FARMing. The Pelvic Party is very similar to the diaphragmatic breathing you have already practiced. However, this time you’ll vary the intensity of the pelvic floor contraction. Once you master supine, make sure you progress to the next level.
- Lie on your back with knees bent, and put your hands on your ribs.
- Breathe in. Try to feel the air gently push your ribs outward. If you can’t feel anything, put one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Breathe in again. Where do you feel the most movement? Try for a movement in your lower ribs. You’ll still feel air in your chest and abdomen, but you also want to feel your rib cage move. You should feel your pelvic floor gently lower as you breathe in.
- Now breathe out. Feel your ribs compress a little. At the same time, lift your pelvic floor in and up. Your transverse abdominis might gently co-contract. This is good. If it doesn’t, contract it by pretending the two sides of your hips are trying to meet along your bikini line. It’s a party after all; let the transverse abdominis come along. However, don’t force it. Some programs will say to pull “belly to spine,” but I consider this forcing it.
- Do not lift the lower rib cage off the floor or arch your lower back (neither should you flatten the lower back completely).
Accurately contracting your pelvic floor and transverse abdominis takes some practice. I highly recommend having a physical therapist check your ability to contract. In the meantime, pick the visual that works for you. Check out 10 Kegel Cues and 5 Transverse Abdominis Cues for some choices.
Do 15 reps and vary the length and strength of the contraction. Sometimes hold for endurance and sometimes pretend like your vagina is trying to jump on the table, so to speak. Similarly, see if you can feel the difference between a 10%, 50%, and maximal contraction. There should be a certain flow, but if it’s too regimented, it’s not much fun.
This exercise has two goals:
- The first is to coordinate your breath with the relaxation and contraction of the pelvic floor.
- The second is to build strength. Hypertrophy of muscles, including those of the pelvic floor, requires working up to your fatigue point.
Therefore, find the balance between working hard enough to build strength, but not so hard you lose control of the muscles. Easy, right? Not really. But you’ll get the hang of it.
Note: You might have come across other sources saying we should never do a maximal pelvic floor contraction because that is not “functional.” I disagree. I believe to build strength sometimes we need to flirt with maxing out. The Pelvic Party is unique in that I want you to play around with the contractions. You’ll need different types of contractions in your daily life, so use this opportunity to try out these variations AND to build strength.
2. The Zip-Up (10 reps)
Level 1: Supine
Level 2: Standing
The Zip-Up is an outgrowth of the Pelvic Party. It is an isometric exercise that helps you identify how an ascending contraction (starting from the bottom) can move through your core muscles. You won’t see any part of your body move, but your muscles will be working, as will your brain (it can take a few tries to do this exercise correctly).
- Lie on the floor with legs straight and arms overhead. Make sure you don’t let your lower back arch too far off the ground.
- Extending your arms and legs will encourage overextension, so carefully align your body before starting. If you feel overstretched on the floor, lower your arms or jump to Level 2 by standing with feet hip width apart and arms straight overhead.
- Breathe in and relax your abdominals and pelvic floor. Really relax. Melt into the floor.
- Breathe out and contract the pelvic floor in and up.
- As you do that, gently contract the transverse abdominis by imagining your hip bones trying to touch each other in the middle of your bikini line. You do not move your hips. Instead, you will feel the muscle “turn on.” Don’t overdo this contraction.
- While maintaining that contraction, imagine an X covering your entire belly. Isometrically contract your abdominal muscles so that each end of the X pulls into the middle of the X near your belly button. This will isometrically contract your outer abdominal muscles.
- Maintaining that contraction, picture a taut string running from your tailbone through your head. Pull on this string, pretending you are lifting your tailbone up (Since you should already be in a neutral spine, don’t actually move your tailbone —just imagine the string lifting it up. This will contract the multifidi).
- Hold the contraction of the pelvic floor, TvA, outer abdominal muscles, and multifidi for 2 seconds.
- Release completely, feel every part of your body melt away. This part is really important. Only begin the next Zip-Up after you have relaxed sufficiently.
Note: Do not isometrically contract with all your force. In fact, see if you can feel the difference between a 10%, 20%, 50%, and 80% contraction. Try one rep at 10%, another at 20%, and so on. You want to feel each muscle “turn on,” but you don’t want to squeeze yourself into submission.
3. The Lock (15 reps)
Level 1: Knee out
Level 2: Heel slide
Level 3: Bent leg drop
Level 4: Straight leg drop
Don’t pop, just lock. This physical therapy staple is splendid stabilization practice. Your torso “locks” while your legs try to unlock this stability.
- Lie on your back with knees bent. Again, neither press nor arch the lower back, and don’t let your upper back or chest pop up. Instead, think of locking your torso into place before starting the movement.
- While maintaining the lock in your abdomen, slowly lower one knee out to the side, return, and then lower the other knee. Keep your hips level.
- If you can easily and slowly lower your knees, progress the exercise into a heel slide.
- Heel Slide: Slide one leg out straight. Return. Repeat with the other leg.
- If the Heel Slide is easy, move on to the Single Leg Heel Drop. If that is too easy, straighten the leg.
Note: Although I emphasize a neutral spine for many exercises, a flat back “imprint” can be helpful in especially strenuous exercises. It will also work your abdominal muscles in a different, but equally good, way. Therefore, feel free to push your lower back into the ground as you do Levels 3 or 4. In an imprint, you should feel no space between your lower back and the floor.
4. Teeter Totter Bridge (15 reps)
Level 1: Both feet on the floor and arms at side
Level 2: One leg straight and arms at side
Level 3: One leg straight and arms above head
This exercise combines a bridge and head lift, hence the name “teeter totter.” It works both the upper and lower abs, as well as the butt.
- Lie on the floor with knees bent and arms by your side.
- Breathe out. Lift your hips into a bridge.
- Breathe in and lower.
- Breathe out and lift your head off the floor (and maybe the top part of your shoulders if you feel strong enough).
- Return your head and start over with the bridge.
- To make the exercise harder, straighten one leg after you lift into the bridge, or, for extra challenge, keep it straight as you lift into a bridge. Since you are only pushing off from one foot, your abdominals and hips need to work to stabilize your body. If you slant markedly to one direction, this level is too hard (it’s pretty hard, so don’t worry if you can’t do it). Make sure to alternate legs.
- To make it even harder, lift your arms above your head. As you lift your head, lift the arms as well. This creates a longer and heavier lever for the abdominals to stabilize. Again, if you can’t maintain a contraction through the exhale, or if you rock back and forth, do not attempt this level.
5. Dynamic Side Balance (15 reps/side)
Level 1: Bent Legs
Level 2: Straight Legs
Level 3: Leg Circles
In this exercise, your arm and leg are movement arms trying to knock you off balance. Your abs keep you from falling over. You work all the abdominal muscles as you try to maintain balance without changing the position of the spine.
- Lie on your side with your head resting on your bottom arm.
- Start with your knees bent, but you will work up to straight legs. Make sure you create a straight line from your head through your pelvis.
- Move your top arm backward as you move your top leg forward.
- Then, move your top arm forward as you move your top leg backward.
- If you can do this easily, straighten both legs.
- If this is easy, move your legs in small circles as you rotate back and forth. Your torso should be keeping your body stable throughout all of this.
Watch The Video
That’s it for SET 1.
The goal is to repeat each SET two times through. However, better to do fewer reps with precision than more reps without.
If you are strapped for time, do what you can. Anything is better than nothing.