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HealthInfo Canterbury

Pelvic floor exercises for women

Pelvic floor exercises aim to improve your muscle tone. A health professional may have recommended that you strengthen your PFMs. Or you might feel that you have or you're at risk of pelvic floor problems.

You should seek help if you're having trouble identifying the correct muscles, or you aren't sure if you're doing the exercises correctly. Continence New Zealand has a list of continence instructors.

Exercising your PFMs can help to:

In the following video, a physiotherapist shows you how to find your pelvic floor muscles and how to start your pelvic floor exercises.

How to strengthen your PFMs

  1. Lie on your side. You may like to have a pillow in front of your tummy or between your thighs. You need to feel comfortable.
  2. Relax your tummy, bottom and thighs (when you're relaxed you will see your tummy gently rise and fall as you breathe). It's important that you do this step before you tighten your PFMs.
  3. Squeeze and lift up into your vagina (or imagine lifting a tampon up inside or stopping passing wind or urine). Ensure that your tummy stays relaxed and you continue to breathe normally.
  4. Try to lift and hold for one to three seconds then rest for five seconds. Repeat eight to 10 times, three times per day.

If you've been assessed by a pelvic floor physiotherapist, they'll give you a specific PFM exercise programme to follow.

More advanced PFM exercises

Your goal is to be able to tighten your PFMs strongly before you cough, sneeze or lift something heavy.

Pregnancy and your pelvic floor

If you're pregnant, you should receive a booklet from your midwife or LMC, or from the maternity ward called Physiotherapist advice after childbirth. This contains a section specifically on PFM exercises after childbirth.

It's very important to give your pelvic floor muscles time to recover, and not to return to high-impact sport too soon after your baby is born. A leaflet from Pelvic Floor First explains how returning to sports too early can damage your muscles further and sets out a programme for a safe and healthy return to sport.

  HealthInfo recommends the following pages

Written by Allied Health – Physiotherapy Services, Christchurch Women's Hospital. Adapted by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed November 2019.


Page reference: 21184

Review key: HIURS-53047