Joanna Helcke Video


You’ve heard of Pilates but what on earth is PFilates and can it help you?

Those of you who do my classes tend to get the full “benefit” of hearing my latest news every week in class and in the case of PFilates, you didn’t just get to hear about it but also try it. In September I headed off to London to attend a PFilates course, by the end of which I was amongst the first UK cohort of PFilates instructors in the country.

So what is PFilates? Well it’s a play on words that I quite like – a combination of Pilates and Pelvic Floor (PF), the idea being that a series of carefully chosen Pilates exercises can work the PF more effectively than simply doing these – let’s face it, boring – exercises in isolation.

The whole concept was developed and scientifically tested by Dr Bruce Crawford, a Board Certified Gynaecologist and pelvic floor specialist to help people improve pelvic floor fitness.  He has selected 10 basic fitness and mat Pilates movements on the basis of recordings of how well the pelvic floor is contracting during each of these exercises. Those of you who have done Pilates will recognise many of the movements despite the fact that they are performed in a slightly modified manner for the purposes of working the pelvic floor. 

The great thing about PFilates – I think – is that not only are you working your pelvic floor more effectively than you would with traditional PFEs but you are also working all sorts of other muscles. In this way, you are getting a proper body workout – much more satisfying, in my opinion!

As already mentioned, PFilates consists of the 10 most effective exercises identified by Dr Crawford’s research. I’m not going to go through all these exercises here – there’s a PFilates DVD kit which you can buy and it goes through all 10 of them and puts them into routines. What you will find is that of the 10 exercises, some will most definitely work better than others for you. Most people are able to identify their top 3 PFilates exercises which a) they enjoy doing and b) they feel are working the PF muscles most effectively. I know that I find some of the exercises really excellent whilst others I can barely feel working my PF. Interestingly, everyone’s top three varies.

I’d like to give you three PFilates exercises today – one works really well for me, the second one so-so and the third one is no good for me at all. Let me know on facebook which one works best for you. It’ll be interesting to see what you think.


Side lying bent leg lifts


1. Lie on your side with your knees bent and your ankles, knees and hips stacked. You can prop your head up with your hand if you wish.
Raise your top leg without rolling the top hip backwards.
At the top of raise squeeze your bottom muscles, draw inwards and upwards on the pelvic floor and remember to keep breathing
Lower the leg to the start position and repeat three times.

2. The next set of three repetitions will involve holding up the pelvic floor for a longer period of time.
Raise your top leg with bent knee and ensuring that hips are facing forwards.
At the top of raise squeeze your bottom muscles, draw inwards and upwards on the pelvic floor and now HOLD. Remember to keep breathing. I would suggest using your breathing as a way of counting how long your draw inwards on your pelvic floor. You could, for example, hold up the PF for the count of 2 breaths.
Lower the leg to the start position and repeat three times.

3. The final set of three repetitions will involve pulsing your leg at the top of the move three times whilst simultaneously squeezing the bottom cheeks and drawing the PF muscles inwards in short, sharp movements.   
Repeat three times and relax.

4. Now lie on your other side and repeat the whole process. 

Note from me: this is the exercise that I find very effective for my pelvic floor. How do you find it?

Cat stretches

All ten of Dr Crawford’s exercises involve the same pattern: 3 repetitions to start with, 3 long pelvic floor pull ups and 3 short pulses of the PF to finish. This exercise is no different.

1. Set up in an all fours position with knees under hips and hands directly under your shoulders. Keep your abdominals gently pulled inwards to protect your back and maintain a neutral position.

2. Now arch your back upwards into a big cat stretch, spreading your shoulder blades, tucking your pelvis under, dropping your head and stretching through the whole of the spine.

3. At the top of this movement, squeeze your backside, draw your PF muscles inwards and upwards and HOLD for the count of a breathe or two. Remember to breathe. Repeat three times

4. Now you have the short sharp PF pull ups as follows: draw your back upwards into the cat stretch and when you get to the top of the movement perform three short and strong pelvic floor pull ups whilst simultaneously squeezing your backside. It’s important to keep breathing when you do this.


Note from me: this exercise definitely works my pelvic floor to a degree but I also find that it makes me feel dizzy. I’m not the only one either – others in my classes who have low blood pressure find that this exercise causes dizziness. So give it a go and see how it feels for you. 

Sumo Squats

1. Take the feet wide with the toes pointing outwards and the knees turned outwards too.

2. Drop your bottom downwards into a wide sumo squat and at the lowest point in your squat squeeze the bottom and pull up on your pelvic floor. Make sure that your knees are not dropping inwards as your squat. They need to track out over the toes.

3. Repeat three wide squats.

4. Now perform a sumo squat and hold the position at the lowest point. Once in position, draw upwards and inward with your PF muscles and squeeze the bottom. Keep breathing and HOLD the position for a breath or two.
5. Repeat these long PF pull ups three times.

6. Now it’s time for the short PF pull ups: drop down into your wide sumo squat and perform three PF squeezes whilst tightening the muscles in your backside and lifting and lowering yourself in a very small pulsing movement. Remember to breathe!

Note from me: I find this exercise very tough, in terms of actually feeling the pelvic floor muscles working. What about you? I also find that because I have low blood pressure, it makes me feel dizzy doing the pelvic floor holding moves at the bottom of the squats. Let me know how you get one.

So there you have it: three of Dr Crawford’s PFilates exercises to have a go at. You will be working your pelvic floor, as well as working all the major muscles in your lower body – there’s nothing quite like killing two birds with one stone when you’re a busy mum!

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