Vaginas and Circus 2.0

Almost 2 years ago I wrote about Vaginas and Circus, and I’ve learned more about training your pelvic floor since then, so I felt it was time to revisit and add some thoughts.

Pelvic floor dysfunction is more prevalent than you may think. Maybe you have experienced one (or more) of these “incidents”:

  • Jumping on a trampoline and you pee yourself, or maybe you preemptively wear are pad because you know the pee will make an appearance.
  • While you’re warming up with jumping jacks or jogging in place, you pee a little. Or maybe you’ve sworn off jumping jacks and jogging altogether for that very reason.
  • Or you queef while inverting or coming out of an inversion. This can also happen with inversions on the floor, too: it could be during a handstand drill or in your yoga or pilates class.

But pelvic floor dysfunction is not something you have to live with. There are physical therapists and other professionals out there who can help and I highly recommend seeking one out in your area. (If you’re in the Boston area, I highly recommend the folks at Marathon Physical Therapy)


First, let’s talk about potential causes for dysfunctional pelvic floors. A quick Google search will give you a list like:

  • Pregnancy and child birth, especially vaginal childbirth.
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Pelvic injury which may have caused nerve damage or resulted in a surgery.
  • Straining to empty one’s bowels
  • Heavy lifting without proper engagement of the pelvic floor and core

Sure, these are some potential causes, but I would also add that dysfunctional breathing patterns are a big causal factor for dysfunctional pelvic floors ([1], [2], [3])

Now why might someone have dysfunctional breathing patterns? Well, that really is a whole other post, but it could be a result of some or all of their posture, their emotional state, physical or emotional stress, just to name a few.

Our breathing mechanics are intimately linked to our pelvic floor. This is mainly because the diaphragm–our main respiratory muscle–and our pelvic floor are the top and the bottom, respectively, of our core

When we have functional breathing mechanics, our diaphragm and our pelvic floor contract and push down when we inhale and relax and lift up when we exhale

This video describes that process. 

When we have dysfunctional breathing, we are more likely to be shallow, chest breathers, using our secondary breathing muscles: the scalenes, the pectoralis and the sternocleidomastoid as primary breathing muscles. 

This creates a host of problems, one of them generally is a dysfunctional pelvic floor.

In my last post on this subject I talked about how pelvic floor muscles can be weak from atrophy due to ineffective activation of the deep core: the diaphragm, the transverse abdominals (TA), the multifidus and the pelvic floor muscles (PFM). 

Pelvic Floor Muscles (PFM) can also be weak because they are tight, where they are can’t descend down during inhalation and recoil back up during exhalation–they are stuck in the lifted position due to faulty breathing patterns.

Find Your Pelvic Floor

When I’m working with my clients, both circus athletes and general population folks, we spend some time at the beginning of every training sessionfinding their PFM. We usually do this via diaphragmatic breathing, not only to help activate their PFM, but also to activate their diaphragm and get it to be responding the way it should: descending on the inhale and lifting on the exhale.

Beginning a training session with breathing ihelps you to activate all of your core musculature to prepare for the work ahead and helps tap into your parasympathetic nervous system. This helps to reduce neurological muscle tone–which is also helpful because just after the breathing exercise I have all my clients do some soft tissue work and mobility drills.

Most people find success finding both their PFM and their diaphragm by lying on their backs. Here is the breathing exercise I have all my clients do and also share with circus students. This breathing exercise will help access and train your diaphragm and help restore that piston action between your diaphragm and PFM.

If you’re experiencing pelvic floor dysfunction or difficulty with the 90/90 belly breathing technique, I highly recommend that you practice this breathing a few times a day, and definitely before any strength training or circus training to help connect to your deep core. You’ll find even more success in resetting your diaphragm and PFM is you shoot for 2-3, five minute breathing breaks a day.

Once you have been practicing your 90/90 belly breathing and really focusing in on your body, you should start to be able to sense your PFM move, feeling it drop some on your inhale and lift on your exhale.

For clients and students who still are having some trouble feeling that sensation, I have them sit on a yoga ball which usually helps them feel the lowering and the lifting of their PFM during their belly breathing. 

If after you’ve tried sitting on a ball, you are still having trouble sensing your PFM, then I highly recommend seeing a physical therapist that specializes in pelvic floor disorders.

Train Your Pelvic Floor

Once you are feeling your pelvic floor muscles move in rhythm with your diaphragm, then we need to start to actively engaging the PFM as part of your core activation. In general, activating our PFM is how we’re going to find our deeper abs: our TA muscles. 

The next exercise I like people to work on is lateral breathing with PFM lifted and your TA active as well. (video just below)

The lifting of your PFM that we’re talking about here isn’t like a kegel.

It’s not 100% ON, all or nothing. 

It’s just a gentle lift. 

If you are having some difficulty trying this gentle lift, go back to sitting on the ball and try just slightly lifting and then slowly releasing that lift. 

Work towards not having the pelvic floor lift be a clench and release (a kegel).

Also work on having a controlled lift and a controlled release.

Exercise to Try

  • The Elevator: Imagine your PFM is an elevator that is slowly going up several floors. Slowly start the trip up, lifting your PFM. When you reach your top floor–or maximum contraction–slowly descend to the first floor. 
  • You can take this a step further and ‘stop on floors’. This can be done during the lifting and the lowering phases. While lifting up, hold at a certain amount of contraction for a few seconds then continue to lift, maybe stop at another level of contraction or two (‘stopping on other floors’) and then on the lowering, hold for a few seconds at different levels of contractions.

Ok, so now you can voluntarily lift and release with control your PFM. Let’s work on the lateral breathing with the PFM and the rest of the deep core activated. Here’s a quick tutorial on how to do the lateral breathing.

Exercise to Try

Lateral Breathing Exercise

Lastly, we need to put this deep core activation with movement, because circus and our strength training isn’t happening statically–we’re moving!

This is the next step in the progression I have my clients do to find their PFM and activate them in harmony with the rest of their deep core.

Exercise to Try

Pilates Knee Floats, sometimes called Toe Floats.

This may seem really basic, but to do it correctly with the deep core activated and maintain that activation throughout the movement is generally quite difficult.

While performing these exercise make sure not to have any abdominal poofing (AKA the bread loaf). The poofing is a sign that the deep core is not activated and the rectus abdominis (your 6-pack abs) are doing the work–this is incorrect. 

You’ll see the difference is slight. On some folks it might be more pronounced. See photo below.

I have weird elbows, try to ignore them.

I hope this can help you relax and retrain your pelvic floor and its connection to your deep core.  I

If you think you have pelvic floor dysfunction where you no longer run or jump around due to a little pee coming out or you are not sure when the next queef might happen while inverting in class, then seek out a pelvic floor physical therapist. It’s the right thing to do for your health and your training. s

Know that you don’t need to live the rest of your life this way and that there is a way to change this. Whether these exercises help, you see a physical therapist or a combination of both, I wish you well on your journey.

If you need some more guidance, feel free to contact me via the form below or leave a comment.

As always I train people in person or online; if you want to work with me fill out the form below.

Happy Training,

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