Kegel exercises are simple clench-and-release exercises that you can do to make the muscles of your pelvic floor stronger. Your pelvis is the area between your hips that holds your reproductive organs. The pelvic floor is really a series of muscles and tissues that forms a sling, or hammock, at the bottom of your pelvis.
This sling holds your organs in place.
A weak pelvic floor may lead to issues such as the inability to control your bowels or bladder.
Once you understand Kegel exercises, you can do them anytime and anywhere—in the privacy of your own home or while waiting in line at the bank.
Who Can Benefit From Kegel Exercises?
Kegels are exercises that strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. These muscles support the bladder, vagina, uterus, and rectum. Kegel exercises are particularly useful to the following groups of women:
Women who are pregnant and post-partum. “All women who are pregnant or who have just had a baby should do Kegels,” Huang says.
Kegel exercises help tone loose vaginal muscles for women who have just had a baby.
And for women who are preparing for delivery, keeping their pelvic muscles strong can help prevent urine leakage at the end of pregnancy, a common complaint, and can make the later months of pregnancy a more comfortable experience in general.
Women who have urinary incontinence. Urinary incontinence is defined as the loss of bladder control. There are many types of urinary incontinence, and Kegel exercises can be helpful for some of them.
Talk with your doctor to see if Kegel exercises would help your incontinence.
Women who want to prevent a prolapsed uterus. A “prolapsed uterus” describes a condition that occurs when a woman’s uterus starts to slip down from its usual place inside the body, through the cervix and into the vagina.
A prolapsed uterus is less likely to occur in women with strong pelvic floor muscles.
Women who have delivered children vaginally and postmenopausal women are at higher risk of developing uterine prolapse.
Women with jobs that require heavy lifting. Women should do Kegel exercises if they have careers in industries that require heavy lifting, such as delivery and manufacturing.
Huang has recommended Kegel exercise to several patients who work for delivery companies, saying that “the lifting and straining required by these jobs can sometimes lead to prolapse.”
Healthy women who are not pregnant. As we age, our muscles tend to loose tone and become weaker, and the vaginal muscles are not exempt. But the good news is that we can minimize this with regular Kegel exercise.
Finding the Pelvic Floor Muscles in Women
When you are first starting Kegel exercises, finding the right set of muscles can be tricky. One way to find them is by placing a clean finger inside your vagina and tightening your vaginal muscles around your finger.
You can also locate the muscles by trying to stop your urine mid-flow. The muscles you use for this action are your pelvic floor muscles. Get used to how they feel when they contract and relax.
However, you should use this method for learning purposes only. It is not a good idea to start and stop your urine regularly, or to frequently do Kegel exercises when you have a full bladder.
Incomplete emptying of the bladder can raise your risk for a urinary tract infection (UTI).
Talk with your gynecologist if you are still not sure you have found the right muscles. He or she may recommend using an object called a vaginal cone.
You insert a vaginal cone into the vagina and then use your pelvic floor muscles to keep it in place.
Bio-feedback training can also be very useful in helping identify and isolating your pelvic floor muscles.
In this procedure, a doctor will insert a small probe into your vagina or put adhesive electrodes on the outside of your vagina or anus. You will be asked to try to do a Kegel.
A monitor will show whether you contracted the correct muscles and how long you were able to hold the contraction.
How to Do Kegel Exercises
Kegel exercises are done by squeezing the muscles in the pelvic floor and holding for short periods of time. To begin you need to:
- Find the right muscles. One way to isolate the right muscle is by trying to stop the flow of urine the next time you go to the bathroom. The muscle you use to do that is the muscle you should engage while doing a Kegel.
- Another way to test is to put your finger into your vagina and try to squeeze it. Don’t be afraid to ask your gynecologist for help if you’re having a hard time finding the right muscle.
The key is to isolate these pelvic floor muscles and use them alone. It’s easy to squeeze the muscles in the buttocks and abdomen at the same time, so pay attention to your body and make sure you’re working the right muscle.
Start slow and build up.
If you’re new to Kegel exercise, start slow. Squeeze your pelvic muscle and hold for two to four seconds, then relax.
- Try to repeat 5 to 10 times. As this exercise gets easier, you can hold for longer periods of time and do increased repetitions.
- Do your Kegels regularly: Once you have the technique down, you can do Kegel exercises any time and any place that you like.
For instance, you could do a set every time you check your e-mail, or when you’re waiting for the bus, or stuck in traffic.
Goals and Benefits of Kegel Exercises
Always empty your bladder before doing Kegel exercises. As a beginner, you should find a quiet, private place to sit or to lie down before doing your exercises. As you practice, you will find you can do them anywhere.
When you first start doing Kegel exercises, tense the muscles in your pelvic floor for a count of three, then relax them for a count of three. Keep going until you have done 10 repetitions.
Over the next several days, practice until you can hold your muscles tense for a count of 10. Your goal should be to do three sets of 10 repetitions every day.
Don’t be discouraged if you do not see the results you want immediately. According to the Mayo Clinic, Kegel exercises may take as long as 12 weeks to have an effect (Mayo, 2010).
They also work differently for each person. Some people show great improvement in muscle control and continence. Others show no real improvement.
However, Kegels may prevent your condition from getting worse.
If you feel pain in your abdomen or back after a Kegel exercise session, it’s a sign that you’re not doing them correctly.
Always remember that, even as you contract your pelvic floor muscles, the muscles in your abdomen, back, buttocks, and sides should remain loose.
Finally, do not overdo your Kegel exercises. If you work the muscles too hard, they will become tired and unable to fulfill their necessary functions.