Kegel exercises (also called pelvic floor exercises) are done to strengthen muscles of the pelvic floor. The pelvic floor muscles are layers of muscles at the bottom of your pelvis. They are shaped like a hammock and connect to the front, back, and sides of your pelvic bone. Your pelvic muscles support the bladder, rectum, and sexual organs.
Kegel exercises not only can help prevent urine leakage, but can be helpful for accidental passing of stool or gas. They may even help to improve orgasm. Keeping these muscles ‘fit,’ helps keep the uterus, urethra and bowel from sagging down into the vagina.
For women, pregnancy and childbirth can weaken the pelvic muscles. For men, prostate surgery can weaken the pelvic muscles. Your risk also increases as you age and if you are overweight.
How do I find my pelvic floor muscles?
Try stopping the flow of your urine when you are sitting on the toilet. You can also insert a finger into your vagina and squeeze the muscles in your vagina around it. You should feel pressure around your finger. The muscles you feel ‘lifting’ inside of you when you are trying these activities are the same ones you strengthen during Kegel exercises.
Doctors often prescribe Kegels exercises for:
- Stress incontinence. This means leaking urine when you laugh, cough, sneeze, jog, or lift something heavy.
- Urge incontinence. This is a need to urinate that is so strong you can’t reach the toilet in time.
- Pelvic floor weakness due to childbirth. Childbirth can stretch and weaken pelvic floor muscles. And that can cause urine control problems. It can also allow one or more pelvic organs to sag. When the uterus sags, it’s called uterine prolapse. Women can help prevent this problem by doing daily Kegels during and after pregnancy.
How do I perform Kegels exercises?
Kegels are easy to do and can be done anywhere without anyone knowing. It consist of lifting, holding and then relaxing the pelvic floor muscles. Start by doing a small number of exercises (i.e. lifts/squeezes, holds, and relaxes) over a short period of time. Then gradually increase both the length of time and the number of exercises you are doing in each ‘session’ (which is called a set). You should perform at least two sets of the exercises a day.
- Find the muscles you use to stop urinating.
- Squeeze these muscles for 3 seconds. Then relax for 3 seconds. Your stomach and thigh muscles should not tighten when you do this.
- Add 1 second each week until you are able to squeeze for 10 seconds each time.
- Repeat this exercise 10 to 15 times per session. Try to do this at least 2 times a day.
- Don’t do Kegels while you urinate. Doing them during urination can hurt your bladder.
Kegels work best when done on a regular schedule. You may not notice change in your muscles right away. As with other muscles in your body, it can take 4 to 8 weeks of daily exercise. Keep a log of your exercises to track your progress.
Tips for Kegel exercises
- You can do the Kegel exercises lying down or while sitting or standing. If your pelvic muscles are weak, you may want to do them laying down at first. A few minutes in the morning and again before bedtime are good times to start the exercise program.
- Do not hold your breath while doing the exercises – breathe out. Also, be careful not to bear down or squeeze the muscles of your inner thighs, back, buttocks, or stomach. Squeezing these muscles means you are not doing the exercise correctly.
- There’s no need to purchase “Kegel muscle strengthening” equipment. Although it may help, some equipment may not work as advertised.
- Talk to your doctor about Kegel exercises. They can help make sure you are doing them correctly. Keep them informed of your progress or if your problem isn’t improving. You may need another form of treatment, such as pelvic floor physical therapy or surgery.