Kegel exercises: A how-to guide for women
Kegel exercises strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, which support the uterus, bladder, small intestine and rectum. You can do Kegel exercises, also known as pelvic floor muscle training, just about anytime.
Start by understanding what Kegel exercises can do for you — then follow step-by-step instructions for contracting and relaxing your pelvic floor muscles.
Why Kegel exercises matter
Many factors can weaken your pelvic floor muscles, including pregnancy, childbirth, surgery, aging, excessive straining from constipation or chronic coughing, and being overweight.
You might benefit from doing Kegel exercises if you:
- Leak a few drops of urine while sneezing, laughing or coughing (stress incontinence)
- Have a strong, sudden urge to urinate just before losing a large amount of urine (urinary incontinence)
- Leak stool (fecal incontinence)
Kegel exercises can be done during pregnancy or after childbirth to try to prevent urinary incontinence.
Keep in mind that Kegel exercises are less helpful for women who have severe urine leakage when they sneeze, cough or laugh. Also, Kegel exercises aren't helpful for women who unexpectedly leak small amounts of urine due to a full bladder (overflow incontinence).
The pelvic floor muscles work like a hammock to support the pelvic organs, including the uterus, bladder and rectum. Kegel exercises can help strengthen these muscles.
How to do Kegel exercises
To get started:
- Find the right muscles. To identify your pelvic floor muscles, stop urination in midstream. If you succeed, you've got the right muscles. Once you've identified your pelvic floor muscles you can do the exercises in any position, although you might find it easiest to do them lying down at first.
- Perfect your technique. Tighten your pelvic floor muscles, hold the contraction for five seconds, and then relax for five seconds. Try it four or five times in a row. Work up to keeping the muscles contracted for 10 seconds at a time, relaxing for 10 seconds between contractions.
- Maintain your focus. For best results, focus on tightening only your pelvic floor muscles. Be careful not to flex the muscles in your abdomen, thighs or buttocks. Avoid holding your breath. Instead, breathe freely during the exercises.
- Repeat three times a day. Aim for at least three sets of 10 repetitions a day.
Don't make a habit of using Kegel exercises to start and stop your urine stream. Doing Kegel exercises while emptying your bladder can actually lead to incomplete emptying of the bladder — which increases the risk of a urinary tract infection.
When to do your Kegels
Make Kegel exercises part of your daily routine. You can do Kegel exercises discreetly just about anytime, whether you're sitting at your desk or relaxing on the couch.
When you're having trouble
If you're having trouble doing Kegel exercises, don't be embarrassed to ask for help. Your doctor or other health care provider can give you important feedback so that you learn to isolate and exercise the correct muscles.
In some cases, vaginal weighted cones or biofeedback might help. To use a vaginal cone, you insert it into your vagina and use pelvic muscle contractions to hold it in place during your daily activities. During a biofeedback session, your doctor or other health care provider inserts a pressure sensor into your vagina or rectum. As you relax and contract your pelvic floor muscles, a monitor will measure and display your pelvic floor activity.
When to expect results
If you do Kegel exercises regularly, you can expect results — such as less frequent urine leakage — within about a few weeks to a few months. For continued benefits, make Kegel exercises a permanent part of your daily routine.
Last updated: September 25th, 2015