What is a Kegel exercise?
Kegel exercises (also called pelvic floor exercises) help strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. Your pelvic floor muscles support organs in your pelvis, like your bladder, bowel and vagina. Your pelvic floor muscles hold your organs in place while also assisting with bodily functions like peeing, pooping and sex. Kegels involve tightening and then releasing the muscles in your pelvic floor to strengthen them.
Doing Kegels can help with issues such as:
- Urinary incontinence (leaking pee).
- Urge incontinence (an urgent need to pee).
- Fecal incontinence (leaking poop).
- Pelvic organ prolapse (pelvic organs sagging or bulging into your vagina).
Kegels can also improve your sexual health and help improve your orgasms. Men or people assigned male at birth (AMAB) and women or people assigned female at birth (AFAB) can benefit from Kegel exercises.
What do Kegel exercises actually do?
Kegel exercises help keep your pelvic floor muscles “fit.” Much like you may strengthen other muscles in your body by lifting weights, doing Kegels is a way to keep your pelvic floor muscles strong. Kegel exercises can give you better control over your bladder and bowels and prevent your pelvic muscles from getting weak.
Weak pelvic floor muscles can cause you to leak pee and poop, or accidentally pass gas. Your pelvic floor muscles can weaken with age or due to things like pregnancy, childbirth or surgery.
Who needs to do Kegels?
Anything that puts stress on the muscles of your pelvic floor can cause them to weaken and be less supportive to your pelvic organs. Certain health conditions or life events can make your pelvic floor muscles weak. Some of these conditions and events include:
- Childbirth, including a C-section.
- Having obesity (a body mass index, or BMI, greater than 30) or overweight (a BMI greater than 25).
- Surgery in your pelvic area.
- Aging. The muscles of your pelvic floor, as well as muscles in your rectum and anus, naturally weaken with age.
- Excessive straining while pooping (constipation) or chronic coughing.
- Exercises (especially jumping, running and lifting heavy weights).
However, Kegel exercises aren’t for everyone. Doing too many Kegels, or doing Kegels when you don’t need to, can cause your muscles to become too tense or tight.
Pregnancy and Kegel exercises
People who are pregnant may find that delivery is easier if they do Kegels during pregnancy. This is because it may give you greater control over your pelvic muscles during labor and delivery. It can also help with:
- Bladder control.
- Strengthening the muscles that support the weight of the fetus.
- Urinary incontinence or leaking pee.
- Pushing during vaginal delivery.
- Perineal healing after delivery.
How do I find my pelvic floor muscles?
To find your pelvic floor muscles, try stopping the flow of your pee when you’re sitting on the toilet. Only do this until you learn how it feels (otherwise this stopping and starting can lead to infection). You can also imagine you’re trying to prevent yourself from passing gas.
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’re trying these activities are the same ones you strengthen during Kegel exercises.
It might be helpful to imagine your pelvic floor as a claw vending machine game you may have played as a child. In a claw machine game, a metal claw extends downward and opens up. Once open, it picks up a toy, ball or pieces of candy, then closes. Once it closes around your prize, the claw stays closed and goes back up to its starting position. The closing and drawing upward motion the claw makes is nearly identical to a Kegel.
How do I perform Kegel exercises?
You perform Kegel exercises by lifting and holding and then relaxing your pelvic floor muscles. Start by doing a few Kegels at a time, then gradually increase both the length of time and the number of Kegels you’re doing in each ‘session’ (or set). You should perform at least two to three sets of these exercises per day.
Follow these steps to do Kegel exercises. Kegel exercises strengthen your pelvic floor muscles.
Sample schedule for Kegels
When beginning a Kegel routine, remember you’re going to work your way up. Don’t expect to be able to hold your Kegel for five or 10 seconds right away. You also can’t expect results right away.
Here is a sample schedule for how to begin Kegels:
- First, locate your pelvic floor muscles (using the steps above).
- Start by tightening your pelvic floor muscles for three seconds, then relaxing for three seconds. This is one Kegel.
- Try to repeat this 10 times. If 10 feels too hard, reduce this to five times until you get stronger. This is called a set.
- Do one set in the morning and one set at night.
- As you gain strength, try increasing these numbers. For example, instead of holding your Kegels for three seconds and relaxing for three seconds, hold and relax for five seconds each.
- Then, increase the number of Kegels to 10 in a row (if not already there).
- Finally, increase the number of times you do these exercises from twice a day to three times a day.
Ideally, you work your way up to performing 10 Kegels per set (holding and relaxing for five seconds each) and doing three sets per day.
How do you know if you are doing Kegels correctly?
Doing Kegels shouldn’t hurt. If your stomach, lower back or head hurt after doing Kegels, you’re probably holding your breath or clenching the wrong muscles.
If you’re having trouble finding your pelvic floor muscles or experience pain and discomfort, you may be doing Kegels wrong. It might be helpful to contact a healthcare provider for help.
If you’re doing Kegels correctly, you should notice your symptoms improve gradually over several weeks. For example, you may find you don’t leak pee as often.
How do I know if my pelvic floor is strong?
Signs your pelvic floor is strong may include:
- None or very few “accidents.”
- Not feeling a frequent urge to pee or poop.
- Feeling like you’re in control of your bowels and bladder.
- You’re able to perform Kegels easily.
How hard should I squeeze for Kegels?
You need to tighten or squeeze enough to feel Kegels working. However, be careful not to bear down on or squeeze the muscles of your inner thighs, back, buttocks or stomach. Squeezing these muscles means you aren’t doing the exercise correctly.
You also shouldn’t squeeze so hard that you hold your breath. Continue to breathe normally through Kegels. It may help to count out loud to maintain your usual breathing pattern.
Is it better to do Kegels sitting or standing?
You can do the Kegel exercises while lying down, sitting or standing. If your pelvic muscles are weak, you may want to do them laying down at first.
How many seconds should you hold a Kegel?
When starting out, only do the number of Kegel exercises that are fairly easy for you to do. For example, five Kegels that you hold for three seconds each twice a day. Slowly increase these numbers as you gain strength and endurance. Ideally, you’ll work up to holding your Kegels for five seconds, then relaxing your muscles for five seconds. Repeat this up to 10 times, at least two or three times per day.
What’s the best Kegel exercise?
There isn’t really a “best” Kegel exercise. All Kegels are beneficial when you perform them correctly. You can perform Kegels sitting, standing or lying down. Choose what feels the most comfortable to you. In all positions, you should focus on squeezing and lifting — like you’re picking something up with your pelvic floor.
Why am I having trouble doing Kegel exercises?
If you have trouble doing Kegel exercises, a provider might suggest trying biofeedback training and electric stimulation of your pelvic floor muscles.
During biofeedback, a healthcare provider inserts a probe into your vagina. Your provider asks you to perform a Kegel. A monitor shows if you’re squeezing the correct muscles.
Electrical stimulation recreates the sensation of what a Kegel exercise should feel like. During electrical stimulation, your provider sends a small electric current into your pelvic floor muscles. In turn, your muscles react to the current by squeezing.
Don’t be afraid to contact a healthcare provider if you’re struggling to perform Kegels or are unsure if you’re using the right muscles. They are there to help you.
What are Kegel balls?
Kegels balls are special devices you wear inside your vagina. Sometimes called Kegel exercisers, these mostly round or circular devices help tone your pelvic floor muscles. Much like you insert a tampon, you place Kegel balls inside your vagina. The muscles of your pelvic floor hold the Kegel ball in place while you continue with your daily activities. You start by wearing a Kegel ball for a few minutes per day, then gradually increase the amount of time it’s in.
How long does it take to notice changes?
You can expect to see results after six to eight weeks. How long it takes to notice changes depends on how consistent you are with Kegel exercises and how weak your muscles are.
Can men do Kegel exercises?
Men or people AMAB with certain health and sexual health conditions can also benefit from doing Kegel exercises. Kegel exercises for men or people AMAB can:
- Help improve incontinence (depending on the cause).
- Help manage prostate pain and swelling that occur with prostatitis and benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH).
- Increase sexual pleasure by helping with erections and ejaculation.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Kegels are beneficial exercises for strengthening your pelvic floor muscles. There are many reasons your pelvic floor becomes weak. Symptoms like leaking pee or poop, or feeling the need to pee when you don’t have to are signs of a weak pelvic floor. Gradually work your way up to performing Kegels several times per day. If you’re confused about Kegels or don’t know if you’re doing them right, don’t be afraid to contact a healthcare provider for help.
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