Should You Try Kegel Exercises?

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Kegel exercises are clench-and-release exercises that strengthen your pelvic floor, the muscles that support your bladder, bowels, and uterus. Performing Kegels consistently can help you improve bladder and bowel control that stems from a weak pelvic floor. These exercises can also help strengthen the pelvic floor and vaginal muscles after pregnancy and childbirth.

If you think something's up with your pelvic floor or you suddenly lack bladder control, see your healthcare provider to get checked out. If you do have issues stemming from a weak pelvic floor, your healthcare provider will likely recommend you do Kegels.

How To Do Kegel Exercises

Kegels can be done at any time and don't require special equipment. But before you start, figure out how to locate your pelvic floor muscles to ensure you're doing Kegels correctly. 

Place a clean finger into your vagina and squeeze like you're trying to stop peeing. You're squeezing your pelvic floor muscles if you feel muscles tighten around your finger. If you have a penis, you can insert a clean finger into your anus and squeeze your muscles like you're holding in pee. You're squeezing the right muscles if your anal muscles clench around your finger.  

You should do up to 10-15 Kegel exercises three times a day. To perform Kegels the right way and strengthen your pelvic floor, follow these steps:

  1. Start by sitting, lying down, or standing. 
  2. Clench your pelvic muscles like you're trying to hold in pee. 
  3. As you're clenching, hold your pelvic floor muscles for three seconds. 
  4. Release and relax your pelvic floor muscles for three seconds.
  5. Repeat the clench and release exercise up to 15 times for one set. 

Here are some additional Kegels tips to keep in mind:

  • Empty your bladder: Pee before you get started. You never want to do Kegels with a full bladder.
  • Stick to a routine: Pick three specific times or tasks to do Kegels, like while you make breakfast, during your commute home, and while you rest in bed. 
  • Remember to breathe: Like any exercise, let your breath move with the Kegel exercises.
  • Don't squeeze nearby muscles: Avoid contracting the thighs, butt, and stomach muscles.
  • Don't overdo it: Doing too many Kegels can make you strain when you go to the bathroom.  

Benefits of Kegel Exercises

Anyone can have pelvic floor issues. Think of these muscles as a hammock that holds in your pelvic organs, including the bladder, large intestine, and uterus. When your pelvic floor muscles are weak, they lessen your ability to contract and control the other organs they support.  

Since Kegels strengthen the pelvic floor, they can help improve your bladder and bowel control. Pelvic floor exercises can also help treat vaginal discomfort and sexual dysfunction related to a weak pelvic floor.

Treats Incontinence

When the pelvic floor becomes injured or weak, you may lose control over the muscles that support your bladder and your bowel control. As a result, you may deal with urinary incontinence and accidentally pee yourself—or you may also lose control of your bowels and accidentally poop (known as fecal incontinence).  

Since Kegels help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles around your bladder and bowels, they can help treat urinary and fecal incontinence issues. A 2020 review of fecal incontinence in women found Kegel exercises helped stop leaks, especially after childbirth. Another review of 31 trials of 1817 women with stress urinary continence found the groups that completed pelvic floor exercises gained more bladder control.

People who give birth are more likely to deal with injured or weakened pelvic floor muscles post-birth, resulting in a lack of bladder or bowel control. However, incontinence can affect all sexes, especially older people. As you age, the pelvic floor naturally starts to weaken, making it challenging to control urine and stool.

Kegel exercises can also help reduce urinary leakage and dribbling in people recovering from prostate surgery. A small 2022 study of prostate cancer patients found 94% of those who did Kegels regained bladder control three months after prostate surgery.

Strengthens Pelvic Floor Muscles

Strengthening your pelvic floor with Kegels can also help improve sexual function, vaginal discomfort, and pelvic organ prolapse.

After childbirth and during pregnancy, the vaginal muscles stretch, and the pelvic floor becomes weak. This often results in post-birth pelvic floor issues. In addition to accidentally peeing yourself, a weakened pelvic floor can make the vagina feel loose and uncomfortable. 

A 2021 study found people who do Kegels after giving birth can help strengthen the vaginal muscles and return them to their original shape (or at super least close). Just note that, technically, Kegels don't "tighten" the vagina muscles. Contrary to what you might hear, vaginas should not be tight in the first place. A tight vagina usually indicates severe pelvic floor issues or sexual abuse linked to vaginismus. This condition can cause painful, involuntary pelvic floor muscle contractions during penetration.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, birth, aging, chronic coughing, and heavy lifting can also weaken your pelvic muscles enough to cause pelvic organ prolapse. Pelvic organ prolapse is when the muscles typically supported by your pelvic floor—like your bladder, uterus, and rectum—start to fall into the vagina. Kegel exercises can strengthen the surrounding pelvic muscles enough to help reduce the progression of pelvic organ prolapse. Still, you will likely need other treatments to help.

It’s worth noting that the pelvic floor can also affect the penis and prostate. A 2019 review of 10 studies found Kegels can also help people improve erectile dysfunction and avoid premature ejaculation.

Who Can Benefit from Kegel Exercises

People with weaker pelvic floor muscles will benefit the most from Kegel exercises. Some groups more at risk of a weak pelvic floor include: 

  • Older adults: As you age, your pelvic floor muscles start to weaken, which can lead to urinary and fecal incontinence issues. 
  • Pregnant and postpartum people: Pregnancy and childbirth stretch the pelvic floor, leading to incontinence, vaginal discomfort, and pelvic organ prolapse.
  • People recovering from a gynecologic or prostate surgery: Pelvic surgery can weaken the pelvic floor muscles, causing discomfort, pain, or erectile dysfunction.

A Quick Review

Kegels are a simple exercise you can do anywhere to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. These muscles support the bladder, bowels, and uterus. A weakened pelvic floor can lead to issues like incontinence, sexual dysfunction, and pelvic discomfort. Try to do 10-15 rounds of Kegels three times a day by clenching and releasing your pelvic floor muscles for three seconds at a time. 

Make sure you see your healthcare provider if you're dealing with incontinence or pelvic pain before trying Kegels. They can make sure Kegels are a good addition to your treatment plan. 

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