Kegels... Demystified!

Ladies, you have probably heard this at some point in the past – ‘You should do your Kegels!’ I hope that you have and that you do do them. If not, then let me do the honor – You should do your Kegels!  

Ever wonder WHY?  

A bit of background first. In the late 1940’s Dr. Arnold Kegel – an American gynecologist in Southern California – was doing research and documenting the benefits of exercising the muscles that comprise the pelvic floor. These exercises later became known as the ‘Kegels’. Yes, they are named after a MAN.  Dr. Kegel’s subjects were women who had recently given birth and had sustained pelvic floor muscle injury as a consequence. He found that the sooner they started exercising, the quicker they returned to functional activity. The women that actively exercised their pelvic floor muscles had decreased urinary incontinence (loss of bladder control) and pelvic organ prolapse (descent of pelvic organs into the vaginal canal). Ouch! He even went on to publish articles about how pelvic floor exercises correct ‘vaginal texture and tone’ which in turn significantly improve sexual function – Amazing!

  Dr. Arnold Kegel

Dr. Arnold Kegel

While Dr. Kegel’s research was on postnatal women, the benefits of these exercises have long been established to apply to ALL women, regardless of age and parental status.

So, to sum up, the benefits of a strong pelvic floor are: keeping pelvic organs (bladder, uterus, intestines, and rectum) in place, avoiding involuntary peeing or pooping, and of course improved sexual function!

Isn’t it crazy that this research was done more than half a century ago, yet so many women continue to suffer from conditions resulting from weak pelvic floors?

  The pelvic floor muscles act like a hammock, spanning from pubic bone to tailbone, supporting all pelvic organs. 

The pelvic floor muscles act like a hammock, spanning from pubic bone to tailbone, supporting all pelvic organs. 

Knowing the importance of regularly doing Kegels is the first step, but do you know HOW to do them? A recent study confirmed that about a quarter of women are unable to do Kegels at all and another quarter – who report exercising routinely – are not doing them correctly. These findings are sad; however, there is hope. The researchers of this same study concluded that when women are given instruction and feedback, their Kegel performance significantly improves. This is good news, because it takes a few seconds to do this assessment and it can easily be incorporated into a pelvic floor exam conducted by your OB/GYN or women’s health physical therapist. Go ahead and ask during your next appointment.

At this point you’re probably wondering HOW to do Kegels correctly. Well, here are a few steps to get you started.

  • If this is your first time, then lie down on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground at hip's width apart. As you get better at it, you can do Kegels sitting or standing… and even with weights!
  • Inhale to prepare. As you exhale, squeeze the pelvic floor muscles as if trying to stop the pee flow midstream. Count for 3 seconds. It should feel like you’re pulling up and in towards your belly-button.
  • Inhale and let go. Relax all the way as you count for 3 seconds.
  • Repeat 6 times for 2 sets. Do daily, 2-3 times per day.
  • Make sure you’re not holding your breath and keep in mind - your abdominals, glutes and legs should stay relaxed throughout.
  • If this feels too easy, then increase your hold time and/or repetitions. Try to integrate Kegels into your regular exercise routine and daily activities. 
  • Note: If it feels like you’re pushing out or down towards your knees then you’re doing the opposite of a Kegel.  Unless you’ve been instructed to do this by your health care provider, stop and seek instruction, because this can actually further weaken the pelvic floor.

Good luck! And remember that even though you can’t see them, the pelvic floor muscles are just as important as all the other muscles in your body and just like others they need to be worked out to stay in shape and function well.