Kegel exercises represent a set of fairly simple exercises that aim to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. These muscles surround the opening of urethra, anal canal and also vagina in women. As it is with other muscles in our body, straining or not exercising these muscles leads to their deterioration. Other factors also play a role in this process, such as age, obesity, operations undertaken, previous births in women, etc.
Kegel exercises were introduced in 1948 by an American gynaecologist Dr. Arnold Kegel. These exercises have become fairly popular and widespread. By practising them, women may achieve higher level of excitability, vaginal lubrication and they also lead to easier orgasms. In men, such exercises may provide better erection and in some cases even allows men to postpone ejaculation deliberately. The exercises consist in tightening your muscles. Apart from supporting sexual experience, Kegel exercises are also advisable in problems with urinary incontinence, i.e. uncontrollable urine leaking.
Doctor Arnold Henry Kegel
Arnold Henry Kegel was an American gynaecologist, with a medical degree from the University of Illinois. At first, he worked at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, later on he moved to Chicago. During his career, he started tackling the problem of urinary incontinence in women and he also dealt with female problems that were treated mostly surgically at that time. These included vaginal prolapses and problems with urinary incontinence especially after giving birth. This gynaecologist developed a system of pelvic floor muscle exercises known today as Kegel exercises. This simple exercise had many positive effects; apart from actual strengthening of pelvic floor and improvement of problems with incontinence, the female patients discovered that their sexual experience improved as well. However, men may also enjoy positives and benefits of Kegel exercises; by doing them regularly, men may achieve prolonged and improved erection.
Kegel Exercises - Should You Do Them?
- Women after giving birth and women with sexual function problems: These exercises were originally designed mainly for women after giving birth. At present, they are recommended even before the due date. Another case where they may prove useful is problems with stress urinary incontinence. They ale also recommended for women with sexual function problems.
- Men with incontinence and erection problems: Kegel exercises are also recommended for men who have problems with urinary incontinence after a prostate surgery, to men with hyperactive bladder or with problems with bowel control, but also to men with problems with erection and premature ejaculation.
Pelvic Floor Muscles and How Do We Learn They Are Getting Weaker
Pelvic floor is composed of muscle fibres of the levator ani, coccygeus muscle and fascia (connective tissue surrounding the muscles). If you have a sedentary occupation, travel by car a lot or do not have enough physical activity, you may develop the following problems related to weakened pelvic floor muscles:
- Loss of intense sexual experience
- light urinary leakage during sports, laughter or sneezing
- noises during intercourse caused by air leakage (in women)
- tampon moving inside the vagina during menstruation (in women)
- uterine prolapse and similar problems
- problems getting an erection (in men)
Before We Start Doing Kegel Exercises
Before actually doing Kegel exercises, we need to recognize which are the exact muscles we want to strengthen. The exercise is supposed to strengthen our pelvic floor muscles. Tighten your sphincters as if you wanted to hold urine. If you succeeded to tighten the right muscles, you will feel the muscles move upwards below the pelvis. No other muscles (muscles of the abdomen, thighs or sciatic muscles) should not tighten or contract. Make sure you breathe properly and avoid holding your breath. When you have identified the right muscles successfully, further exercises will be fairly easy for you to do. Tighten the muscles as much as you can without contracting other parts of your body. Repeat the exercise ten times. Always hold the muscles tightened for 6-8 seconds. Repeat the set three times a day. In exercises which require work with tightening pelvic floor muscles, you may feel the need to hold your breath. However, it is not advisable in this case. Always remember to breathe naturally during exercising and make sure you are doing it right. In case of these exercises, it is best to breathe into your abdomen.
You may practice the exercise during urination or at any time during the day. Keep increasing the number of tightenings gradually and repetition frequency up to several times per day. Other options for pelvic floor exercises for women include Ben Wa balls or gel balls which a woman inserts into her vagina and subsequently tries to get them out by means of tightening and resistance generated through muscle action. Orgasm itself is a very efficient exercise; the muscles contract uncontrollably and deliberately.
Four Stages of Kegel Exercises
In order to perform Kegel exercises correctly and effectively, you need to master the following four steps.
- The first one is, as we have mentioned above, to localize and prepare your muscles correctly. Learn where the pelvic floor muscles are located and learn to perceive them correctly. You may also use a mirror to examine your vulva and try to remember the picture of pelvic floor disposition. The best time to do this exercise is in the morning; the muscles are not fully active yet which makes the exercise a little more demanding. At the same time, this will help you become aware of your muscles' work. Tighten and release your pelvic floor muscles repeatedly. You may even begin practice during urination; you may try to interrupt the stream of urine repeatedly. Focus your attention on the difference between tightened and loosened muscles.
- The second step is practising correct and deep breathing into your abdomen. Deep breathing into your abdomen provides effective heart and interior organs massage as well as strengthens abdominal muscles. Muscle weakening causes interior organs and diaphragm to drop a little, subsequently causing strong and intense pressure on the pelvic floor. How do you practice abdominal breathing? The following recommendations may help you with that. Lie on your back, bend your knees and place both your hands under your bellybutton. Inhale slowly through the nose and breathe into your hands. If you do the exercise correctly, your belly will expand slightly; it should not drop in any case. Your hands placed on your belly help you localize and stimulate the place where you want to breathe in correctly. After this slow inhale, exhale slowly with your mouth until you breathe out completely. Your abdomen will drop and slump. Do not hold your breath during practice; breathe in your natural and free way.
- Another step to exercise successfully is practising isolated individual tightenings. The goal is to learn to tighten the muscles of your anus and vulva correctly and individually - to separated them from the gluteal and abdominal muscles which should not be involved in the pelvic floor exercise at all. Women may insert two fingers inside their vulva, separate them slightly and try to contract their pelvic floor muscles. In case the pressure of muscles forces the fingers to come back together, you are sure that you are doing the exercise right. You may also picture pulling your anus and vulva inwards into your body.
- The fourth step is actual strengthening your muscles. You may exercise in the morning or during the day, at any time circumstances allows it. According to Kegel, the perfect amount is 80-300 contractions per day.
Other Exercises to Strengthen the Pelvic Floor
- Do the exercise standing up. Bend one leg and grab it above your knee, pull your thigh towards your chest and remain in this position for several seconds. Return to the basic stance and repeat the exercise with the other leg. We may alternate both legs several times.
- Stand with your legs crossed, bend your body forward and try touching the floor with your palms. Do not bend too quickly or jerkily; bend very slowly, one vertebra after another. When you reach your maximum level bending forward or touching the floor, return to the standing position slowly.
- Another exercise is performed sitting on your heels, that is the basic stance from which you slightly lift your buttocks upwards.
- In another exercise, you kneel and place your hands on the floor/mat before you. Your shoulders and legs make a right angle with your body. Hold your head straight. Stretch out one leg backward and oscillate with it up and down, then alternate the legs.
- Another exercise begins in the seating basic position. Support yourself on your elbows with your hands placed on the mat, bend your knees. Then, alternate your toe tips and heels touching the mat.
- Another exercise is the popular "bike-ride". The basic position for this exercise is the seating position again. Support yourself on bent elbows, lift your legs in the air and simulate riding a bike with your legs, making circles with both of them at the same time.
- We begin another exercise lying on our back. Bend your knees and spread them to have a foot's space in between. Stretch your legs upwards and clasp them above your head. Slowly lift your shoulder blades from the mat, go as far as you can without feeling any pain. Breathe evenly and regularly during the exercise.
- The eighth exercise to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles is pull-ups. We lie on our back, knees bent. Arms are outstretched. We sit up slowly and not jerkily to place our hands on your knees. We exhale sitting up, inhale lying down.
- We begin the ninth exercise on our backs as well. Knees are slightly bent and we pull our pelvis, striving to lift our buttocks off the mat, keeping our pelvic floor muscles tightened.
- We begin this exercise lying down and pulling upwards into a seating position; then we stretch our pelvis, keeping our contracted buttocks, body pelvis levelled. Our heads is in the axis of the cervical spine. We use pulling to do this particular exercise - we must never move jerkily. Then we return to the seating position and release. During this exercise, we pay special attention to pelvic muscles.
- We lie on our backs, stretch out our arms, lift and bend our knees and alternate left and right to set them back down. We exhale as we place our feet on the mat.
- The last, twelfth exercise is performed lying down on our belly. We make "a check mark" with both our legs. We lift one leg and point its tip downwards. We oscillate up and down with the leg. Then we alternate the legs.