If you haven't experienced a vaginal birth, then you might never have thought to do an exercise called the Kegel. The popular postpartum exercise is intended to strengthen the pelvic floor, which is important to do after any pregnancy or vaginal birth. But did you know Kegels are also helpful in preventing issues like urinary incontinence—and improving sex?
The hard-working pelvic floor
The muscles in the pelvic floor support a lot, from the uterus and bladder to the bowels and rectum. They also help these organs work, signaling to start and stop the process of using the bathroom. When these muscles are weak, urinary leakage and incontinence can occur.
Pelvic floor muscles also can enhance sex, especially for those who may experience dryness or pain during intercourse. When they're strong, these muscles get more blood circulation, which can lead to natural vaginal lubrication and a heightened sense of sexual arousal. They also contract during an orgasm, often making sex more enjoyable.
Luckily, Kegel exercises can be done anywhere, at almost any time, and by anyone (yes, men can and should do them!).
Finding pelvic floor muscles
There's a simple way to find the pelvic floor muscles. On an empty bladder, pretend as if you're urinating, then contract the muscles you would normally use to stop the stream.
To make sure you're using the right muscles, contract the pelvic floor, then notice whether your buttocks, abdomen, or leg also moves. If anything does move, you're not using the right muscles.
The nice thing about Kegels is that you can do them anytime (as long as your bladder is empty) and almost anywhere (lying down, sitting in a chair, standing in line).
To do Kegels, take a deep breath in, and as you exhale slowly contract the muscles for 3 to 6 seconds. Breathe in again as you release. Repeat this 10 times per session, up to 3 times daily, making sure to take long, drawn-out breaths as you go through the exercise. As you get more practiced, you can do this for longer stretches of time.
When first starting with Kegels, it might feel extremely difficult and even impossible to hold the contraction for any length of time. But just like with any other muscle in the body, the pelvic floor will strengthen as you continue to do the exercise, and it will become easier.
3 more pelvic floor exercises to try
Kegels are by far the most common pelvic floor exercise, but they're not the only one. Here are 3 more exercises to consider for a strong pelvic floor.
- Squeeze and release: Similar to Kegels, this exercise involves squeezing and then immediately relaxing the pelvic floor muscles without counting time (just remember to breathe!).
- Hip bridges: This yoga move strengthens not only the pelvic floor but also the gluteal muscles. To do this exercise, lie down on your back with bent knees and feet flat on the floor hip width apart. Squeeze your glutes as you lift up and hold the position for several seconds, then release. Repeat several times for maximum benefit.
- Squats: This exercise works best at strengthening the pelvic floor when the squats are shallow and narrow. Start with feet hip width apart, stand up straight, and lean forward slightly. Bend your knees as you squat down to a comfortable position, then release. Repeat several times.