Ah, the great and wondrous Kegels! It seems that everywhere you look, someone is singing their praises. But what, exactly, do they do? And why are they so important? Here’s your quick Kegel primer:
Why Are Kegels Important?
Kegels are exercises that tone your pelvic floor. A group of muscles that sit like a hammock between your pubic bone and tailbone, your pelvic floor not only supports your bladder, bowel, and uterus (if you have one), but plays key roles in orgasms, childbirth, urination, defecation, and getting and maintaining erections. As you can imagine, if your pelvic floor muscles are unhealthy, you could run into a huge range of issues!
Happily, Kegels are here to strengthen and tone these pivotal muscles. They are, essentially, like going to the gym—but for your pelvic floor. Practicing Kegels regularly supports healthy bladder, rectal, and sexual functioning.
Practicing Kegels regularly supports healthy bladder, rectal, and sexual functioning.
But before you dive into your diligent Kegel practice, it’s important to know that they’re not suitable for everyone. If you have a healthy or weakened pelvic floor, Kegels can maintain and strengthen muscle tone. On the other hand, if you have an overly tight pelvic floor, Kegels can further tighten the muscles and make your pelvic issues—like premature ejaculation or pain during sex—worse. If you think you may have tight pelvic muscles, consult a pelvic floor physical therapist before trying these exercises.
Are Kegels only good for vaginal health? No! Kegels are for people of all genders and bodies. Doing regular Kegel exercises helps keep your bladder, bowel and sexual organs functioning properly no matter what genitals you have. For example, Kegels can help with erectile issues or recovery of sexual function after prostate surgery.
How To Do Kegels
The goal of a Kegel exercise is to squeeze and lift the pelvic floor muscles, as well as fully relaxing them afterwards. You also want to work on your endurance, which means you should practice holding the contraction for a few seconds, and then release and relax the muscles. You can repeat this program several times, just as you would if you were lifting weights at the gym.
Here’s how to dive in:
Step 1: Isolate The Correct Muscles
Depending on the needs of your body, you want to address pelvic floor muscle endurance, strength, quick flick response, and coordination. You can isolate different parts of your pelvic floor by focusing only on the anus, vagina, penis, or urethra! But for general purposes, focus on engaging the entire muscle group.
One way to find the right muscles is to briefly stop the flow of urine when you’re peeing.
One way to find the right muscles is to briefly stop the flow of urine while peeing. Try it once or twice so you know what it feels like to work those muscles and you can correctly identify them when you do your Kegel exercises. (Note: Do not make this a habit! When you repeatedly contract your pelvic floor muscles during your urine stream, it can disrupt the feedback loop between your brain and your bladder.)
Step 2: Squeeze AND Lift Your Pelvic Muscles
Think about picking up a Kleenex with your pelvic muscles. Imagine squeezing your urethra, anus, and vagina (if you have that anatomy) to pick up a Kleenex. If you have a penis, imagine that you are pulling the penis in towards your body, almost like a turtle head going into a shell.
Step 3: Keep Breathing Throughout Your Kegels
Breathe normally while you do your Kegel exercises. Remember that when training your pelvic floor muscles, you want to engage them in isolation at first. Don’t hold your breath, pull your belly in, tighten your inner thighs, or arch your back. You are just trying to work those specific pelvic floor muscles and keep everything else relaxed.
Step 4: Release The Muscles
After a few seconds, release the muscles. Imagine you are letting go of the Kleenex and letting it float to the floor. You should completely relax the muscles at this stage. But don’t push down with your muscles when releasing. Remember, the goal is to have good pelvic floor tone, which means muscles that are able to relax as well as squeeze.
Remember, the goal is to have good pelvic floor tone, which means muscles that are able to relax as well as squeeze.
Step 5: Repeat
Before you decide on how many reps you need to do, you first need to figure out where you stand. Start with a 10 rep max; lay down and repeat the above instructions for a max of 10 reps. If you get tired after four reps (it will feel like you cannot find your muscles), then that is your starting point. Begin with two to three sets of four reps, once a day for general maintenance and then build yourself up to two sets of 10 reps.
If you want to test your endurance, start with a 10-second hold. Let's say you can hold for five seconds. Well, that is where you start! Do a five second hold with a five second rest. That would be one repetition. Do two sets of five reps, once a day. If you have specific pelvic floor issues, consult with a physical therapist to assist in designing a program that is right for you.
To get your pelvic floor in shape, Kegel exercises are your go-to! To vary your “workout” options, you may want to try weighted Kegel balls to use in the vagina, or similar weighted balls with a flared base designed for anal use. These pelvic strengthening toys can help mix it up a bit with your Kegel routine (and can also feel sexy for some people!) Opt for toys made of silicone, hard plastic, or other non-porous materials—including the material the string is made of—to avoid bacterial growth.
Like any other exercise tool, Kegel balls can be dangerous if used incorrectly; it’s important that you only use Kegel balls if you know how to correctly operate them! If you’re experiencing pain, or if you’re not sure whether you are using them appropriately, see a medical provider for guidance.
Bonus: How do you pronounce “Kegel”?!
Not everyone agrees on how to pronounce Kegel, some say KEY-gel and some say KAY-gel. Either way, it’s usually pretty clear what the person is talking about, so pick whichever you prefer. As long as you’re using them to keep your pelvic floor in tip-top shape, you can’t go wrong!