If you’re pregnant or you know someone who is, there’s a good chance you’ve heard about Kegel exercises and how practicing them on the regular helps with pregnancy, delivery, and even postpartum recovery. But the exercises aren’t just for moms!
What Are Kegel Exercises?
Kegel exercises were created to strengthen the muscles under the uterus, bladder, and bowel, all of which are put through tremendous stress and pressure during pregnancy, when the uterus expands as the baby grows, pushing onto every organ around it.
The exercises are named after Dr. Arnold Kegel who created them in 1948 as an alternative to surgery to treating pelvic floor dysfunction and incontinence, as he believed it to be a much better and less-invasive option, as well as a great preventative method for those who are bound to have pelvic floor issues (such as pregnant women).
He even invented something called the perineometer device, which measures and records the contraction strength of the pelvic floor muscles and can actually help the patients learn how to do it correctly and engage the right muscles the right way.
How Are They Performed?
When performing Kegel exercises, you are implementing isometric and rhythmic contractions of the pelvic floor muscles, and staying consistent with the practice for at least a few months to notice any changes.
Because the feeling of doing them right is best described as stopping urination mid-flow, it’s really important to fully empty your bladder before you start performing them, and never do them while you’re urinating, literally stopping mid-flow, as you can cause urinary tract issues and infections, bladder problems, and even potential kidney damage over time.
The right position for performing them is either sitting or lying down, making sure you’re comfortable, and that the ground beneath you isn’t cold and hard. Begin contracting your pelvic floor muscles, lifting your belly button up, and feeling like you’re squeezing everything around your reproductive organs.
Once you figure out how to squeeze them, hold for 3-5 seconds, and release. Repeat 5-10 times, 2-3 times a day. Keep your abs, glutes, and other areas of your body completely relaxed and pay attention to your breath, making sure it’s steady and slow.
It’s important to stay consistent and not overdo the frequency of your Kegel exercises, as it can lead to strengthening the pelvic floor muscles too much. This, in turn, can cause straining when you’re urinating or painful intercourse.
You also shouldn’t be feeling any pain in your back or your abdomen, as it’s a sign you’re not performing them correctly, and consulting with your physician or a pelvic-floor specialized physical therapist will be your best option.
Another great way to check if you’re doing it correctly is by using a Kegel exercise device, inspired by Dr. Kegel’s perineometer, and train your muscles with palpable progress.
The Benefits of Kegel Exercises
Although most likely heard in connection to pregnancy and postpartum, the overall benefits of kegel exercises far outweigh the pelvic problems of moms-to-be. They are meant to help everyone and anyone struggling with weak pelvic muscles, men included. The benefits include:
- Preventing urinary and fecal incontinence during pregnancy or postpartum
- Reduced pelvic-related pain and discomfort
- Preventing or decreasing the prolapse of the pelvic organs
- Preventing urine leakage or uncontrollable bowel
- Improving blood circulation to the area and reducing sexual intercourse pain and discomfort
- Conditioning the muscles to make childbirth easier
Any of these pelvic problems can occur due to aging, gaining weight, pregnancy, surgery, nerve damage or disorders, or any other illnesses or conditions that affect the function of the pelvic floor muscles, urinary tract, or the bowel.
Are Kegel Exercises for Everyone?
First and foremost, before you start contracting your pelvic muscles (or what you think are your pelvic muscles) on your own, it’s always best to consult with your physician or pelvic-floor specialized physical therapist and have them explain it to you, assess if you’re a good candidate for it, check if you’re doing the exercises right, and correct you if you’re not.
Those with severely weakened pelvic floor muscles might find it extremely hard to engage them and contract, which can end up in unnecessary straining and pain, making Kegels not their best option.
On the other hand, in those with overactive pelvic floor muscles (mostly athletes and fitness trainers), Kegel exercises can actually worsen the symptoms and cause pain and discomfort even if they hadn’t experienced them beforehand.
And finally, those with a UTI are recommended to avoid doing Kegels until after they’ve finished their treatment and the infection is no longer present. Having an infection in your urinary tract can furthermore exacerbate your symptoms and cause severe issues with your kidneys as it spreads or is left untreated.
If you’re suffering from any of the symptoms or issues mentioned in this article, consult your physician and find out if performing Kegels might be your saving grace.