All About Kegels
Think of a time when you tried to avoid passing gas. Or you stopped your stream of urine while going to the bathroom. You may not have been aware of it, but you actually performed a Kegel exercise (also known as pelvic floor contraction) in those instances.
Perhaps you’ve practiced Kegels in the past or you’ve been advised to do so. But what are Kegel exercises, exactly? And should you do them? Let’s take a closer look.
Pelvic Floor Anatomy
Kegel exercises help strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. These muscles are located between your coccyx (tailbone) and your pubic bone, serving as the base of your core. They support structures like the bladder and bowel, as well as the uterus and vagina.
Think of your pelvic floor as a group of muscles that form a hammock that holds your organs in place. When these muscles become weakened, the organs in your pelvis can feel less supported, which can lead to incontinence (leaking urine and feces), pelvic pain, and other uncomfortable symptoms.
Your pelvic floor muscles can weaken for a number of reasons, such as pregnancy and childbirth, chronic constipation, surgeries, menopause, and other age-related body changes. Although you may not have control over all the factors that can contribute to pelvic floor problems, there are steps you can take to help regain control of your pelvic health.
Why Do Kegels?
If you think of Kegels like flossing — you know it’s good for you, but you struggle to make it a habit — join the club. But if you make Kegels part of an overall exercise therapy plan, it may help you stick with them (and reap the many benefits). If recommended by your physical therapist, Kegels might help in the following ways:
Better bowel, bladder, and uterine support
Reduced symptoms of incontinence
Reduced symptoms associated with prolapse, including urinary leakage, incontinence, pelvic pressure, and low back pain
Reduced pelvic pain
Better sexual function and sensation
Kegels are also easy to do wherever you are, you can do them in conjunction with your other exercise therapy, and some research even shows that Kegels are associated with improved quality of life.
Am I Doing This Right?
Performing Kegels involves contracting and then relaxing your pelvic floor muscles. Simple, right? You might be surprised to know that one-third of people do Kegels incorrectly. But don’t worry ‒ we’ll walk you through the steps to perform a Kegel so you can correctly target and activate your pelvic floor muscles and get the most benefit from these exercises.
Lie comfortably on your back with your knees bent so they point toward the ceiling. (This isn’t the only position you can start from, but it is the easiest position when first learning.)
Squeeze the muscles around your vagina as if you were stopping your stream of urine or holding back gas. You can also imagine you are picking up a marble from the ground using your pelvic floor.
As you do this, you may feel your pelvic floor muscles pulling “up and in,” but be careful not to move your hips or low back.
To finish, relax your muscles. Let go of the contraction as if you were allowing your stream of urine to flow again or you were allowing yourself to slowly pass gas. This may cause you to feel like your pelvic muscles are "dropping downward” ‒ that’s normal.
As you work through these steps, remember two things: First, breathe! Slow, deep breathing helps you get the most from your Kegels. (Ask for our Diaphragmatic Breathing: How It Helps Your Pelvic Health for more guidance on this.) Second, you can always reach out to your Hinge Health physical therapist for additional guidance or personalized support.
Starting Pelvic Floor Exercises
Remember: Kegels are just one kind of pelvic floor exercise. There are many other types of exercises you can do ‒ along with Kegels ‒ to help strengthen or relax the muscles of your pelvic floor, which may help bring relief of your symptoms. Many women deal with incontinence, prolapse, and other symptoms associated with pelvic floor dysfunction. But that doesn’t mean it’s something you should just live with. Talk to your Hinge Health physical therapist or coach if you’re interested in adding pelvic floor exercises to your current routine.
Your pelvic floor muscles sit between your tailbone and pubic bone and support your reproductive organs.
Kegels are a type of exercise that help strengthen your pelvic floor muscles.
Strengthening your pelvic floor can reduce incontinence and symptoms of prolapse.
Corton, M. M. (2005). Anatomy of the pelvis: how the pelvis is built for support. Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology, 8(3), 611-26. doi: 10.1097/01.grf.0000170578.24583.64
Davila, G. W. (2006). Concept of the Pelvic Floor as a Unit. In: Davila, G. W., Ghoniem, G. M., Wexner, S. D. (eds) Pelvic Floor Dysfunction. Springer, London. doi: org/10.1007/1-84628-010-9_1
Hassan, H. E. (2020). Kegels Exercises: A crucial issue during woman's lifespan. American Research Journal of Public Health, 3(1), 1-5. doi: 10.21694/2639-3042.20001
Fricke, A., Lark, S. D.,Fink, P. W., Mundel, T., & Shultz, S. P. (2021). Exercise Interventions to Improve Pelvic Floor Muscle Functioning in Older Women With Urinary Incontinence: A Systematic Review. Journal of Women's Health Physical Therapy, 45(3), 115-125. doi: 10.1097/JWH.0000000000000202